The Ivy Closet
Sacrificing radical politics for ambition
The October 27 issue of The Salient featured not only Naomi A. Schaefer's '98 attack on National Coming Out Day and Joshua P. Garoon's '98 endorsement of employment discrimination against gay men and lesbians, but Marriah Star's '98 take on Candace Gingrich, Newt's lesbian sister. The conservative obsession with homosexuality becomes poignantly apparent with this single issue. And I thought I was obsessed with queerness.
Apparently, I am not alone in my preoccupation. Schaefer argues against queer activism stating, "Most of Harvard is not homosexual, and most of Harvard doesn't care if you are." For a mantra against gay and lesbian activism, such an argument hardly holds water. In fact, the entire issue of The Salient disproves such a claim of apathy with its three articles lobbying repetitively against gay and lesbian equality and visibility. Queer activism is necessary on this campus and in the world until attitudes like those expressed in The Salient disappear entirely.
Attitudes such as Garoon's endorsement of employment discrimination against people like myself pervade contemporary culture. As gay men and lesbians, we have internalized the political climate. We have learned how to closet ourselves. How many queers come out to their alumni interviewer or proclaim their sexual identity when recruited for varsity athletics?
At Harvard especially, we know the value of the ivy closet. Many of us are conservative politically. Many of us believe that getting ahead is most important. A Harvard student may choose not to write a term paper with a queer theme to accommodate a professor's homophobia. A Harvard student may choose tactfully omit a pronoun to avoid revealing the gender of a lover. A Harvard queer knows when and how to pass as straight--we know what to say, how to smile and how to dress. We can slip in and out from subculture to mainstream and back again because we want to be in that sorority or that Finals Club. We sacrifice radical politics for a grade, a degree, a fellowship or a career.
I have resorted to the closet. I sacrificed my radical politics for ambition. In a scholarship interview last year, the interviewer asked if I had a boyfriend, and I said, "Yes." I lied. I feared losing the interviewer's support. As lesbians and gay men, we have internalized the homophobia of this society. Had my interviewer been Schaefer or Garoon, I might not have gotten the scholarship. And I didn't want to risk it. That $3,000 was more important to me. Perhaps it was an issue of class. Since I am a student financing her own education, the money seemed more important to me in the long-run. I panicked. I chose to closet myself, and I won the scholarship.
I am indeed a Harvard student. I am ambitious, driven and all too eager to achieve mainstream success. Such an attitude is widespread here--and especially disturbing among queers. To be frank, I believe that Harvard queers--like myself--lose sight of the lesbian and gay movement when thinking about personal success. But I do not have the luxury of the closet anymore. I can no longer write a resume that does not shout out lesbian. I am marked for life.
I believe that I am as out as Harvard students come. I discussed the inclusion of gender identity in the University-wide non-discrimination clause and tabled for National Coming Out Day, even making it onto The Peninsula's Enemies List for my activism. My academic ally, my coursework has involved queer themes from Jane Eyre to the Bible, and my thesis is openly lesbian. In my personal life, I no longer use ambiguous pronouns nor do I lower my voice to say words like gay in the dining hall. I am unwilling to sacrifice my identity for much of anything right now.
Only one year ago, I slipped quietly into the closet at the prospect of $3,000. That makes me wonder what other Harvard queers are doing for money and success. I will be graduating in June, and like many seniors, I am overwhelmed by the options available to me. One thing I have learned from my Harvard experiences is that I am not willing to be closeted in the workplace. The closet may be beneficial in the shortrun, but it is lonely, musty and dank. I have no other option for myself than to be out.
But discrimination is real. Last year, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act--which would have made job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation illegal--did not pass in Congress. Reading The Salient last week reminded me of the sad truth of our political climate. As gay men and lesbians, we are still not tolerated in this world.
Diana L. Adair is a senior living off campus.