There is a feeling that used to surge through my body each time I entered Harvard Yard. I felt it when I left Weld. I felt it when I saw the Memorial Church spire. It was the swooping feeling of cresting high altitudes.
It was a feeling of gratitude. How grateful I was to find my nerdy self in a community of thinkers, each person I met—each student and each dining hall worker, each librarian and each professor—a new, miraculous world.
And it was a feeling of possibility. A feeling that here, at this place, with these people, we could create things we had never even dreamed: new technologies, new songs, new ways to live.
I grew up in a nice place full of nice people. But it was a small town, and often, people’s minds were small, too. I was too smart, too loud, too queer. My hips were too wide; I had too many questions. I did not agree that I was lesser because I liked girls, or was one. I did not laugh at the jokes my teachers made in class.
There was an invisible band tight around my ribs: my entire self bursting at the seams.
At Harvard, I burst out.
The sense of freedom, those first few weeks, was incredible. I met people who understood my literary references, who wanted to talk for hours about politics and poems. I met feminists, I met people who wanted to kiss me, I met people from all over the world, I wore heels, I read "Ulysses," I danced and danced.
For the first time in my life, I could be as big as myself.
I wanted to eat everything, say yes to everything, know everyone, fuck everyone, take it all in.
I sucked the air of Harvard Yard and held it until my lungs ached.
And then, Harvard knocked the wind out of me.
I don’t know how or when it started. Weekend nights when all I could do was weep. Shooting through the glamor, the high rafters and thick rugs, was hostility. I was from the wrong place, did the wrong things, did not understand how I should be acting.
It is easy to slip into a crack here—a dark mahogany crack—and stay there, and not come out.
I’ve been asked a lot, as I’ve run all over the place this year talking about equity in undergraduate extracurricular life, why I care so much.
It’s just performance, people tell me. It’s just a social scene. It’s just pretend.