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The Ten Commandments: Queer Dating at Swat

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Imagine, if you will, a bright-eyed freshman arriving at Swarthmore, hoping to find a beautiful gay utopia where everyone who was a lonely queer kid in high school will find love and be swept away on a beautiful rainbow unicorn. Now imagine, 1.5 years later, that innocent child is hunched over a table in Kohlberg, venting her angst about queer dating at Swat while occasionally casting a jaded eye at Tinder. (Hint: it’s me.)

Complaining about one’s loneliness and the lack of attractive dates is typical of most college students. Swatties, however, have a particular passion for complaining about how miserable their lives are within the limits of the Swat bubble. And the 1-in-6 stat about finding your future spouse be damned— this school is not known for encouraging budding romances. How does this work out for LGBTQ+ students, a small group in an already tiny school? For all the still-hopeful freshmen and disillusioned upperclassmen out there, I have produced the 10 Commandments of Queer Swarthmore Romance.

  1. Thou shalt commit friendcestuous acts.

This will inevitably happen. Maybe not with one of your best friends, but definitely one of their friends. You will then endure at least one semester of avoiding their gaze, and greatly enjoy telling people all about it while scanning Sharples to make sure they are not within earshot. As Justin Peters* ’21, whose already experienced the joy of friendcest, puts it bluntly,

“[Swat] is incestuous. It feels like there’s a [cultural] expectation for gay people to hook up, maybe because it was harder to do so in high school. But there’s not enough people here, so you end up hooking with a lot of the same people.”

Isaku Shao ’19 is part of that rare species— a queer Swattie in a long-term, on-campus relationship.

“[Swarthmore] is cliquey. And the workload makes it so people have very little time, so we only have the time to hang out with our cliques. There’s no time to meet new people, so it’s especially hard for queer people, where we have to actively look for each other.”

  1. If into a relationship thou enterest, thou shalt be an idol.

Queer couples are looked upon by the wider gay community with borderline adoration. Their every move is adorable, and the Sad Lonely Gays (me) tend to stare in a mixture of longing and sheer bliss. As openly LGBT-friendly as it prides itself on being, Swarthmore does have more demonstrative straight couples than gay. I’ve seen queer couples be mistaken for best friends, while male blonde athletes and their wholesome-looking girlfriends hold hands and make out at every possible moment. Art Davis ’18 describes the envy and intensity around queer couples:

“Swatties are very engaged people who want to succeed, and for whatever reason, success is seen as a happy, settled romantic relationship. Also, seeing happy straight couples makes you want to be happy and visible in that way. Every time a TV show buries its gays [kills off a queer character, or teases and ultimately does not show a gay relationship] or something, that desire gets a little stronger.”

Which brings us to the Third Commandment—

  1. Thou shalt learn to live with loneliness.

Drink enough Franzia and you will get sad and bemoan your lack of a sex/love/emotional life, preferably alongside other Sad Gays. If a straight person dares join in the complaint chorus, you may be tempted to bite their head off. As prevalent as hookup culture is at Swarthmore, options can be sparse, particularly if you prefer to avoid parties. Davis is one of the chosen few— he has had a steady, committed boyfriend for the last four years— yet he cheerfully admits:

“I 100 percent would be single if I hadn’t come to Swat already in a relationship. I’m not a big partier and not big on sex, and a lot of the [queer] interactions here are through Glitter Booty Slap [one of the most famous and successful queer parties in recent memory, thrown a few years ago], people hooking up, Tinder, that sort of thing. They’re very much things I’m not really into, personally. The scene is great for discussions around safe sex and stuff, but not so much if you’re not really into sex.”

  1. Thou shalt always be dogged by gleeful gossip.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single gay woman in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. Swat is rife with Austen-style gay gossips, who attentively watch every self-proclaimed LGBT person for signs of romance. I’ve spent the better part of a year telling various people, from a professor I’ve never had to students I’d never spoken to, that NO, one of my best friends and I are not a couple, and why are they even asking? If you are not aware of any active rumors claiming you and one of your closest friends are together, start asking. You’re not paying enough attention.

  1. Thou shalt turn to dating apps in thy darkest hour.

With such a small pool, it’s not surprising that many students— particularly queer students, who constantly have to figure out whether their crush is straight— end up on apps, mainly Tinder and Grindr. That’s how I know a surprising number of classmates I believed were straight are bi or pansexual. Of course, Swatties are about as awkward online as in real life, so if things go poorly with your match, you will be stuck seeing them on a weekly basis for the next few years.

“…it is hard to meet Swatties through apps, because they tend to swipe left on other Swatties – I think it depends on what you’re looking for and Swatties think it’s awkward to hook up with each other,” notes Shao.

