Hookup culture stigmatizes queer students

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Author: Chance Ward

It’s about three trap songs after 1 a.m. and, from off-campus house parties to dorm room kickbacks alike, the natural migration to The Cooler commences. There is a familiar sensation in the air amid the aroma of overcooked mac and cheese bites and beer-scented breath. Everyone knows it, everyone feels it, everyone has it on the tip of their tongues: We’re horny.

While this is a sensation known well on campus, we often only see it on one side of the spectrum: the cishet (cisgender, heterosexual) side. By increasing visibility of the queer side of things, we can debunk the myth that progressive campuses like Occidental’s are a safe haven with sexual liberation for all. The reality is that sex in college doesn’t always look like casual encounters in tapestry-clad dorm rooms filled with twinkly lights and burning incense. It is important that we make queer hookup culture visible, or else the stigmatization of queer sex on campus will persist.

Through the likes of “American Pie” and “Superbad,” college has long been depicted as a liberating sexual paradise. In fraternity dreamlands like these, the prophecies of trap gods like Future would ring true and we would all know in our hearts, “you do what you want when you poppin’.” But the heteronormative standards we lock in place through our behavior and consumption of pop culture dictate that unless you’re a muscled-out bro or a pale, passive princess, you’re certainly not poppin’. This kind of couple appears at any given Oxy party, swapping spit directly in front of the speakers, making sure there’s no space for actual dancing. But hey, they’re poppin’.

The queer community at Occidental knows this experience all too well. We, the tired, the weak. We who occupy the outskirts of parties, dancing so well that you might actually think that party was lit. We whose stomachs turn at the sight of our cishet friends’ sloppy slobber-swapping, but still two-step by their side. We who walk home alone after parties, shaking in fear of Occidental’s possums, raccoons and coyotes. We who encounter nature’s predators while dodging the sprinklers that go off on campus at night, all while our cishet friends embrace their ever-so-accessible sexual freedom.

College parties are one of the many spaces in which queer students cannot practice the same liberties as their cishet peers without fear of judgment. The truth is that Occidental’s campus reeks of this negative stigma, from the homophobic epithets carved into the library study room walls to the lack of attendance at queer-centered events (with the largest event of the year, The Coming Out Story Slam, reporting an uncharacteristically high 50 students in attendance). But queer students at Occidental cite parties, above all else, to be the most saturated with the stigmatization of their experiences. LGBTQ individuals are three times more likely than others to be diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, and college parties are one of the many spaces that trigger such feelings of anxiety.

“People usually don’t say anything [homophobic],”explained a gay first year, who chose to remain anonymous. “But when I kiss a guy and everyone around me starts howling and gasping and forming circles I really don’t know how I’m supposed to feel … Going to an Oxy party is literally like setting myself on fire and waiting to see how big the flames are going to get.”

A bisexual sophomore shared this discomfort, explaining that it discourages her from attending parties at all.

“Straight people are always making it into a show … straight men will yell or put it on Snapchat if they see me with a girl … Hence why I just don’t even participate,” she said.

The aforementioned sophomore explained that because many cishet students are oblivious to the difficulties queer students face, they don’t realize that they themselves are part of the problem. She went on to explain how the perpetuation of queer stigma at Occidental extends beyond the realm of public affection and awkward stares.

“People who are perfectly kind to me during the day transform into homophobic, sexualizing a–holes, even predators, hours later and six shots in,” she said. ” … Either learn how to control yourself and your microaggressions when you’re wasted or don’t drink as much. I shouldn’t have to suffer for you to have a good time.”

At Occidental, I’m sure this is not the first time most readers are being exposed to the narrative of queer isolation. But still, the hookup culture on campus does not change. One of the simplest ways to create safer spaces is to avoid actively flaunting privilege within them. To cishet allies who would like to begin the process of changing hookup culture at Occidental, I will present this simple challenge: On your next weekend excursion, try not exhibiting excessive PDA, try dancing without gluing your pelvis to another person, try getting three songs in without putting your tongue in someone else’s mouth, try not sexualizing every queer couple you see, try not abandoning your friends at parties so you can hook up. And if any of this feels uncomfortable, try harder.

Chance Ward is a sophomore Critical Theory and Social Justice major. They can be reached at ward@oxy.edu.

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