I’ve studied at Oswego State for nearly four years now, but I’ve been gay for much, much longer. A Christmas home video from when I was four reveals me swapping a sleek motorcycle action figure for my sister’s Easy-Bake oven. We should have seen this coming.
Still, it took me until I was 15 to realize I was gay (“not that there’s anything wrong with that”). This being the case, I’m familiar with the gay stereotype. You know the one: all little gay boys and girls dream of leaving their rural homes some day for the bright lights and frozen landscape of a provincial public college tucked away in a sparsely populated tundra. Or was that just me?
But seriously, Oswego isn’t exactly a gay-magnet. Nonetheless, if you’ve already paid your deposit (and you should think very carefully about this before you do), then you’ll have to make it work. So here are some tips from someone who took a lot of sour lemons and made a vat of glittery lemontinis.
But first, a story. On move-in day I unpacked my belongings, sort of like a refugee would, while talking to my roommate’s mother about how totally awesome Madonna was. (Are you getting the idea that there were a lot of signs?). Actually, I had two roommates, and we each knew that at some point space would become available and one of us was going to have to move out. Rather, the other two would force one of us to leave. I was determined this would not be me.
So I lied. I pretended to be straight so that when the time came, they wouldn’t tag-team me just because I was gay (Okay, poor choice of words). Turns out that was not an issue. Three weeks into the semester we voted that the roommate who we had never seen change his pants would have to make the great migration down the hall. The tribe had spoken.
Having dodged a bullet there, I still had to deal with my lie. That meant sitting through mind-numbing conversations with my remaining roommate, Chris, about girl troubles, contact sports and which girls in the hall “we” thought were hot. I finally “outed” myself the day before winter break, to which he said, “I know” –say what you want about Chris, but that kid can read a sign when he sees one, or at least when it bunks under him and won’t stop yammering about Madonna.
The moral of the story: it’s alright to lie about these things if you think people can’t accept the truth. But lying is so much work. I can’t count the number of times I quickly stashed my copy of “OUT” magazine under my pillow as I heard the doorknob turn (Who had the hottest abs on television fall of 2008? Now, I’ll never know).
And don’t underestimate the power of people to surprise you. Chris is still one of my best friends and our bonding only got stronger once I started being honest; don’t deny people the chance to rise to the occasion.
On that note, I should mention that people do not always rise to the occasion. More time than Admissions would like me to admit was spent “educating” people. Mostly when someone used the word “gay” as a pejorative, or let “the other f-word” slip. It is perfectly normal to point out that those are unacceptable communications. In fact, I consider it a duty.
But with great power comes great responsibility. I read that once on the back of an electric bill. What I mean by this is that one should make others feel awkward or shamed—often extremely so—but only so far as it gets them to change their attitude toward gay people, or at least keep their ignorance to themselves. Go no further.
By being militant, punitive or overly sensitive to offense you lose the biggest advantage, which is that most people mean no harm and want you to like them. Being a jerk in return turns off this urge for compliance. You aren’t required to have granite skin, but if you traverse the world with glass bones, then you are the alchemist of your own disappointment.
Despite all these things, I loved my time here at Oswego—all gay complaints aside. I met friends I’ll never forget and absorbed knowledge from some truly wise teachers; I also had the life-changing opportunity to edit a little rag called The Oswegonian.
While most students go four years here and still refer to mom and dad’s house as “home,” I actually adapted the term to my dorm room after the first semester. And as I prepare to leave Oz and embark for greener pastures, I can’t shake the feeling that months from now in a big unfamiliar city, I’ll be tapping my ruby-red heels together, murmuring, “there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.”