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.
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.