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Being Gay at Harvard

On Not Being A Sexual Beastie

By Cheryl Macclelland

My experiences as a gay student at Harvard are rather difficult to express since my acquaintance with Harvard is only weeks old. So if I may be granted a digression I will talk more about my undergraduate institution and being gay in general.

A definition of "gay" seems to be the most a propose introduction. To me "homosexual" clearly refers to one's sexual preference, but "gay" encompasses much more than this. To be "gay" is to infer a much broader social context than that of the sexual partner alone. It is a lifestyle: one's primary social identification and sphere of interaction is with members of one's own sex and consequently, one's emotional identification is within that sphere as well. What this means then is that a woman need never to have had sex with another woman to be gay, or that a woman who has had a sexual experience with another woman is not automatically gay. Because I know that I am only secondarily a sexual being, I prefer his definition to the usual definition of gay, which reduces me to an uncontrollable sexual beastie, and never a scholar.

Which brings you and me headlong into one of my first encounters with Harvard. It consisted of a personal opinion of a member of the Admissions Committee printed in the Independent, saying that homosexuality was a threat to Harvard and that there were plenty of other qualified candidates that could be admitted to the college instead. After reading this I put down the two announcements of articles I had written being accepted for publication, beat my breast, and chased three "Cliffies" down the street. It was reassuring to know that the techniques I had developed at my very southern undergraduate school for being a not-so-subtle homosexual would be equally applicable at the nation's oldest college, and my oldest dream.

As I have indicated, my undergraduate work was carried out in the south. Despite your opinion of what values are near and dear to those folks, the gay community was very large, very open and consisted primarily of women. I would estimate that there were close to 60 women, active in intramurals, ecology, women's health, art, abortion and rape counseling, a newspaper and a farm. Perhaps, then, you can imagine my surprise and disappointment at the few women who attended the MIT gay dance or the Harvard-Radcliffe Gay Students Association meetings.

My disappointment dissipated at the Women's Music Festival where, as far as I could tell, there were 600 gay women--women who had learned to "like" women and to respect the work of other women. You can be homosexual and not have those feelings but you cannot be "gay" and not have those feelings for the women around you. The term "dyke," consequently, irritates me to no end. This term is primarily used by women refering to each other and is as derogatory to me as "chick" has become to a good many women. My first visit to a gay bar in Boston, The Saints, was highlighted by the bartender asking a friend of mine who had come north with me, if she was a dyke, a term never heard in my college town. We were both speechless, which the woman who had asked the question took to indicate ignorance and she promptly rephrased it with "gay," bringing us both back to earth.

In spite of what may seem to read as disappointment, I have been impressed with the supportive nature of the gay lifestyle in New England. I cannot begin to name even a fourth of the rap groups, newspapers, organizations, service centers (health centers, counseling facilities, etc., all you perverted straight people) so on and so on, that are available for those who seek such services. It appears that gay women are to be found at the women's activities in the area, and I know gay men abound at the dances and bars in town.

Before closing, I would like to do what damage I could to two mythological beliefs about gay people. One is that your heterosexual body will be attacked by the crazed homosexual if you allow yourself to be in his presence. Your body will be closer to sacrosanct. The other myth is that beautiful women or handsome men are never homosexual or gay. This is not only false but implies that there is a genetic determination behind homosexuality, an assumption equally as false. If the reader can put these two myths behind her/him and all of the others as well, she/he may learn that we can be damn good mothers, fathers, social scientists, lawyers, friends, etc., etc.

Cheryl MaeClelland is a pseudonym for a student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

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