by Jacob Tobia (NY Times, March 29, 2018)
As an undergraduate at Duke University, I was something of a campus unicorn. I was anything but quiet about my sexuality and my gender identity. I’d hold my head high sporting bright red lipstick and a full beard; dance on the bar, unshaven legs exposed by a miniskirt; strut unashamed across cobblestones in four-inch heels. I wasn’t just gay — I was a total queen. And for half of the gay men on campus, I was something of a goddess, an inspiration, a friend.
But for the other half, I was embarrassing. I was that flamboyant gay kid who made everyone else look bad by association. Many gay men on campus were so unsettled by me, so vicariously ashamed of my gender expression, that they’d avoid eye contact, wouldn’t even talk to me. The irony is that these very gay men were allowed to be “normal” because I was the campus freak. My unabashed femininity was what paved the way for gay men in, say, fraternities to come out without jeopardizing their masculinity. I was the shameful femme foil to their butch pride. At the same time as they disavowed me, they profited from my existence.
I had flashbacks to my campus years this weekend when I went to see the movie “Love, Simon.” From what I’d heard, it was a revelation: a film that effortlessly normalized the queer experience in a touching, quirky and beautiful way, a film so important that celebrities were buying out theaters in their hometowns so that gay teenagers could see it free.
I walked out at the end in a shambles, a veritable genderqueer mess.
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