Hence the necessity of the Sixth Commandment:

  1. Thou shalt never acknowledge another’s app profile in public.

I don’t care if you recognize them from Tinder and think they look better in person, you do not use “I matched with you! How’s it going?” as an icebreaker at SQU events. Even though many Swatties use dating/hookup apps at least occasionally, a veil of discretion hangs around the subject.

Of course, there is the option of looking at people outside the Swarthmore bubble. I’ve caught myself daydreaming about meeting a nice Bryn Mawr girl so often. But actually going off-campus just for a hookup, or to see a partner, can be hard.

“There’s always UPenn and other Philadelphia colleges, but that’s not always accessible for people— it takes time and money to get there. Who has the time? If I don’t have the resources to go out I’m going to stay on campus and try to do things here,” explains Peters.

  1. Thou shalt be plagued by regret over thy romantic life.

As a result of the aforementioned staying on campus and always seeing the same people, one can easily make some bad decisions. For queer students, there can be a strong pressure to hook up, leading to impulsive and ultimately- probably unwise decisions.

“It’s different to want to hook up and to want a relationship, but there’s so few options you end up getting confused. You do end up making mistakes and hooking up with people you’re not really into and then regretting it, and sometimes someone gets hurt,” says Peters.

Davis, although in a happy long-term relationship, notes that many queer students can feel destined for loneliness and end up making said bad decisions.

“It might be a feeling that you have to lower your expectations, like you’ll never find love, and by and large because LGBT people are less visible, less safely able to be out. You feel you sort of have to lower your expectations.”

  1. Thou shalt endure great pain from the straights.

The sheer number and visibility of straight couples, especially as opposed to gay ones, can be demoralizing. That can make it hard for us to attend events such as frat parties, which can feel aggressively heterosexual — particularly when there are so few explicitly queer parties on campus. Furthermore, drunk straight girls making out with you at a party, then finding a boyfriend a few days later, can make it pretty confusing. There’s also the fact that most queer students tend to really seek out each other, rather than straight people.

“It’s so much better to be in a relationship with a queer person than straight, for me. There’s this mutual understanding of experience I haven’t gotten with straight people, and it feels like we can really talk about stuff that’s important to us,” explains Shao.

  1. Give us this day our daily memes, that we may fill the voids in our hearts.

Enough said. Gay memes have become increasingly visible on the main Swarthmore page. And when they don’t involve terrifying straight people with the Gay Agenda, they often deal with Gay Loneliness and Sad Feels (bonus points if they include complaints about the lack of tops). The memes speak for themselves.

  1. Turn to elder queers for advice, for great and all-encompassing is their wisdom.

From Art Davis, possessor of much coveted four-year-relationship:

“When you’re queer, you can get the message that you don’t deserve love, that you’re bad, even if you don’t consciously internalize it. It’s like walking through water on the beach, you keep walking and it’s not stopping you, but you get so much more tired, because just that little resistance is weighing you down. It can feel hard to integrate a community that’s so theorized and politicized. But you have to be willing to engage, mess up, and allow for a little messiness to work towards something better.”

From Isaku Shao:

“Just stumble into it awkwardly. Don’t try to be smooth, just embrace the awkwardness. That’s what Swatties are!”

From me, not an elder queer but an unsolicited advice giver: you don’t need a relationship. You deserve love and you will find it, if that’s what you’re looking for. If what you want is hookups, have fun and get ready for a lot of awkward encounters. If you’re not interested in the hookup/party scene, no stress — there are lots of people in your situation, even if you think you’re alone.

If I haven’t dissuaded you from your quest for love, however, figure out your favorite Ben and Jerry’s flavor and have a network of people to drunk text about your sad feels. That will be a staple in your future.


*Names changed for privacy

Pride Month events celebrate LGBTQ+ identity

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The Intercultural Center is celebrating Pride Month as its current Heritage Month in acknowledgement and support of the LGBTQ+ community. While the rest of America celebrates Pride Month every June to commemorate the Stonewall Riots, Swarthmore is slightly more fluid with its dates. This semester, the IC will be celebrating Pride Month from Oct. 7 to Nov. 21.

In an attempt to celebrate and recognize the multitudes of identities, including those that are traditionally marginalized, Swarthmore’s Intercultural Center hosts various “Heritage Months,” where speakers and events are organized around these identities. They also serve as educational experiences for the rest of the community. The LGBTQ+ community was first formally celebrated at Swarthmore in 1995, with “Coming Out Week,” which has evolved over the years to become Pride Month, which was first commemorated by the IC on this campus in 2013.

“Pride Month is Swarthmore’s celebration of LGBTQ+ identity, community, and history. It focuses on creating awareness and understanding of the contributions, histories, and experiences of LGBTQ+ folx. The target audience for the events of Pride Month is LGBTQ+ students, including those that are questioning, and allies!” wrote Cooper Kidd, the LGBTQ+ fellow at the IC, in an email.

