Project for Open Voices: “Coming Out at Kenyon”

The Thrill is proud to feature personal narratives courtesy of the Project for Open Voices. Today’s essay was authored by Chris Philpot ’12. POV is currently seeking submissions, so check out this link if you’re interested.

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I told my parents I was gay while they were visiting Kenyon last December. After a couple hours of crying and questioning in their Kenyon Inn room, my mom asked me if all of the friends they had met the night before knew. I said yes. She responded, “I’m glad you’ve found such an amazing group of people who really support you.” Every time I’ve retold this story since then, I always get choked up when I say that – because I know it’s true.

As a white, middle-class male, I can’t say that my identity aligns with too many axes of oppression. But I can say that I’ve confronted homophobia enough times to recognize that I’m not free. The great thing about Kenyon, though, is that I’m able to select my friends, and I’ve been lucky enough to encounter a group of people who support me unconditionally. In that sense, Kenyon has been a great place because it has allowed me to grow, to make up for lost time: I’ve politicized my identity, I’m fighting for social justice, and I still find time to “hook up” and have intense conversations with friends in Middle Ground about heterosexism and social constructions. ‘Living the life,’ right?

Kenyon is not paradise, though, and I’ve learned that the hard way. I remember hearing reports of homophobic incidents on campus during my first year, which only made me more frightened. That year, I didn’t talk with any of my friends about what I was feeling, though I think a lot of them already knew.

Last semester – seven semesters after the incident mentioned in the last paragraph – I was dancing with another guy at an Old Kenyon party when three bros walked past us, all of them stopped, and then one of them pointed and said loudly, “GAY.” Needless to say, it kind of put a damper on my night, and I left the party sulking. It wasn’t as if these bros were walking around the party and identifying the orientation of every couple on the dance floor; it wasn’t like they were celebrating homosexuality as a positive aspect of Kenyon’s tolerant atmosphere. But I was also pretty confused, because even though their tone was negative, they weren’t using explicitly derogatory or hateful language, they weren’t throwing around “fag” or telling me to go to hell.

What I can say for sure is that it made me uncomfortable, and where I feel uncomfortable I no longer feel safe. There are certain places on this campus where I know I cannot be myself.

I graduate in a little over a month, but just because I’m leaving Kenyon does not mean that I’ve stopped caring about the place. Kenyon has given me a lot, so I feel I owe it to Kenyon to make it a safe place for everyone. Maybe these narratives can be the first step in a better direction.

10 responses

  1. I’d just like to point out that this story was published last April when the POV put out their only issue. I’m wondering if people from POV could answer one question for me. Do you have any new material? You published many powerful stories last April. Shouldn’t there be some new ones by now?

    • As it says at the top of the post, POV is currently gathering submissions for a new publication due out this spring. We run posts from the first publication here on the Thrill as a way of publicizing POV narratives and encouraging others to share their stories in subsequent publications.

  2. I can understand the concern this article expresses – regardless when it was published. However, it is a microcosm of the bigger issue of bullying. Bullying by anyone for any reason should not be condoned, but it is because many people don’t wish to be “involved” . Well, GET INVOLVED!

  3. Seems like there is a commonality amongst all these articles that deal with discrimination and “persecution” of lesbian and gay people– the use of the word “bro.” It’s very clear that the people writing these articles associate a negative meaning with the word “bro” and that it is just as offensive as gay or lesbian or faggot in this little bubble we call Kenyon.

    • I do see your point, but “bro” being “just as offensive as” faggot? No, definitely not. People here are using “bro” as a stereotype, so it is a bit of an issue, but not the one that we need to spend energy on right now. For example, think about how many people at Kenyon have gotten offended because someone called them a “bro.” Guaranteed, it’s a lot fewer people than those like the author, who are made uncomfortable because of being gay.

      • You are correct that the F-word isn’t as offensive as “bro”, it was meant to draw your attention and elicit a reaction. I’m pleased that you were able to see past that utterance and take meaning from comment as a whole. I’m certain many others wouldn’t have.

        Perhaps those people don’t get offended because they know the people stereotyping them as a “bro” have no actual bearing on their life other than making them feel “bad” that night at New Apts or OK. Oh yeah, or making you feel like they can’t walk around Gambier at night for fear of running into a “bro” in boat shoes.

        Seriously, I acknowledge that these words are not okay but the people saying these things mean nothing to those people they’re said about. Chances are if someone calls me a “bro” in a derogatory way, they’re not in my friend group and will never add value to my life. Thus, it matters not what they say to or about me. BUT if I did feel strongly enough about it, I would approach them personally because that accomplishes a lot more than writing an article they may never see will.

        To your statement that “bro” is not the word we need to spend energy on, I ask, when is the right time?, and why isn’t bro as important as gay or lesbian? Maybe it’ll be when a “bro” causes an uprising and gets some press from POV, The Thrill or the Collegian because he/she is scared to go out or made feel uncomfortable by another group of people on this campus?

  4. Pingback: Do it Tonight: POV x SpoWoCo, Evening of Spoken Word and Music | The Thrill

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