This is my first post and that makes it difficult. I always want to make beginnings special, and am frightened by them. As if everything that follows will be tainted if the beginning is not good. But now I am already over the difficult part and can proceed to what I want to tell:
I started an LGBT student organization and I love it. Its name is Kaleidoscope. I am proud of it, and a little bit self-conscious about my pride. (Am I showing off too much?) But okay, this is how it is, so why not state that I am proud if that's the case. Of course I did not start it all by myself, but with other people. This is the biography of the organization so far, from my perspective:
I had this class in sociology on "Identity", and during one discussion one guy came out as gay. In the break after that discussion I came out to him as well (as lesbian). It was quite a nice moment of recognizing each other, especially since this class had already treated so many issues (identity, racism, domination, exclusion, ...) that I was already so self-conscious about being "other", different from the reast of the class. So at that moment, there was this very relieving realization that I am not the only one, that we are at least two who find themselves on the other side of all this talk about (sexual) identity.
Anyway, still in the break, we talked about there being no LGBT student organization at our university and that it would be about time to start one. We were joking and being serious at the same time. I mean, as it later turned out, we were both serious, but we were talking as if we were joking. I think that's a common strategy of reducing the risk that is associated with saying something. I just pretend I am joking, and if other people completely disagree withwhat I said, I cannot be hurt because I was only joking anyway.
One girl who was also in the classroom when the gay guy (his name is K.) and I were talking about how stupid it is that there is no LGBT organization, joined in our conversation, asking "Is there a need for such an organization?". At first I did not get her question and misunderstood her to say that there already was an LGBT or gay organization. But when I eventually understood her question, I did not know what to answer. To me it is obvious that there is a "need" for some kind of queer organizing. Of course I can think about that obviousness and put it into words, but honestly I just found the question offensive, suggesting that there was no need for it and that if I thought there was, I was perhaps overtly sensitive or had personal problems with my sexuality, or the like.
I should perhaps mention that I live in the Netherlands. I think that homosexuality is much less despised here than in the United States [where I suspect most of the readers of this journal entry..]. But an awareness of this fact is also misused against gays, lesbians and bisexuals. I feel it is used to keep us down: "Here in the Netherlands homosexuality is completely accepted, so what is your problem? You want to start a gay student organization? Well I think it is strange to set yourself apart, aren't we all equal? Why do you make this separatist, exclusive move? Of course in other countries, homosexuality is not accepted, and that is not nice, but here in the Netherlands you have no reason to complain." These are the kinds of arguments I did get to hear in the last few weeks. When I only hear somebody say "here in the Netherlands" when we talk about anything relating to homosexuality! This kind of talk makes me really angry. As if I have to be grateful to all the nice people in power that they are so tolerant not to want to imprison me, or as if I have to be gratful that I haven't been beaten up for going to a gay pride march, and out of this greatfulness keep my mouth shut about all the "minor" issues.
Now I can write this without getting really angry and miserable, but a few weeks ago, I just couldn't even think about what I just wrote down without getting so distressed! Let me just add one more coment before I get back to the biography of Kaleidoscope, and this is that Teun A. van Dijk identified "Denial of Racism" as a really common form of racism, especially in elite discourses in European contexts. And I think the same argument can be made in relation to homophobia, or heterosexism, or whatever name we want to give to the social institution that subordinates non-straight people to straight people.
Now back to the story. I did not know a good answer to the comment of that girl who perhaps suggested that an LGBT organization was not necessary. But later I contacted K. again and asked him seriously what he thought about trying to start an LGBT organization. It turned out that he was also seriously interested in doing it. So we came together, talked things through, and decided that we would first try to start something at our faculty by sending an e-mail to all students of our faculty.
I will try to speed up things a bit because I want to get to the current point: So that's what we did. We formulated an e-mail and paid particular attention to keeping it very open and make clear that we look for people who want to contribute to setting up an organization, and that the specific type of organization was still open. For example if it would pridominantly be for and by LGBT people, or if it would be more of a gay-straight alliance. The evening before I sent the e-mail I felt very bad. I had told one of my roommates about our plans to send e-mails to all students of our faculty, and she was quite discouraging. She suggested that really few people would probably answer and that there would also be stupid talking if I come out in that way. She also asked that same question of why there is a need for "such a group", which felt like an attack to me. I was really quite miserable after our conversation: not only because of the "why is there a need" question but also because of the way how she talked about this anti-gay world without criticizing it. To me it seemed like she was allying herself with this anti-gay world she described. By now we talked more, and I explained what I found offensive in what she had said and she really understood something and was sorry. So happy ending to this incident.
Giving up on my plan to speed the story up, I have to share another little incident because it was funny. Just before I sent the e-mail, I read a birthday card from my grandmother, to whom I am NOT out. She sent me her best wishes for my birthday, but more in particular she wrote that she was proud of the fact that I am so independent and that I engage in so many activities and cultivate so many interests. And she wished me good luck with my most immediate plans for the future! As I said, I am not out to her, and the idea of coming out to her is not particularly welcoming. But I totally read her congratulations and wishes in the light of my plans to start an LGBT organization. It fitted perfectly; and I enjoyed the idea of having my grandmother encourage my LGBT activism without her even knowling of it.
I sent the e-mail, and when there was a really enthusiastic reply very soon after I had hit the "send" buttom, I cannot even describe how happy it made me. I had been more and more surrounded by frightening homophobic scenarios, so that a significant part of my motivation to send the e-mail had been accupied by a militant sense of "All you homophobes, come out, you are welcome to be my enemy!" Getting this one enthusiastic reply would have the power to compensate for hundreds of negative reactions. But there were not even so many negative reactions.
After this action, our group grew from two people to five. We came together with the five of us and decided that we would like to start an organization on the level of the university, not just our faculty. We managed to get a short message in the official periodical mail which the university sends to all students and faculty members, inviting people for the first big meeting. We also put a small add into the university newspaper and distributed a few flyers at a gay/lesbian/bi party. Plus there is an online forum of our university, and we got an LGBT/queer sub-section on that forum.
The next mile stone: the first big meeting: 14 people showed up, nice atmosphere, nice people, I was happy. We discussed a name, our aims, and the procedure to become an official student association. And a smaller group still went into a bar afterwards and kept chatting until 1am. Very nice. Lots of sex talk also, I have to say. I think talking about sex is one of the easiest ways of bonding. Of course it only works if the framework of the talk is open enough to include the experiences (or "non-experiences") of the people with whom the bonding is supposed to take place.
Finally, the last milestone so far: The next meeting, which took place today. We were eight people, and we decided on a name: Kaleidoscope!!!! I really like it. It is very open, does not suggest limitation to any identity, suggests diversity and can also be invoked to explain that we want people to get a different view on the social world. Just like you get a different view of things when you look through a kaleidoscope. Your old stereotypes and arrogant presuppositions should break down just like the shapes of the objects which you see through a kaleidoscope! I really love the name. Names are important, they can make me feel good or bad. This one makes me feel good. It is also a playful, friendly, nice, fun thing to do, looking through a kaleidoscope. Something which children (often) love to do.
We also formulated our aims and distributed tasks and made a more concrete plan for the future. Yeah, it is going fine, the initiative is working out, something is born, created out of nothing, I cannot believe it. I look forward to the future, and I will report back again.
Is anyone still here? Anyone reading, anyone being the person with whom I share this?