IC fellow Nyk Roberts expanded on this. They mentioned that they wanted to create spaces for the members of the LGBTQ+ community to celebrate their identities.

When you look at our Pride Month calendar, it is evident that this year’s committee wanted to focus on being in community with other LGBTQ+ students, faculty and staff through parties, celebrations, and meetings around different LGBTQ+ identities,” said Roberts.

The events planned this year emphasize art, education, and celebration. The month began with a poster-making session that involved students coming together to create posters to celebrate famous LGBTQ+ community members of the past.  There was also a panel that discussed the question “Am I Queer Enough?”, where professor Sa’ed Atshan gave a talk, after which a student panel shared their experiences of coming out and the various levels of acceptance that they felt.  Another popular event that will have taken place at the time of publishing is the Queer Fashion Show, which has been a fixture at past Pride Months, according to Roberts.

This week, there will be a Glitter Bomb Party at Paces on Nov. 4, as well as the “Parrish is Burning” Drag Show, featuring many of the Drag Queens who took part in last semester’s Pride Month “Royal Drag Show” event. Over one hundred students attended the show last semester, many of whom expressed to Roberts that they would like it to be included in future Pride Month Celebrations. Along with other luncheons and celebrations, Nov. 20 will be observed, campus- and nationwide, as Trans Day of Remembrance with a candlelight vigil. A few other events that aren’t funded by the IC also take place at this time. Most notably, the Sager Fund, started in 1988 by Richard Sager ’73, is bringing S. Bear Bergman, an American trans man, author, poet, playwright, and theater artist, to Swarthmore.

These events are mostly planned by the Pride Month Committee, comprising of 20 individuals from all four class years who are selected through an open call process. Kidd serves as a mentor to this committee, offering logistical and functional support to them. Members of the committee declined to comment for this piece.

To learn more about Swarthmore’s Queer History, Dean Rivera recommends an article written for the Phoenix in 2013, entitled “A Queer History of Swarthmore.” Along with the celebration of Pride Month, the IC serves as a resource to students, including those who identify within the LGBTQ+ spectrum, year-round.


Pride planning committee hosts events to educate on sexuality and gender

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Between March 13 and April 13, the Pride Planning Committee is hosting a series of events to celebrate and honor LGBTQ identities and history. The committee is composed of a group of students who work closely with the Intercultural Center. While it is not specifically affiliated with any student organizations, many of its members are leaders in Swarthmore Queer Union, Colors, and Persuasion, three prominent organizations for LGBTQ-identifying individuals on campus.

Pride Month stems from a decades-long tradition of commemorating the progress of LGBT activists and the struggle for equal rights, and is celebrated nationally in June to coincide with the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots. At Swarthmore, Pride takes the form of a month of events to highlight marginalized voices in the LGBT community and to create spaces for queer and questioning students as well as faculty.

Gretchen Trupp ’18, a board member of SQU and one of the organizers of the Pride

Month MAZE party, expanded on the purpose of Pride Month.

“It’s about showcasing the variety that comes with the queer experience. I think there are a lot of stereotypes and conceptions that aren’t always true for everyone [in the LGBTQ community], and so lifting up all kinds of voices, especially the ones that are the most marginalized and misrepresented, is a way to dispel those,” Trupp said.

As part of its initiative to lift up marginalized identities within the queer community, the Pride Planning Committee kicked off its month of events on March 13 with a panel discussion entitled “Queering the Gender Narrative,” which was composed of students who identify as transgender or non-binary. In addition, on April 11, there will be a panel discussion for queer and transgender people of color.

The Director of the Intercultural Center Jason Rivera believes that an important objective of Pride Month is to facilitate discussion of issues relevant to the LGBT community.

“I think it’s important to acknowledge … that there are very intentional opportunities to engage in dialogue about issues germane to the LGBTQ populations. I think this is an incredibly important and often unacknowledged outcome of Pride Month,” Rivera said.

Nyk Robertson, the LGBTQ Fellow in the Intercultural Center, emphasized the balance of opportunities Pride Month offers with regards to education and community building.

“We want to make sure that we create a space for community for those within the LGBT community, but also [we want to provide] education both for allies and for people in the community who identify differently and don’t necessarily have the chance to connect and ask questions,” Robertson explained.

The committee has planned several lectures and presentations to give speakers the chance to educate and speak on LGBT matters. Guest speakers include Malcolm Lazin, the executive director of the Philadelphia-based LGBT organization Equality Forum; Jonathan D. Katz, the first artistic director of the National Queer Arts Festival; and Andre Perez, the director of the transgender-themed documentary “America in Transition.” Among the events aimed at building community, one standout is an LGBTQ+ faculty, staff and student dinner to connect members of the community across campus.

