By the time I was a junior in high school, I knew I was not straight.
I remember the summer before my junior year began, one of my best friends told me that she maybe she liked women. I told her I maybe did too.
I could not, however, share this realization to my high school, for fear of harassment and being stamped as “the gay kid” plagued me.
I didn’t want to be displayed on stage at assembly time at the Maret School in Northwest Washington, trying to convince a bunch of conservative baseball stars that I wasn’t a pervert. I felt my identity was more complicated, anyway. I was not gay. I was not straight. And bisexual seemed limiting. I was Jesse. So, to protect myself, I stayed silent.
Junior year was not just significant because I realized I was queer, but because it was the year that I had to start thinking about college. As I looked at the list of schools my college counselor gave to me, I knew I needed to go somewhere where I could work hard, somewhere with a good history and I knew I needed to go somewhere very queer.
I’d long since promised myself that I would never find myself in such a repressive situation again, as I did at Maret. So I set out to find that counter-culture to my high school experience.
After exhaustive research, talking with Maret alumni, reading the Fisk Guide, I narrowed my choices down to Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, and Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio
I scheduled my first visit to the 3,000-student Oberlin College campus in early October of my senior year and stayed with my friend’s older sister. She took me out to coffee to meet some of her friends and to my shock and delight, they were all queer. All of them. And they were talking about it like it was not a big deal.
I decided that I was definitely applying to Oberlin, seduced by my visit, by the prospect that I could finally be myself.
I was also seduced by Oberlin’s history, as it was the first university in the United States to accept students regardless of race or gender. I thought Oberlin had a lot to be proud of.
Of course, once I started school it became apparent that it was not the utopia I envisioned. Structural and institutional racism, transphobia, ignorance, apathy and white privilege still lingered.
But, it was not my high school. And of course, my whiteness and socio-economic status contributed to my comfort, but I felt that queerness was normalized.
Midway through my freshman year, I realized I had no straight friends. Some may say that this kind of intentional community is restrictive, which indeed, it can be, but after years of feeling stifled, crammed and pushed into a singular box, Oberlin is a breath of fresh air for me.
But by the end of March of my sophomore year I sat down outside my Economics 101 classroom next to a beautiful person. I thought she was very attractive. I loved her tomboy look, her baggy jeans, her blue eyes, her blonde hair. Over spring break I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I asked her out to coffee. She accepted. And that was it.
Being with her just felt right. It wasn’t a radical gesture, it just happened to be who I found attractive and who I fell in love with.
Even though I’ve had a positive queer experience at Oberlin, it’s important to remember that there are still many problematic aspects to queer life on campus.
I’ve been disappointed by the complacency of the white queer community and the often toxic-masculinity that many queer women and trans-masculine individuals have adopted. Many of my trans and non-binary friends still struggle to feel comfortable on campus. Many of my friends who use they/them/theirs pronouns, are still misgendered by close friends even after they announce their preferred gender pronouns.
There is still so much work that the Oberlin-LGBT community needs to do.
But, we still try to celebrate our queerness, regularly. We have “queer beers” every Tuesday night, where we get together at our campus “bar” and celebrate.
We drink some beers, see each other, hear each other, dance and laugh together, and this normalization and this self-love, in a world that often teaches us that we are wrong, is radical and reminds me that I chose the right college.