I am George. I have been George since February, and incidentally, I have also been LGBTQ rep for St Hugh’s JCR for almost as much time. My coming out as trans in college came in the form of unrelentingly flamboyant manifestos which identified me as “George Haggett, The Hughsie Formerly known as Emma Haggett,” and I’m pleased to say that nobody batted an eyelid.
Or, perhaps I should say that they didn’t bat an eyelid at my being trans.
On the day that elections were held, a Versa article entitled ‘Why LGBTQ Reps are a Terrible, Patronising Idea’ was written anonymously by a member of my college. The assertion was that “the notion of an ‘LGBTQ community’ that might be represented by its own elected officer is nonsense”. The tone was patronising and damning.
Happily, the reaction was largely an affronted one, with comments ranging from the edifying, “There are groups of people who have the same obstacles placed in their way, and who have the same privileges denied to them,” to the dismissive, “U wanker”, to the defiant,”THE QUEER SPRING IS COMING.”
Confronted with the fact that my first move as rep would have to be in response to this, I wrote a very softly-softly response article in the college newspaper. In it, I acknowledged that post-modern identity politics have, to a certain extent, elevated the things that we do into the things that we are.
And it’s true. Perhaps I’ve read too much Butler this year (is it even possible to read too much Butler?) but a number of my friends have found that to approach gender, sexuality, and romantic attraction in terms of constructs which we can navigate is liberating, empowering, and flexible.
This kind of thinking gives marginalised identities meaningful agency. It allows us all to reject well-meaning but oppressive born “this way” arguments which teleologically lead to the pursuit of the “gay gene” and “male/female brains” (*shudder*).
It also thoroughly rejects the “lame categorisation” to which the Versa author so pointedly objected, without ignoring the reality that human subjects don’t live in a vacuum.
Of course many of us can’t be pigeon-holed, but that doesn’t mean that a heteronormative and cis-sexist society doesn’t try damn hard to do that – and in doing so, as the commenter above rightly pointed out, deny LGBTQ people certain privileges and oppress us in certain ways.
As I hope I’m making clear, the complexity of human identities is the real issue here, and Versa sorely missed it.
I don’t think that anybody’s advocating a transcendent, homogenising Queergeist spearheaded by an omniscient oracle; being a minorities rep is multifaceted and challenging.
Aside from officially addressing specific oppressions faced by LGBTQ undergrads, a rep has to support the person who had a slur shouted at them in the street, or is facing familial rejection, or thinks they may want to transition but has no idea where to start. Perhaps most importantly of all, an LGBTQ rep understands the importance of having an exceptionally strong tea and cake game.
Unfortunately, some of the specific oppressions that I’m referring to got a little bit too specific last term. We changed the name of our first Bop from ‘Queer’ to ‘Express Yourself’ amid two camps of concern: on one side, the really rather legitimate qualms which some LGBTQ JCR members had about potential appropriation and the fact that the term ‘queer’ has not been fully reclaimed by everybody, and on the other, the altogether less legitimate complaint that, “We wouldn’t have a straight bop,” and, “Bops are for everyone, so why is this aimed at just this one group?”
The compromise that ensued unfortunately ended up feeling a bit like erasure for some of us, but hopefully that can be cathartically remedied by something along the lines of a PRIDE BOP next year.
That being said, in conjunction with some really quite off-colour “banter” among a few individuals on the JCR Facebook page the night before rep elections, Hilary term wasn’t the easiest of terms to be LGBTQ at St Hugh’s. While I’m confident that what happened was a result of people who were at best ill-informed and at worst being thoughtless and silly, it became apparent that something needed to be done.
Whether or not some of the less than ideal events of last term would’ve happened had we had an existing LGBTQ rep is impossible to say, but now we do there’s a lot that we can do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Hugh’s now proudly sports an LGBTQ committee, which is planning three 101 talks this term in acknowledgement of the fact that not everybody who comes to Oxford has necessarily known many people who aren’t cis and straight. Hopefully they’ll be well-attended and reflect how open-minded and accepting I know, from my experience of coming out as trans, that my college can be.
Of course it’s impossible to represent the entire LGBTQ community all of the time. But what the author of the Versa article failed to understand is that that is part-and-parcel of its wonderful diversity, and I wouldn’t change that for the world. But my job is literally just to care about how LGBTQ people in the college that I love are getting on and to have their backs, and it’s only a shame that that position was so thoroughly vindicated last term.
I am consequently insurmountably grateful to the people who worked hard to make the role a reality, and humbled that I have to opportunity to look out for such a great group of people.