“We’re trying to give more time and space for talking and [for] hopefully finding people for mentorships, where that’s not something that necessarily faculty or staff share on a regular basis when you’re in the spaces with them that you’re in, because it’s not the time or place. But this will hopefully create some communication,” Robertson said.

In the past, Pride Month was held between National Coming Out Day on Oct. 20 and National Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20. According to Margaret Hughes ’17, a member of the Pride Planning Committee and a board member of SQU, Pride Month had to be moved this year due to administrative reasons.

“My hope is that in future years people will do the work to start planning [Pride Month] in September, so we can go back to that October 20th through November 20th date,” Hughes said.

Until 2014, the college held a queer- and transgender-themed conference every spring for LGBT students, faculty and staff to connect over issues relevant to the community. According to Hughes, Pride Month is especially important in the absence of such an opportunity.

“I think that it’s more important than ever that Pride Month try to do some of that work of uplifting the voices of more marginalized queer and trans people, just because there isn’t this big symposium that happens every year to do that,” Hughes said.

Planners of Pride Month have traditionally began the month of events by chalking sidewalks around campus to advertise events. However, since the ’80s, the chalkings have been met repeatedly with negative counter-chalkings, according to a 2014 article in The Phoenix. Two such messages were “Gays can’t make kids w/o a petri dish” and “For true equality, let the women rape the men.”

Hughes believed the homophobic messages are a reminder that Swarthmore is not separate from national issues and anti-LGBT rhetoric.

“The fact that it happens every year leads me to say it’s not just a random person from the ville — this is a manifestation of real feelings at Swarthmore. Don’t be surprised if there are counter-chalkings. Swarthmore is part of the real world and is not separate and exempt from the homophobia and transphobia that exists in the real world,” she said.

Pride Month offers LGBT students, faculty and staff the opportunity to gather and discuss matters relevant to the community. Although the events have been met with anti-LGBT messages in the past, Pride Month at Swarthmore continues as a tradition three decades in the making.

A queer uprising at Swarthmore: what does it meme?

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

On the chilly evening of March 15, snow lay on the ground from the winter storm that had recently swept across Swarthmore’s campus. Little did we know that there was another storm approaching. No, not with wind, nor sleet nor snow — oh no, nothing could prepare us for this storm, not umbrella nor coat nor boots: a meme storm was coming.

It all started in the humble abode of the Swat Danker Memes Society page on Facebook. This page is a place where over 1,000 Swatties (a surge in members came after aforementioned storm) come together to share relatable memes, sometimes post original content, and just generally have a good time.

However, this was not the case on March 15, at 4:30 pm. No, on this fated day the revelry was displaced by none other than, the discourse. It all started with fairly innocent origins when a member posted a meme that consisted of a bit of an inside joke for the queer community. Some non-queer members of the Swat Danker Memes Society, naturally, were confused about what it all meant, and one reached out to the community for an explanation —no problem here. It is what happens afterwards, however, that struck a nerve within the queer community and caused the page to gradually evolve from comment war to gay meme hellfire.

A member of the queer community rejected this request for explanation. Their declination to explain, however, was not met with the same earnest desire for learning and respect for the queer community that the original question suggested. What happened next was an overwhelming flow of online discourse on the matter of respectability politics, whether the queer community (or any marginalized community for that matter) owes anyone an explanation of their culture and many, many offshoot debates that included everything from misgendering people to US foreign policy. It was a bitter war that ended in deleted comments, screenshots, and even more memes. It was a sight to make any baby boomer stop in their tracks and go “those goddamned millennials.”

But what does it all matter? Can political debates on college meme pages have any significance? I’d first like to start this discussion by expressing my frustration that we even need this “Facebook war” in the first place. I was originally pretty upset that the queer community was just trying to enjoy a meme that was meant for them (and was hilarious, by the way) but it had to devolve into political arguments and discourse. However, at the end of the day, perhaps the conversations held around gender and the queer community were, if anything,  important for the growth of Swarthmore’s communal understanding of how to approach oppressed groups in their safe spaces. I do believe that it is perfectly respectable to ask questions about another’s culture — and that sometimes it may well generate enriching discourse that offers both parties a meaningful experience. However, as we have seen through last week’s online discussions, demanding that members of a community participate in discourse with you at your beck and call, even after they have expressed their desire not to, is where it gets dicey.

At the end of they day, a healthy dose of respect and a good understanding of your place is what is needed when approaching these situations. Sometimes, one needs to step back in an argument and ask themselves “Who am I really helping, and who am I hurting by saying/asking this? Am I simply putting unnecessary stress and pressure on already oppressed groups by saying/asking this? What are my privileges in this situation?” All it takes is a little conscientious thinking — really!

