When we talk about spaces, we don’t merely mean the materiality of location. An important factor to be considered is the people who occupy the space. When we throw sexuality into the mix, cues like the tone and manner in which conversations on sexuality take place including physical reactions from subtle flinches to more overt reactions all contribute to how a space is perceived by an individual.
Let us talk about college – a space with the power to influence changing bodies and growing minds on matters beyond future career goals.
I spent my years in college wishing I had a space where I could proudly be myself rather than hide behind the role of an over-enthusiastic ally. The campus environment forced me to place limitations on myself. There were trivial things like being mindful about seemingly innocent remarks about another woman looking ‘cute’, which would inevitably raise eyebrows questioning my orientation.
But the thing with placing limitations is that it unfortunately does not have any clear boundaries. It starts out by restricting yourself in a small space, maybe among a certain group of friends on campus, or in certain hostile classrooms, but the thing with spaces is that they are dynamic and there will inevitably be overlaps. Thus, the restrictions that started out in limited settings began creeping into other spaces as well and slowly I found myself backed up in a suffocating corner, the only place where I could truly be myself.
For instance, since I felt my campus wasn’t safe, it spilled over and I couldn’t continue to use my name on social media and this meant having to consciously shift from honesty to indulging in white lies depending on the platform or person. The seemingly harmless remark about the ‘cute’ girl could lead to problematic consequences with the potential to change everything for the worse if the space was not inclusive and affirming When sexual orientation and/or gender identity have the immense power and potential to change everything, then is it really fair to restrict conversations about them in certain settings under the often-abused old adage that ‘there is a time and place to talk about things’?
Whenever I complained to someone about this predicament I found myself in, I was often met with words packaged differently but echoing the same core advice: to adjust.
I dislike this word with a passion. We live in a world where resilience is celebrated and given priority over attempting to resolve factors that force one to be resilient. Campuses shouldn’t aim to merely be inclusive of diverse individuals – they must strive to not only affirm them but also celebrate them.
While it is a daunting task to carve out inclusive and affirmative spaces on campuses, especially as a new student, the bottom rung of the hierarchical ladder in a college, there are many queer collectives across various campuses in India that try to offer peer-led support to overcome this challenge.
That is why the Queer Ambassador Project led by Sangath is an important initiative. It aims to bring together various collectives established across campuses in India and connect them with students who aim to create these spaces in their own campuses by offering a transactional learning opportunity. This project provides a platform for the exchange of ideas and resources between those students who have led successful queer collectives in their campus with students who are keen to begin advocating for an inclusive and affirmative campus space. After all, if young students don’t feel like they belong in their college campuses among peers of their age group who sit in the same classrooms, study the same books and are taught by the same teachers, then what lasting lessons are we really leaving them with?