Intersections of Oppression: Sexual Assault and the Myth of Gay Affluence
By Jamie Maas
We’ve all heard about the romanticized college experience - the parties, the hookups, the lifelong friends. College, according to these fairytales, is supposed to be the best time of your life. These ideals are as beautiful as they are unattainable. I remember my first days of college. I was so excited I almost wet my stereotypical rhinestone jeans. Finally I was free from the conservative shackles of my hometown and could live and experience life the way I’ve seen the affluent gay males on T.V. do. Finally, I was living in a city with more than one openly gay guy, a real and functioning gay bar, and a new, more accepting friend group. No more awkward encounters with closeted football players behind the bleachers or flaky Grindr hookups. Here, I imagined, I could break the chains of hetero-supremacy and finally live and experience my own subjectivity. This utopian ideal, like most utopias, was completely smashed to unrecognizable bits, pretty much the first day. I’m honestly not sure what did it for me. It could have been the radical Christian missionary standing on a cardboard box with a sign that read “no faggots go to heaven,” or maybe the average looking blonde-haired, blue-eyed football player telling me to keep my “eyes off his butt.” But in hindsight, I would say it is definitely the atmosphere of the university. I couldn’t walk down the street without hearing drunken frat boys yelling profanities, and walking home alone late at night is a feat that I am still too afraid to attempt. This is not a unique occurrence, but something that happens to the majority of queer students all across the board and I got off easy.
According to the Association of American Universities in 2015, queer students were among the most likely to experience sexual violence on campus, more than any other demographic. These statistics indicate that queer students are disproportionally picked out, victimized, and left without a lot of the support systems needed to overcome the trauma of sexualized violence. Queer students only occupy about 1.5% of a universities’ total student body, and tend to get left out of the overall conversation about rampant rates of sexualized violence. Specifically, transgender students were the most likely demographic to experience this sexualized violence, and make up such a small minority of the student body, that they are often left without any help. Most school counselors are not trained to deal with queer issues and most schools don’t run targeted campaigns to eliminate, or even just mitigate the constant and looming threat of violence queer students receive at the hands of abusive people. This means that universities often don’t take action to end the violence against queer individuals because they are deemed as not important, or large enough to warrant “special attention.” These instances of sexual assault are uniquely discouraging. Imagine the heartbreak of after working and working your way to a better life through higher education, all one receives on a campus full of people of comparable academic merit is ridicule, harassment, and sexual violence. This discouragement explains the higher rates of dropouts and the increased instances of depression and self-harm that have become commonplace for the average queer student. Is this the message that the institutions that represent the paragon of liberal democratic ideals should send? We as a society denigrate and harass people who drop out of college, yet fail to provide the institutional support and help that queer students need in order to maintain the lifestyle as a student. Today’s students suffer enough with crippling debt, stressful schedules, and the confusing journey they must undergo to become a person. Sexual violence and homophobic bashing is not something anybody should ever have to spend time worrying about.
So yes, sexual assault on college campuses is a serious problem for women that needs to be addressed. Yes, societal institutions that allow female victimization must end. But while this conversation is ongoing and good and while progressive legislation is being passed, it’s important not to forget the struggles that queer students go through, and it’s important to not let our Trans, gay, lesbian and bisexual brothers and sisters slip through the cracks. Not all queers are male, white, or even wealthy, and we must remember the plight of the queer if we are able to truly make the university a safe and equitable place.