Now on to the gay memes. Yes, the glorious overflow of queer memes the following day, which was a response to the fact that all the arguing pretty much ruined the one posted the day before. This outpour of memes proved to me that we really can have nice things (sheds single tear). It may seem trivial, but I’m super pumped by the unity and hilarity of Swat’s queer community that was shown that day.

People might say that the debates were pseudo-activism and there is no real depth behind anything that occurred that day. However, I would like to disagree, activism starts with raising your voice — in whatever context, whether that be online, or in the newspaper or at a protest. No one is saying that you’re going to single-handedly change the world with a Facebook post, but social change happens after the culmination of several incessant voices who refuse to be silent in every sphere of discourse. That day, the Swat Danker Memes page happened to be one of those spheres. Believe it or not, people can tackle more than one issue at once, and being active on  a Facebook debate doesn’t mean you aren’t engaging in other forms of activism in different areas.

Also, as it relates to the specific act of the proliferation of queer memes one needs to remember that the queer community wasn’t trying to be activists in the first place: we were trying to feel good about ourselves. No one is saying that memes are some shining form of activism that are going to change the world (though that may be up for debate). But in those moments, they made the queer community feel empowered and united. It sure as hell made me feel good after feeling pretty frustrated with the whole thing. Isn’t that what matters?  

Queer Love in the Time of Trump

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I grew up in San Francisco, the capital of peace and love in America. Still, nothing could have prepared me for the 2016 election and its aftermath. And no, I don’t just mean the fact that the most powerful person in the country is now a human Cheeto with no moral compass or intelligent, sustainable plan. I mean the sudden outpouring of love from all sides of the anti-Trump resistance.

Ever since someone first came up with “Love Trumps Hate” I have seen nothing but declarations of love, mainly from middle-aged, economically advantaged white women. It reminds me of the oh-so-original “Love is Love” signs that these same women carried around just before same-sex marriage was legalized in all 50 states. At the time, I had noted that none of the queer people I knew had those signs. Where do we stand now? What is the role of queer love in these times, considering it may be threatened by the administration? As a group menaced by Trump, what should we do with all of this love being thrown at us?

Disclaimer — as a cisgendered white person, I’m very safe and well off compared to many transgender folk or queer people of color. I’m more worried about my future as a woman than as a queer person. Yet when I went back to my old high school during winter break, my old classmates gave me long, worried looks, and asked me in hushed tones how I was doing. It appears many straight “allies” have convinced themselves that the loss of same-sex marriage is imminent, and that the queer community will collapse when that happens.

“Marriage is a concern because it’s something that a lot of people strive toward…but it’s not the most important thing to me,” explains Maya Henry ’20. She expresses more concern about the possibility of healthcare becoming less accessible and more expensive. She isn’t the only one to distance herself from the issue of same-sex marriage. Will Marchese ’20 expresses his annoyance that it has been made such an issue, pointing out that gay marriage only provides benefits such as healthcare to the married couples. That leaves many queer people without an economic or health care safety net, especially considering how the LGBTQ+ community is disproportionately affected by issues of poverty. But, of course, economic hardships and lack of health care make for a much less emotional photo-op than attractive same-sex couples getting married on the beach.

Forget about marriage. What matters more is queer relationships, in and of themselves. I have both been encouraged to be out and proud and to hide any same-sex relationship I have, out of fear of being attacked.

“It’s important to celebrate our love … But also keep in mind people might need to go back into the closet for … personal safety … I feel like there’s gonna be an increase in violence,” believes Gretchen Trupp ’18.

“There’s a lot of ambiguity in terms of what the climate will be like for queer relationships,” Henry adds.

Not the most positive picture. It makes me wonder what, exactly, we can do with all this gratuitous love being thrown at us. What about our love? Is there now some sacred responsibility to love everyone and be above all the hate? Trupp firmly disagrees with the notion of having to love everyone, especially people who fundamentally oppose who we are at our core — people such as Milo Yiannopoulous, an openly gay Breitbart journalist who loudly supports Trump and the alt-right. His scheduled appearance at the University of California, Berkeley caused a riot and was cancelled for security reasons. There wasn’t much love being directed at him there. The queer community is divided — some of us voted Trump, or care little about what he does until it affects us directly.

Straight people, just a heads up: queer people can be jerks too. Direct your love towards those who really need it. As Marchese points out, those that really need love and support are those we don’t hear about often, such as transgender people of color or undocumented queer people. They may not be commonly represented in mainstream LGBT+ discourse, but their struggles deserve attention, respect, and support.

Let’s discuss that term, “love.” It’s a laudable intention, but what can we do with it? How will having the love of some random “ally” help in the time of Trump? Marchese archly points out that, while love is crucial for self-preservation in our communities, “Love does NOT trump hate; direct action and militant anti-fascism do.” This love won’t be especially useful if it doesn’t become concrete action.

