Many secondary school graduates dream of getting into a good university, furthering their studies, and obtaining those prestigious letters behind their name. For some, this may mean journeying abroad and experiencing the university atmosphere of the United States, Canada or Europe. For others, it could mean attending university right here in Trinidad, and discovering themselves in the micro-society that is Trinidadian college life.
Regardless of the destination, the university years are a whirlwind journey of fun, exploration and self-discovery, meant to shape the rest of our lives. Yet for many young people, this period can be a terrifying exercise in hiding their true self. This is one such story, of three, young homosexuals – the closest of friends – discovering their inner strength, as they brave the intimidating atmosphere of a Christian university where their very existence is prohibited.
The university itself doesn’t seem daunting; it looks like any other university I have entered, teeming with students, faculty and staff, as they bustle, conducting their daily business. Students here look as stressed as any other university student, their faces a mixture of frustration and excitement. But these three friends hide a common secret, something that differentiates their journey through university.
Of the three, Stacy* is the first to truly open up to me. She is lively, outgoing, and very outspoken. Laughing, she tells me that she is usually the one to open her mouth and thus quickly attract trouble. When asked what she plans to do with her life, she proudly proclaims her love for music and everything related to it. Though she hasn’t selected music as her major, she hopes to become a professional musician, and focus on sound engineering.
“She really is a talented musician,” the other young lady interjects. “Even though she plays the fool a lot.”
And so we meet Beth*, an aspiring young writer who dreams of helping children. Bold and highly opinionated, she refuses to stay silent during a debate in any of her classes. She wants nothing more than to be a published author, yet shyly admits that she doesn’t really think she’s that talented. As to her plans for the future, Beth confidently states that she refuses to end up as a ‘starving artist’, so she has set aside her dreams of being an author, while attempting to build a career in psychology, because she wants to “help others, especially children”.
Now to the third friend, Moonesh*. He is a well-mannered, young man who is quick to laugh. He dreams of opening a home for the elderly and traveling the world. Despite his love for his major – social sciences – his true passion lies in medicine.
“All three agree that being homosexual in a restrictive, Christian environment was the most significant factor in their coming together as friends.”
All three agree that being homosexual in a restrictive, Christian environment was the most significant factor in their coming together as friends. Stacy acknowledges that being the only obviously gay individuals in the entire school bonded them.
She says: “Being three ‘homos’ jus tryin’ to make it outta here alive really fuelled our friendship to the point it is now. I don’t think I would have bonded with them if we were in any other school, anywhere else, and I woulda thought Moonesh was a crazy, lil, Indian boy and Beth an uptight, white girl who was playin’ it too safe for me.”
When the topic of how they view their sexuality is brought up, Beth laughs and says that her friends constantly tell her that she is “very obvious” about her orientation.
“I’m a proud, gold-star lesbian,” she tells me, smiling. “I’ve always known I was attracted to women. I didn’t always accept it and at a certain point in my life. I tried hard to change. In the end, however, I realized that there was nothing wrong with me, and I would always be attracted to women, whether I acknowledged it or not.”
Stacy admits that she is not entirely certain what ‘label’ she would use to describe herself, and simply states, “I can sex a man, but I can’t love him as I love women”. This is something she’s known since she was in primary school.
“I caught myself checking out a classmate of mine and wantin’ to kiss her,” she adds. “And I was madly in love with mih Standard 4 teacher too. I was always putting myself in situations so we could be alone and I didn’t give a rat’s ass ‘bout the boys that were checkin’ me out.”
Moonesh explains that he considers himself bisexual, but with a heavier preference for men, to which both women burst out laughing. He has known, since he was six, that he was attracted to the same sex.
We arrive at the main issue of daily, university life, and I ask why they had chosen to attend this particular institution. Each had their own reasons, Stacy’s being that at the time she was selecting a school, this one enabled her to major in psychology and minor in music. Beth, on the other hand, had no intention of coming here, and that due to a mix-up in her application to another school, she opted to come here, rather than stay at home and do nothing. Out of the three, only Moonesh consciously chose to attend here, because he liked the environment and the discipline offered by the university.
