Queeriosity: The Importance of Being Exceptional

Queeriosity is a biweekly column dedicated to discussing LGBTQ student life at Amherst College. If you are interested in contributing to the Queeriosity column, contact the Amherst College Queer Resource Center at [email protected].

This is my first contribution to The Amherst Student and to Queeriosity, so I’ll take advantage of this opportunity to introduce myself to the whole campus. I’m Evelyn Touchette, a first-year student from Arizona. I work as an office assistant at the Queer Resource Center, and I have something to admit to you all.

Now, since I work at the Queer Resource Center, and since this is a Queeriosity article I’m writing, chances are you’ve got a guess as to what it is. Big surprise, right? The thing is, if you guessed that I’m queer, you’re wrong. I am straight, which in LGBTQ-speak, makes me an ally.

Don’t worry: I’m not going to get on a soapbox. I’m not here to prove I’m a better ally than you. There will be no pop quiz on the meaning of the letters in LGBTQIAP (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer/Questioning Intersex Asexual Pansexual). In fact, I’m feeling quite a lot of pressure to not say anything at all, because just saying “I’m an ally” puts me on the defensive. I feel like I have to explain to people that I’m still “normal” — not because I want it to be clear that I’m straight, but so that others won’t associate me with queer people. And that, folks, is an insult to the very community I want to support.

The truth is I am not normal, and I have never wanted to be normal. In every aspect of my life, I want to be exceptional: in my academics, in my personal style, in my witty conversation, in my goals for the future. I’ll even say that I am exceptional in many of these areas, not normal. Normal didn’t get me into Amherst, and I’m pretty sure none of you got into Amherst by being normal, either. The truth is, I have never met anyone in my life who wanted to be just like everyone else — except when it comes to identity.

Identity, whether it’s sexual, economic, racial, or any number of other ways we’ve invented as a society to categorize each other, is something we all struggle with. Having an “exceptional” identity — one that differs from the norm — can be hard to live with and hard to talk about, and for good reason. Despite that, we are doing it here. The Day of Dialogue and Amherst Reflects are two examples of Amherst students daring to challenge normative expectations about race and identity — daring to be exceptional.

With this in mind, I challenge you to continue being exceptional. I challenge you to be an exceptional ally. If you already identify as an ally, if you have an ally button or an “I Support Love” T-shirt, that is great. Do a little more. Come to the Queer Resource Center; we’re in the basement of Morrow Dormitory. Learn about what all those letters mean. Attend a Pride meeting. We will welcome you.
I know it’s hard. You’re busy. You have midterms. Maybe you attend other clubs and identity groups. Maybe you’re practically surviving on coffee and all-nighters — I know I am. Well, the Queer Resource Center is great place to do homework, and we have lots of coffee.

That’s not really why it’s hard, though. It’s hard because you’re stepping into an unfamiliar space, a space where you might not know what you’re doing. As an Amherst student, that’s scary. It’s hard because you’re taking a stand, just by walking in the door. What if people assume you’re queer? What if people start to think you’re not normal?
Remember, you’re exceptional, not normal.

Yes, some people will assume that you’re queer if you visit the Queer Resource Center or attend a Pride meeting on campus. Some of them might even make judgments about you for it. The thing is, the people who make those kinds of assumptions are the same people who assume that just because you’re an athlete you must be dumb, or that just because you look Asian you must speak fluent Chinese — and since when have those people ever been worth trying to please?

Being an ally is hard, but then again, being exceptional usually is. You don’t have to carry a rainbow flag everywhere you go to be an ally any more than you have to burn bras to be a feminist. You don’t even have to do what I currently do and introduce yourself with your preferred pronouns. (Although you might be asked to do so inside the Queer Resource Center, you don’t have to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. That’s why we call it a safe space.) Support everyone’s right to feel safe and accepted in their sexuality or asexuality, gender conformity or nonconformity, by learning about identities other than your own. That’s what it takes to be exceptional.