By Joshua Burrell, Staff Writer
Getting gifts and candy for lovers is easy, but Walmart doesn’t sell relationships. Finding a relationship is difficult, but how do queer people fair with fostering relationships in heteronormative spaces and are queer romances harder to maintain in the Atlanta University Center (AUC)?
“There’s this big idea of the perfect Spelhouse couple,” sophomore Diamond Williams said. “I have friends who do the ‘Spelhouse couple thing’ and it wasn’t hard for them to find partners.”
Every wave of Spelman and Morehouse student are told a certain narrative at New Student Orientation. The idiom “the greatest reason men of Morehouse drop out is Spelman” reinforces romantic expectations between the institutions’ students. This idea excludes Clark Atlanta students from AUC relationships and upholds heteronormative traditions which ignore a gender fluid reality.
Queer students attend all AUC institutions. One would think that both straight and queer identifying students have the capacity to enter relationships regardless of institution, but queer student expression is complicated by homophobic rhetoric and attitudes from students, staff and administration.
Homophobia throughout the AUC leads to students travelling off campus for relationships.
“When I first got here I wanted off-campus relationships,” Morehouse College alumni Evan White said. “I didn’t want people to know I was out.”
Whether students remain closeted for their own motivations or lack of campus support, feeling minimized influences a student’s ability to network and feel comfortable at their institution.
“The blatant and non-blatant displays of homophobia would make someone feel uncomfortable and want to stay closeted,” Diamond Williams said. “We all come to this space to learn and no one can learn if they feel unsafe and uncomfortable.”
Anyone can see a rainbow, but no one mentions the closeted queer community. Heteronormativity and subversive homophobia is internalized by incoming students resulting in self-inadequacy, lying, harassment, and discomfort for all parties involved. Queer students should have the freedom to identify without ostracization because heterosexual students are free to express themselves sexually.
“My first relationship in college was off campus with someone from higher education,” Morehouse College senior King Lyons said. “It was interesting for a straight identifying man to be in a relationship with me for so long. Straight identifying men usually experiment rather than knowing and seeking what they want.”
Homophobia hurts everyone: straights and queer folk alike.
Part of the problem in queer relationships is the small community. When queer people are “out” everyone’s aware of each other’s on-campus relationship history which impacts the possibility of having different partners. Small partner pools and miscommunication from closeted queers creates an stressful atmosphere packed with paranoia.
“I avoided on campus relationships a lot,” White said. “I felt the reputation of messing with other Morehouse people would spread around campus. The rhetoric of Morehouse wants to produce this ideal type of person, but this person is robotic.”
Relationships, romantic or cordial, are contentious when people aren’t comfortable with who they are. People will build walls to stay divided, but communication is the key to the closet. Cutting down these doors begins with colleges cultivating accepting spaces. Otherwise, those who feel otherwise can make uncomfortable conditions for people who are less daunted by conveying their identity.
“I’ve had students attempt to accuse me of sexual assault,” Lyons said. “They were in the closet and would rather point the finger than come out. I feel people who do that are trying to discover themself. Rather than pointing the finger out they should look in the mirror and figure out who they are regardless of what Morehouse and society tells them”
Social growth is stunted when students can only reflect through cracks in closet doors. College should be arena for curiosity not conformity. Ultimately higher learning is about discovery. People learn about themselves with self-reflection and communication, and neither of those are options when they are forced to hide themself to uphold and imaginary idea of an unrealistic identity.