Despite knowing in advance that the university was a Christian institution, and would thus have certain restrictions, all three admit that they never imagined it would be this restrictive.
Beth freely states that she likes some of the individuals she meets, but that there is a prevalent, close-minded attitude among the student body, as well as throughout the faculty. Stacy, however, voiced her displeasure with the institution, most notably the fact that she felt constantly and unfairly judged by faculty and students alike.
Beth acknowledges that she feels judged by those around her, mainly because she is the more masculine of the two women. She shares that she has personally experienced prejudice at the hands of a student.
“I have been called a dyke by students.”
“I was walking through the lounge, and someone shouted out ‘shim’ and ‘it’,” she recalls. “I have been called a dyke by students. Usually I ignore it, as people are just ignorant. But it hurts to hear them call me an ‘it’.”
The worst part of the trio’s situation is that there are rules in the university’s code of conduct that list expulsion or other disciplinary action, if there is suspicion or confirmation of homosexual activity by students. This rule encompasses on and off-campus interactions, the university’s very own ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. While the rule exists, the university has never approached them about their lifestyle. Even Beth, Stacy and Moonesh are unsure about exactly what the rule fully entails, because of how broadly it is written.
Stacy shares that she was especially hurt when she came across this university policy, and that it made her question why she even bothered to continue her enrolment. Moonesh felt “less human” by the sharp wording and harsh punishment outlined by the regulation, but Beth experienced a more emotional reaction.
“I was completely pissed off!” she exclaims, taking a deep breath before continuing. “University is meant to be a forum for free thinking and exploration of new ideas, without restriction. We’re meant to think outside the box while finding ourselves, and it’s impossible to do that here.”
Stacy, Beth and Moonesh all agree that, if given the opportunity, they would enrol at a different university, where they would not feel unequal to the other students. Having like-minded individuals to interact with, they all say, would also be worth attending another institution. Beth passionately expressed her distaste at having to change her behaviour to match the environment she was in.
“I hate having to constantly hide who I am and having to censor myself so no one would suspect that I was homosexual, particularly when faced with the ignorant and close-minded views of the students and professors,” she says. “I would try to enlighten people, teach them that homosexuals didn’t choose to be gay. I would ask them, who would choose this? Who would choose to be discriminated against and treated as trash? Who would choose to be disowned by their family or face the threat of violence every day?”
“I hate having to conform to their ‘norms’, their ‘good girls wear skirts and submit to men norms’,” Stacy adds. “I’m not that kind of girl. I like wearing jeans and I like my piercings and jewellery. I like wearing hats and having my hair short or whatever. Why should I have to change that to learn about music and psychology?”
When asked what they thought the hardest part of being homosexual is, they all had different views – based on many similar aspects of life. For Beth, the hardest part is hiding her sexuality.
“It’s not fair that you struggle so hard to discover and come to terms with who you are, and then have to hide it because the society we live in doesn’t accept it,” she says. “I don’t think that is any way to live, love and maybe raise a family.”
Moonesh believes that finding real love is the hardest part. Everyone wants to satisfy his or her baser desires, but then one must go back to pleasing society as a whole. This often leads to hurried one-time encounters with no true emotional attachment, thus making one’s life incredibly lonely.
“The stigma attached is what gets me,” Stacy says, shaking her head. “I’m not sick, mentally unstable or possessed by gay demons. Why should I have to hear in church every Sunday that I’m gonna burn in a lake of fire, alongside the murderers and rapists and paedophiles just because I’m in love with a woman? It’s bullsh*t!”
When asked if they would change the fact that they’re gay, if it were actually a choice, they again had differing responses. Stacy replies with a resounding yes, while Moonesh says that he would never change who he was. Beth has a more extensive response for this question.
“I don’t really think I would want to change,” she says. “Simply because this is the path that I was given and with strength and guidance from God and Buddha I will make it. But at the same time, this is a hard life to live and I certainly would not have chosen it for myself, because waking up every day to face prejudice and discrimination is not the life I, nor anyone, would have wanted.”
* Names changed to protect identities.
Image credit: gspottt.wordpress.com