“[Love is] relevant as we … draw strength from our community and allies … but … it’s very clearly not enough,” Trupp says.

“The love trumps hate thing makes me roll my eyes sometimes, but at the core of it I think it’s a way of standing with people whose struggles you may not fully understand, but being there to advocate for them,” admits Henry.

So, allies, thank you for your love. It is appreciated. But we don’t just need love. We need actions to back it up. And more than that, we need respect. Understanding. We need you to look out for communities that you may have forgotten about, to remember that the queer community does not start and end with rainbow flags and “Love is Love.” We need you to listen when we point out why pussy hats or the overrepresentation of wealthier white women in the Women’s March are exclusionary and should be critiqued for all the good intentions behind them.

Love is something valuable and not that uncommon, that you give the people you feel closest to — the ones you would fight to protect and help. So don’t say you love everyone if you’re not willing to fight for them.

“I don’t think you have to love everyone, but trying [to understand] each other is important to me,” Henry concluded.

We’re not that desperate for love, people. We’ll take listening and respect.

“Oriented” film shows intersectional perspectives

in Arts by

Last Tuesday, the documentary “Oriented”, produced and directed by Jake Witzenfeld, was screened as a result of sponsorship from the Peace and Conflict Studies and Sociology and Anthropology departments, as well as the Lang Center for Civic and social responsibility. The film offers a glimpse into the lives of a group of young, queer Palestinians living in Tel Aviv. “Oriented” both draws attention the unique intersection of national and sexual identities these individual face and makes plain the the similarities between queer life in the Middle East and the Western world.

The film is centered around Khader Abu-Seif, a well known Palestinian LGBT activist living in Jaffa, a portion of Tel Aviv more heavily populated with Arabs. Two of his friends, Naeem Jiryes and Fadi Daem, are featured as main characters. The documentary follows the men as they navigate the difficulties of living as a gay Arab in Israel: the complications attached to dating Jewish men, the inhospitality of Israel during times of war, the suffocating traditions of the villages where they grew up. However, “Oriented” by no means intends to paint a picture of these men as victims. It shows them, along with their friend Nagham Yacoub partying in Amman and Tel Aviv. The film shows the four friends forming Qambuta Productions, through which they create musical tribute videos for the Arabic community, full of social and political criticism. Abu-Seif makes it clear early on in the documentary, when he tells the story of a BBC reporter who contacted him, looking for a gay Palestinian who’d suffered, that he has no interest in furthering one-dimensional views of people like himself and this film does him that service.

Dr. Sa’ed Atshan from the Peace and Conflict Studies department, was responsible for arranging the screening and the following discussion with Abu-Seif. He described appreciating the film not only for its portrayal of the intersectional identities of the men, but also for the compelling and powerful friendships the film showcases.

“I thought it was beautifully done. It showed you how human beings who are at the intersection of so many different identities — who are at the margin of the margin, the minority of the minority, of the minority — navigate their everyday lives,” he said. ”I thought it really humanized queer Palestinians who live in Israel. But I was also touched by the friendships that they forged. You could see how they support each other, how they have eachother’s backs, it was really beautiful.”

Abu-Seif also described enjoying very similar aspects of the movie. To him, the role of his friends in the movie was also crucial and very powerful.

“The biggest disappointment for me in the movie, but also the thing that made me happy the most was to discover that I’m not – to me at least – the strongest character in the movie,” he said. “To discover how strong my friends are and how strong they are as characters was amazing because in that moment I knew I chose the right friends and I was proud of them.”

Throughout the discussion, Abu-Seif was adamant about correcting misconceptions about queer life in Arabic community. He pointed to examples, like his parties in Tel Aviv, gay clubs in Amman, and the nickname for the Lebanese capital within the Arabic LGBT community, “Gay-rut”. He also spoke out against the assumption he has encountered in the West that the difficulties he’s encountered don’t exist in the West. Abu-Seif described frequently being approached by members of minority communities in the United State after screenings and told about how relatable his story was. He also expressed a firm conviction that coming out of the closet is just as difficult for many individuals in the American South as it was for his friends in Tel Aviv.

While standing firm against the depiction of queer Arabs as victims, Abu-Seif was also candid about the difficulties he faces living in Tel Aviv. For example, when there is fighting between Palestinians and Israel, life for Arabs in Israel becomes very difficult.

“Even speaking in Arabic on the bus would be super dangerous because you are the enemy,” said Abu-Seif. “To people who don’t know you on the bus, you are a threat — you are an immediate threat. Your mother is calling and you want to talk with your mother in your language but you can’t because you know that people will be afraid of you.”

He also identified a lack of support for Arabs in the international LGBT community. He spoke about not only a problematic lack of representation for Arabs in the international LGBT community, but also a lack of support and protection for LGBT Arabs from international organizations.

