UO Adjunct Instructor Suzi Steffen on the changing world for LGBTQ
My best friend and I buy a bunk bed when we make plans to live together our sophomore year. We happily sign the dorm contract. We’ve each survived bad roommate situations, and we’re good buddies. It’ll be perfect.
Over the summer, I realize I’m in love with her. I have no idea what to do. I can’t tell her; I can’t tell anyone. I want to die.
Each night, I go to sleep crying in the lower bunk, my tears as silent as the despair in my chest. Each day, I swallow my bitter heart.
One of many vivid nightmares that fall: I’m cutting up a blonde girl in a wedding dress and stuffing the body parts into a vacuum cleaner bag. I’m terrified my mother and sister will find out, that I won’t be the good girl I’ve always been. I won’t be the girl I just murdered.
Classes, however, are marvelous. I’m so happy reading Racine’s “Phèdre” in French class, “The Iliad” in Humanities 101. But I write down quotes about the burning uselessness of love. I listen to R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” over and over — “Oh no, I’ve said too much; I haven’t said enough.”
I lie when a French teacher asks us to describe an ideal partner. I lie to my mom. I lie to my friends — and I beg the universe for help. But I can’t talk. Like T.S. Eliot’s soldiers, I’m hollow: “Lips that would kiss form prayers to broken stone.”
Then, finally, the year ends. I live. Time does its thing — its relentless, blessed thing. Tori Amos’ “Girl” becomes my touchstone: Forget what my family wants for me. What do I want for myself?
What I get: a girlfriend, a semester abroad, graduation, a fellowship to grad school — and a better world for LGBT people. Queer Nation, ACT UP, k.d. lang, Melissa Etheridge, “The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love,” “Will and Grace” and “Ellen.”
People tell me it’s easier now for students — because of “Glee,” the Internet, Dan Savage, It Gets Better Project, marriage equality, Coming Out Week. I hope to hell that’s true.
Still, I know someone’s in a class or a dorm room, feeling ashamed, lonely, terrified about sexual orientation or gender identity.
If that’s you, please check out lgbt.uoregon.edu. The resource list is epic. And know you’ve got people like me to talk to.
But more importantly, you’ve got your own lodestar. You’ve got your heart. Don’t swallow it.
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