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“So like, do you use dating apps?”
“What kind of queer parties are there?”
“How’d you come out to your roommates?”
“Okay, but do people actually use dating apps for dates or…?”
This is just a sampling of the questions I’ve been asked by first-years within the first few weeks of school. Some were posed to me on panels, some through texts, and some during one-on-one meals with first-years who reached out specifically to chat about queer life.
I’ve been thrilled to answer each of these questions and many more because I know firsthand how important and reassuring it can be to have other queer people who can show you the ropes. I also know how nerve-wracking it can be to want to find queer friendships but not know where to look. Being a part of a supportive queer community can be vital to making queer students feel welcome and safe on campus.
When I first arrived at Harvard, I’d only knowingly spoken to three other queer people in my life and didn’t have any queer friends. I had done enough research online to understand the Wikipedia-version of queerness but had no examples of lived experiences to look up to. Adjusting to life at Harvard meant that I had the typical fears and concerns that most first-years have, compounded with the uncertainty of coming out and navigating queer spaces for the first time.
My primary concern in those first few weeks was looking for other queer students. Queerness can be isolating in that it’s a mostly invisible identity. You can’t always tell that someone is queer just by looking at them, which can make it even more difficult for queer first-years looking to meet other queer students. Most of the queer students I know I either met through other queer friends or recognize through word-of-mouth; I didn’t just randomly meet them in section or Annenberg. Moreover, we’re a pretty decentralized community — I can’t think of one particular spot or group where all the queer students hang out. Perhaps a better phrase to describe our community would be the plural “communities.”
Even after either finding or creating a community, it can take additional effort to build support systems within them. But these support systems can be instrumental in grappling with complex identity questions and navigating new spaces. A lot of students like me weren’t exposed to much of queer culture until college. I didn’t always know what Hotspot was, or how to flirt with girls (and some may argue that I still don’t know how to do that). I eventually learned through a combination of experience and talking it over with older queer students who could share their own personal experiences.
I was very fortunate in that, before school even started, a queer older student took me under their wing and offered to be an informal mentor for me. We got a meal together every month or so and had candid conversations about queer culture at Harvard, homophobia in the classroom, navigating outness at home, and, yes, dating apps. In the two years since, they’ve helped me draft texts to girls, they’ve brainstormed ideas for my column with me, they’ve taken me to gay clubs, and they’ve hugged and reaffirmed me after difficult encounters with homophobia; even now that they’ve graduated, they still text me every once in a while to check in on me. I consider them a good friend, an older sibling even, who can provide guidance and support.
One of the key reasons that I’ve become more comfortable being openly myself is because of other queer people around me making themselves visible, being unapologetically themselves, and inviting me along with them on their journeys. I’ve written before about the importance of media representation, but another incredibly important type of representation is that of the people around you, the ones you see everyday and can build community with. I love being able to look to my queer classmates, friends, and coworkers to see how they’re thriving in good times and handling less than ideal situations.
My hope is that we’re building a community that feels accessible to queer first-years, where older queer students have opportunities to connect with first-years, offer themselves as resources, answer questions, and hopefully create meaningful relationships if they would like. This is completely opt-in and no student should feel pressured to share personal information or talk to anyone if they don’t want to. But for those who are willing and able, I think that our queer community has the potential to help ease first-years’ transitions to a new school and make Harvard a more welcoming, inclusive space for them.
Becina J. Ganther ’20, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a History and Science concentrator in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.
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