Queer on queer cruelties divide Vassar community

I have wanted to be a part of the Gays of Our Lives since I was a scared 17-year-old crammed into the crowded, overheated chapel with hundreds of my fellow freshmen to see what the queer community at Vassar was all about. As a queer woman of color, I was pretty disappointed with my first experience with Gays of Our Lives. Most of the contestants were white, everyone was cisgender and, with no people on the asexuality spectrum, I felt that it did not give a good representation of the wide diversity in the queer community. Because of this, I wanted to eventually join the panel to bring my own flavor of queerness to an incoming freshman class. Fortunately, I got my wish, and had the opportunity to join the panel to present before the Class of 2017. The event this year was so wildly improved from my freshman year that it is unfortunate that I was deeply disappointed with some aspects of the event. I thoroughly enjoyed that they did away with the guessing game that previous panels had implemented at the end, and while I thought the diversity of sexuality and gender, along with race and politics, was fantastic, I was less than impressed with the so-called comedy performance that preceded the show. Two white, cisgender women were the emcees for the event, which, in and of itself, is not necessarily a problem. It became a problem when they spent much of their stage time making essentialist, cissexist comments that had the potential to harm many members of the queer community. In an event that is designed to challenge people’s perceptions about identity, casual transphobia has no place. Well, casual transphobia has no place anywhere, but in spaces where all queer people should feel safe and comfortable, it is particularly egregious. Being funny should never come at the expense of other queer people. We should be presenting a place of safety and acceptance to the freshmen and all those who attended, and making it clear that oppressive language is not acceptable here. Especially now, when many of us have been fighting back against incidents of hate crimes on this very campus, we need to send a clear message that casual cruelty is not something that is going to be accepted or condoned without comment. As emcees for any popular event, people need to understand that they are serving an important role in encouraging discourse, and when that discourse is offensive, it shows the audience that it is something that is tolerated here. People should never be used as punchlines for any cruel jokes, and that is exactly what happened at this year’s Gays of Our Lives panel. I do not want freshmen to have come out of that event missing the entire point of it; to rethink their perceptions and preconceived notions about people and their identities. While members of the panel did speak out against diverse forms of oppression, and were free to call out problematic questions from audience members, we were not given the opportunity to call out the emcees. Either the setup needs to change, so that panelists and audience members will feel comfortable addressing oppressive comments from each other, the audience and the emcees, or the emcees must be vetted to ensure that their performances are not going to reinforce oppressive thinking. Ultimately, however, I enjoyed my position as a panelist on Gays of Our Live, and I am incredibly grateful to the Queer Coalition of Vassar College executive board for giving me the opportunity to present my experience to the freshmen. I do not fault the executive board in the least for the behavior of the emcees. Everything they chose to do rests with them, and it is important that the rest of us continue to strive to make Vassar a safe place for all members of our community.

—Aja Saalfeld ’15 is a German Studies major

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