The safe spaces that shape usBottom Highlights, Latest Issue, Queerly Forward Thursday, July 20th, 2017
Commentary: Queerly Forward
If you ask almost anyone in our community about where they first felt safe to be authentically queer, they can remember. For some, it was a place, for others, a person; for me, it was Gettysburg, Pa.
I have always been a blend of nerdy and artistic, two qualities to which I am happy to lay claim, leading to my primary extracurricular activity throughout high school being yearbook. By the time I was a senior, I was editor-in-chief and the drive to produce the perfect book was ingrained in my existence. I, like many of my fellow staffers, lived and breathed everything yearbook, which included attending conferences to grow our skills and camps to develop ideas and connections.
Gettysburg Yearbook Experience, or GYE for short, was held at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa. Most can acknowledge the meaning of this historic town by conjuring a vague memory from high school history class. Despite being located in the North, this town felt South. The highlights included a diner backing up to the train tracks, the 7-11 where we celebrated Free Slurpee Day (as the camp dates fell in early July), and the famous battlefield, complete with historical re-enactments. There was a motorcycle convention, or maybe it was a parade, in town that weekend too. It was the least queer-appearing space from the outside looking in, but it quickly became my sanctuary.
It was the summer before college, and I had just come out, though only having shared this realization with exactly two people. I initially saw my upcoming time as a directors’ assistant at GYE as the space where I could test out this new label with a high degree of anonymity. When I arrived, the other DAs, a nickname we proudly wore, awed me. There was a staunch juxtaposition in my mind between who they were and who my high school peers had been – they were so alternative. They were creatives, unabashedly sporting their originality outwardly, confident and self-assured. I idolized them. Feeling otherwise plain, I wore my newfound sexual label with pride, liberated by the sense of otherness it gave me.
I vividly remember the moment another DA told me that she, too, was bisexual. We were sitting in the cafeteria, eating lunch. I was already crushing hard on her, so when she shared her mirroring identity, it clicked together two cogs in my mind that started churning my queer existence: I had a crush on a girl, and this girl was also attracted to women. Despite her expressing no interest in return, it was enough to give tangibility to my identity: my attraction could one day translate into the possibility of attraction back.
A few of my fellow DAs knew about my crush, and they listened as I gushed and laughed right alongside me as I acted a complete fool over her. It was a beautiful existence, being authentic without any judgment or expectation. It was the kind of existence so many of us strive for, the kind of safety the world too often falls short of.
While my days at GYE totaled less than two weeks, their significance was immeasurable. It was the first space in which I was accepted as and felt free to be queer – and that is irreplaceable.
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