“Other countries and organizations don’t understand where we’re coming from. We need Arabic organizations, who will understand our struggle and understand where we’re coming from. At every [pride] parade you go to today, no matter which parade, you will find thousands of Israeli flags, but you cannot find one Arabic country’s flag, because people are afraid.”, Abu-Seif said.

Although he mentioned several issues he and his friends face, Abu-Seif was always firm in asserting that he does not want Western help in addressing them. He believes that solutions to these issues must come from within the culture they are native to, like the possible international Arabic LGBT organization he mentioned.

“To be honest and rude: stay out of our business,” he said.


Students to revive Queer Straight Alliance

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Queer Straight Alliance is being revived by Anthony Chiarenza ’18, Kate Musen ’18 and Kate Collins ’18.

In the last two years, QSA has had no presence on campus and only more exclusive groups (i.e. Swarthmore Queer Union, Picante, PersuAsian, Colors, QTC, and Ace of Clubs) have functioned effectively. To attend meetings run by most of these groups, students need to identify with a particular gender, sexual orientation or race.

In the last few semesters, the leaders of QSA have either studied abroad or graduated, leaving the group without a leader.

“The seniors have said that QSA is taking a nap and our goal is to wake [it] up and restart it,” Musen explained.

The goal of the new QSA is not to replace the other similarly-interested groups on campus. According to Musen – who is also a board member of SQU – these groups fill a vital role at Swarthmore by allowing LGBT students to have a safe space to talk, and to address their needs.

Chiarenza hopes to bring a new activism-focused QSA group on campus.

“Right now, we don’t have a group that is focused on activism and that’s open to all students,” he said. “Having an open group on campus where anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity can join and be active with queer issues where they can go out and make change is very important.”

Collins felt similarly, citing the groups separate legacy from existing organizations, “[SQU and others] have a history of being closed within the IC, [Intercultural Center] and this one will historically be open. To me it’s a space where people don’t have to focus on their identity, but can act and help others and make a change.”

For some, the most appealing aspect of QSA is that it is open to all students. This holds for national organization as well. QSA’s website reads, “QSA is the main vehicle for queer activism on campus, and is open to all students. QSA also sponsors open social events, such as movie nights, and seeks to promote discussion and awareness of queer issues on campus.”

For Jay Wu ‘15, a board member of SQU who graduated last spring, the renewal of the QSA is a good sign for the college’s queer community. “During my first year at Swarthmore, it was the main site for advocacy and activism – like getting more gender-neutral bathrooms on campus and raising money for a trans and queer youth center that was damaged in Hurricane Sandy,” they said. “Unfortunately, many of the people involved in QSA that year either graduated or became more involved in other campus organizations, so QSA effectively ceased to exist after the fall of 2012. I’m really happy that there’s enough energy within trans, queer, and allied communities now to breathe new life into it.”

Dominic Sankowsky ‘18, a current member of PersuAsian, noted that the QSA would create space for students who are less public about their gender and sexuality to be a part of the queer community on campus. “I’d say the most important reason for QSA to exist is for people who aren’t out and are also uncomfortable being in a closed space like SQU,” he said. “It gives them an opportunity to be involved with queer life at Swat and be around other queer and trans* people without having to fear that they’re making a statement about their identity to others.”

In general, QSA would like to work on micro and macro levels around campus. “The idea is that we would be having people work on different projects but having everyone within the organization of QSA support each other toward a more common goal of increasing rights and access and facilitation of discussion,” said Musen.

In addition, a long-term goal of QSA is to combine with similar groups in the Tri-co and other colleges, however, as Musen explained, the group’s immediate focus is to determine what is attainable for this year. For the time being, the group will continue to hold open meetings on Sundays at 3:30 in the Intercultural Center in order to get a sense of campus needs and ways to affect change.

For first time in decades, no Genderfuck event this year

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For the first time in nearly 30 years, Genderfuck will not be hosted on campus this year. The party, which has a rich history and has consistently been one of the best-attended events of the school year, has been controversial since its inception in the 1980s.

The existence of Genderfuck has become an almost-annual debate in the last decade. Some students, many of them members of the campus queer and trans communities, felt that the party lost its identity as a chance to question heteronormative assumptions about gender and sexuality to the forefront of students’ minds, at least for a night. The party has also had significant safety concerns, as well as difficulties with planning and funding.

In an op-ed written in the February 26 edition of the Phoenix, four queer students called for an end to Genderfuck. The group circulated a petition for students who agreed that the structure of the party no longer supported its original goals. Over 60 people signed the petition.

“In its current form, Genderfuck has become a space where straight, cis people can displace queerness as the focus of the party, instead wearing it as a costume or mocking it altogether,” wrote Bryan Chen ’15, one of the op-ed’s authors.

