How to Acknowledge Davidson’s Queer History

Taylor Drake ’21

Photo by Phelps Moore ’22

There were a multitude of audience reactions to the drag show hosted by Union Board and Queers & Allies (Q&A) two weeks ago. Exuberant hoots, hollers, and “YASSSSS HONNEYY”’s as the Queens and Kings graced the runway in the 900 Room; collective jaws dropped as the performers cartwheeled, did splits, and death-dropped; confused looks when the emcee’s improvised transitions did not quite land as intended; and, most memorably, a teary-eyed standing ovation for local Charlotte Queen Lolita Van Dank’s show-stopping performance about body positivity and self-acceptance to “This is Me.”

My mother’s reaction: “Oh gosh.” I felt proud of my first time “lip-synching for my life,” so I sent her a video of my performance. This two-word, seemingly-ambivalent phrase has become a classic expression of hers in response to crazy stories I tell her from college—whether they’re related to my queer identity or not. I thought this story had left her speechless until she texted again later, querying, “I’m trying to be supportive but not sure if I understand the point of it? Was it just to have fun? Be expressive? Was it a fundraiser? Just curious. Love you.”

Her questions perplexed me. Why did we have the drag show? What was the point?  Did I almost fall to my death from the 900 Room banister to Rihanna’s “S&M” for nothing?

As my eyeliner wore off, and I thought about the night more, I realized the importance of my mother’s questions. Davidson’s queer community should reflect more frequently on the purpose and intentions of the events we put on.

I believe that the queer community lacks an understanding of our history to contextualize the importance of these events. This isolation from our past prevents queer organizations from fully seeing and carrying out the intentions of these events: creating an active and welcoming space for queer students whether they are in or out of the closet.

I came into Davidson as a closeted first-year student. As a questioning student, and even once I came out, I struggled to find spaces and events where I belonged and felt comfortable among our queer community. Now, as a sophomore, I emcee drag shows and serve as a co-president of the queer community organization YANASH (You Are Not A Stranger Here). My time here has become divided since my experience of coming out, but there is no clear distinction in my memory of when I turned from “straight” to Sandra Bullcock (my drag alter-ego). My evolution and growth as a queer person has been caught up in the dizzying nature of Davidson: classes, deadlines, meals, meetings, events, parties, (some) sleep, repeat. It is difficult for me to understand my personal history as a queer student, much less our community’s history.

A lot of queer students, no matter where they are on their personal journey of growth and acceptance, have a similar experience when navigating the queer community here. Administrative bodies like the Center for Diversity and Inclusion and queer organizations such as Q&A, YANASH, and the Queer Mentorship Program function to support the current queer and questioning students that make up our community. We frankly don’t have the time to reflect fully on our history when we are focused on addressing needs of the queer community and creating community in the present (or checking Davidson College’s Instagram for their tokenization of trans students).

The queer community honors its annual traditions, such as the Coming Out Monologues this Wednesday (4/3), but I do not believe we fully acknowledge the culture in which these traditions were born.

The same goes for the origins of our organizations. The first thing I wanted to do as new co-president of YANASH was change its name because it sounds like a nasty rash. However, I realized that as the only queer organization on campus that allows queer and questioning students’ membership to be anonymous, its message “You are not a stranger here” carries a connection to Davidson’s queer history that can’t be forgotten: in our past and our present, queer students have been made to feel like strangers here at Davidson

In order to better serve our queer community in the present and pave the road for its future members, we must explore and unearth our past. I propose investigating the archive, connecting with our queer alumni, and publically memorializing the inimitable Zac Lacy ’97, who was one of the first openly out students at Davidson and tragically committed suicide soon after graduating. We must have a shared understanding of the communities that started our traditions and, before them, the communities that lived in silence. With a better understanding of our history, we can more firmly place ourselves and focus our purpose within the greater Davidson College community. This history would provide a greater sense of solidarity and longevity as we document our strides and push for further progress at Davidson. It would establish our community’s permanence, as well as its importance in the past, present, and future.

I applaud and thank Q&A and Union Board for giving queer and questioning students that space at the drag show. It was an incredible night that allowed the greater Davidson community and the queer community to appreciate and celebrate us. That, Momma Drake, was the point of the night. Going forward, I believe we should approach every public queer event by first acknowledging its place in Davidson’s queer history to convey our intentions and make room for the future of our community: our members of the community who aren’t in attendance as openly queer. Although students come (out) and go, the queer community is and will always be here. Our community has a diverse, strong voice and interlinked presence on this campus that we must no longer isolate from our past.  

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