Mandy Muse ’23
Growing up gay in the South didn’t end once I left my hometown. At Davidson College, the LGBTQ+ community is present, but it is muted. The Davidson Bubble provides us with an opportunity to refuse to internalize the pervasive homophobia and transphobia of the Bible Belt, yet queer visibility is still lacking from campus.
I’ve grown up in the subtleties of Southern intolerance; Davidson is said to be more liberal, but I see no difference between campus and the surrounding areas.
More could and should be done to promote queer existence instead of just reflecting the dominant ideologies of North Carolina at large.
Cary, NC is not the town that comes to mind when thinking of the Bible Belt.
It sits just about 15 minutes outside of Raleigh, proudly boasting low crime rates and large amounts of green spaces.
Cary is an area of white, affluent suburbs, fairly liberal ideology, community ties, and only slight homophobia.
It could be much worse.
Considering that North Carolina is known as a more conservative state, it’s a pleasant surprise to stumble upon the rainbow “Y’all means All” wall in downtown Raleigh or to see the Durham Pride parade in action.
The polite homophobia that underlies daily life isn’t immediately obvious. Or perhaps more accurately, it isn’t evident as long as you’re straight.
Coming out wasn’t a thing that I took particularly seriously, partially because I didn’t understand exactly how widespread homophobia was within my community. My family is extremely liberal, and I just assumed everyone would be.
I told my mom and she shrugged; I told my dad and he hugged me.
Then I told some of my close friends. Some took it well, affirming and validating the way that I felt.
Some took it less well.
“I’ll pray for you” was their response.
I began to see the subtle, nuanced way that queerness was policed in my community. There was much less “lesbo” and “dyke” than one would anticipate.
It was mostly pitying nods and sympathetic glances. I was on the receiving end of gentle homophobia from adults I respected, just enough to convey that they thought I was intrinsically flawed.
Just enough to let me know that they thought my identity was wrong.
Queer existence was permitted, but greatly discouraged.
Keep in mind, I’m a cisgender, white lesbian from an affluent area. For the queer community, that’s about the easiest identity one can have.
After 18 years in Cary, my drastic move away from home was a three-hour drive to Davidson’s campus.
Though still a part of the Bible Belt, I had faith that Davidson would provide the community of support that I had wished for in high school.
There were promises of gender neutral bathrooms, queer organizations, and even a space specificially set aside for the LGBTQ+ community!
I thought it would be different here.
One semester in, I can confirm the Lavender Lounge is a great place to spend time.
The problem with the lounge? It’s located in the basement of Belk, hidden between the laundry room and the quiet study room.
Though there is something to be said for anonymity, putting the queer spaces as out of the way as possible sends a message.
Visibility on this campus suffers because of where queer spaces have been permitted and placed by the college.
Gender neutral restrooms do exist on campus, but finding them requires a treasure map and a free afternoon. Accomodations for queer individuals are technically established, but they are hidden away from the public eye, while gender-specific restrooms are found around every corner.
This concealment reminds us that LGBTQ+ lives are allowed to be present on this campus, so long as it doesn’t disrupt the social order.
Enough has been done on this campus so that queer individuals can locate safe spaces, but to truly be an ally to queer existence, the campus itself should be a safe space.
The LGBTQ+ community should not be an afterthought, with queer spaces pushed into unused corners.
On this campus, queer existence is recognized and tolerated, but it is never integrated or accepted.
The Center for Diversity and Inclusion and student-run queer organizations can only do so much for the queer community.
Queer students are welcomed primarily by other queer students and select faculty, but not by the community at large, nor by Davidson itself.
I’m not writing this with any solutions.
I know that changes like these take time, and I know that as a new member of this community, I’m unable to see the progress that has come before me.
I’m here to share my story. I’m just one of many voices that wish to call attention to queer life here on campus.
Davidson College has made an effort to include the LGBTQ+ community, but tolerance is neither acceptance nor affirmation, and we cannot pretend that it is.
Mandy Muise ’23 is undeclared from Cary, North Carolina. Contact her at email@example.com.