Discussions about whether the party should be held involved several administrative offices, including the Office of Student Engagement and the Intercultural Center. The final decision on the status of the party, however, was left to Lili Rodriguez, dean of diversity, inclusion, and community development. She met with students advocating against continuing Genderfuck in its most recent iteration, and agreed that it had lost its original meaning.

“I was moved by their perspective and the over 60 students that signed and supported the petition, so I decided to to put a pause on this party for this year until we could address some of their concerns,” Rodriguez said.

Physical safety and concerns about alcohol abuse also became a serious point of contention for Genderfuck in recent years. Dozens of ideas have been proposed throughout the years to create a more stable climate, including increased security presence, escort programs, consent campaigns leading up to the event, and intercommunal involvement. The most recent editions of the party saw contributions from Public Safety, Worth Health Center, the Sexual Misconduct and Advisory Resource Team, the Drug and Alcohol Resource Team, both fraternities and Kappa Alpha Theta, and multiple administrative offices. However, due in part to its large scale, safety concerns around Genderfuck continued.

These concerns were only a few of the many that Genderfuck planners had to reconcile over the years. The sheer quantity of volunteers necessary to hold the event has been very large — often 50 or more. Finding spaces large and secure enough to hold so many people was a constant negotiation. In the last few years, the party’s home was in Sharples, a popular location, but one that carried major logistical problems.

Only two current students, Bryan Chen ’15 and Tom Corbani ’17, have been significantly involved in the planning of previous Genderfucks.

“Despite my dreaming and my drive, I was not able to change much at all,” Chen wrote in the op-ed. “With little administrative support and near nonexistent student energy, there was nothing I could do. Genderfuck was and is an absolute beast, and those trying to fix it are severely underestimating what they are dealing with.”

Genderfuck began in 1989, when a series of lectures called the Sager Symposium was created by donations from Richard Sager ’74 in order to delve into lesbian and gay issues and address homophobia in modern society. The symposium was followed by a campus-wide after-party, known as Sager, that eventually evolved into an open space for students to experiment with accepted gender norms, leading to the informal term “Genderfuck.” Although the symposium never officially sanctioned the event, it was always associated with Genderfuck until 2009, when the organization formally cut itself off from the party.

Over the years, many of the parties have been themed, and have often promoted a particular issue relating to queer and trans communities. For example, the 2004 version addressed marriage equality with the theme “My Big Fat Fabulous Gay Wedding.” The event has also been unique for bringing a wide array of musical performances and the variety of spaces that it has been held in, including Upper Tarble, the Women’s Resource Center, and most recently Sharples.

One of the more controversial elements of Genderfuck was its unofficial slogan, “Guys wear a dress, girls wear less,” which arose sometime in the 1990s. Many have argued throughout the years that the slogan detracts from the party’s original intention as a few hours where gender identities and cultural norms can be thrown out the window. Planners officially distanced themselves and the party from the line in 2012, noting that “the slogan is heterosexist, and it reinforces the idea of gender binary, which is something this party tries to dismantle,” according to Kenneson Chen ’14, one of the members of the 2012 and 2014 Genderfuck planning committees.

Genderfuck has often been characterized by students’ costumes. Originally, drag clothing was very common as students sought to break down barriers inherent in the commonly accepted gender binary. Over time, however, costumes of any kind became customary; attendees would often forgo a great deal of clothing, giving many the impression that Genderfuck was a place where “people just run around nude in Sharples.” For many queer students, the party became a place where it was acceptable for straight students to make fun of other genders, which some felt undermined the original aims of the event.

“The party has always reinforced gender norms by upholding stereotyped ideas of gendered clothing and ‘crossdressing,’ rather than recognizing a vast range of gender expressions,” the February op-ed read.

Though more than 60 queer and trans students signed the petition to end Genderfuck, not all queer students felt that Genderfuck should be cancelled. Julia Denney ’15, for instance, feels that the issue is complicated. Though she understands the reasoning behind the petition and the op-ed, Denney said that she did not feel included in the conversation about ending the party, adding that she had been excited for this year’s Genderfuck.

“As a queer person who hates going on campus for parties since they’re so intensely hetero, I was looking forward to bringing my own queerness to a public space and celebrating it in any way I wanted to,” Denney said.

Denney also expressed that she wished the replacement party for queer students had taken place at Swarthmore.

“It was alienating to me as a queer party person who just wanted to have fun my senior year,” she said.

Rodriguez emphasized that the cancellation of the 2015 edition is not a death knell for Genderfuck. She is committed to trying to re-define the party and address the concerns that have built up throughout its existence.

“Suspending GenderF for the year allows us the time to reflect on whether we can create the social space it was intended to be,” Rodriguez said. “I hope we can, it’s a fantastic goal to have.”

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