Clarifying the history and purpose of SQU chalking

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Photo by Sadie Rittman.

On Monday night, queer and trans students took to the paved spaces of campus to partake in the decades-old annual tradition of chalking for Pride Month, the event that replaced Coming Out Week last year. That night, after most of the chalkers had finished writing their messages, a number of counter-chalkings appeared bearing anti-queer and generally negative messages. Counter-chalkings included “Gays can’t make kids w/o a petri dish” and “Procreator Pride,” as well as “#fuckherrightinthepussy” and “For true equality, let the women rape the men.”

In light of this incident, we would like to clarify the purpose of queer and trans chalking. In writing this, we are not acting as representatives of all students in the Swarthmore Queer Union, nor as representatives of all queer and trans Swarthmore students. Pride Month (which is running from October 20 to November 20 this year) is about celebrating queer and trans identities. It is about being able to be visible as queer and trans people. Likewise, chalking is a chance for us to make our voices heard, on our terms, in public spaces. A common response to the sometimes graphic nature of Coming Out Week/Pride Month chalkings from the ’80s through today holds that queer people will never achieve our goals if we engage with these “out-there” methods. The goals of these chalkings do not include mollifying the larger campus by adhering to standards of respectability that are not imposed on our cisgender straight peers. This response to our chalkings ignores Swarthmore’s long history of queer students using chalking as a platform to raise awareness, increase visibility, challenge heteronormativity, and express anger, frustration, love and pride. We highly encourage everyone to read a 2006 Daily Gazette article, “What is the history of queer chalkings on campus?” for a comprehensive history of Coming Out Week/Pride Month chalkings and the campus reaction since the tradition first began in 1986.

In that article, a straight student from 1995 explains succinctly the goals of the chalkings done by LBGA (a predecessor to SQU), and also addresses a common argument that queer chalkings are too explicit and “in-your-face”: “The nuts and bolts of heterosexual sex are built into our consciousness. Images of homosexual sex are not. They are thus shocking. LBGA’s chalkings were one small step towards making gay sex and straight sex equally understood and equally accepted … the LBGA chalkings no more imposed homosexual imagery on the viewer than the average movie, advertisement, or love song imposes heterosexual imagery.” The same remains true today.

Misconceptions about queer people and queer sex continue to exist, as shown by the content of some of the counter-chalkings, and, indeed, original chalkings, that were written this week. The counter-chalking “Gays can’t make kids w/o a petri dish” ignores both entire spectrums of queer people and the multiplicity of ways that queer people can and do choose to have children. This statement, along with “Procreator Pride,” assumes that no queer relationships are between people who can reproduce together, and that all queer relationships include sex among their goals, ignoring in particular trans, asexual, and nonmonosexual (e.g. bisexual and pansexual) people. Some of the chalkings originally done by members of SQU also contained some of these misconceptions, such as “Lesbians party in there / For your dick they do not care,” excluding the possibility of women with penises and of lesbian-identified people who are interested in people with penises. Inherent in all of these messages that purport to define gay, lesbian, and/or queer identities along the binary lines of “male” and “female” organs is an erasure of trans, non-binary, asexual, and nonmonosexual bodies and identities.

That said, ignorance of queer and trans issues was not the only issue raised by these chalkings. We would like to recognize the varied reactions that have arisen from the chalking of “Homo se llama” by someone who was likely a SQU member, including the perceptions both of mockery of Spanish-speaking people and of appreciation for queer and Latino/a identity. It is not yet apparent what the intention was behind this phrase, and we will be further discussing these reactions as a community. Furthermore, “For true equality, let the women rape the men,” as well as “#fuckherrightinthepussy,” which appears to advocate so-called corrective rape, were by far the most egregious of the chalkings, and are indicative of far more than mere “misconceptions.” Rather, they demonstrate total insensitivity to the experiences of many students on this campus, particularly survivors of sexual violence, and deal in tropes that can and do inflict real harm, such as the mistaken ideas that women cannot be perpetrators of sexual assault and that men cannot be victims thereof.

Swarthmore has a reputation as a progressive college that is very accepting of queer people. As a result, a common response to any incident that involves discrimination is incredulity that such things could happen here. These incidents seem to come as a surprise, are seen as out of character, and are frequently blamed on people outside of the Swarthmore community, such as high school students from the Ville. However, there is a historical pattern of homophobic incidents at Swarthmore — one that extends into our very recent past — and in particular, a history of hateful counter-chalkings appearing in response to the annual Coming Out Week/Pride Month chalkings. These incidents are neither new, isolated, or outside of the norm at Swarthmore. We call on students to resist the idea that Swarthmore is exceptional and to own that homophobia and transphobia are embedded in our society here as in the rest of the world. Only by accepting that homophobia and transphobia exist here can we understand how we perpetuate it on a daily basis and begin to address it.

We would like to remind queer and trans students who may have been negatively affected by the anti-queer chalkings that there are resources available for support on campus, including but not limited to SQU, a group for queer and trans students that meets each Wednesday at 10 p.m. in the Intercultural Center, the staff who work for the Intercultural Center itself, and Counseling and Psychological Services. Please do not hesitate to contact the leadership of SQU anonymously by visiting the contact form on the SQU website.

Margaret Hughes ’17, Laura Laderman ’15 and Claudia Lo ’16

on behalf of Gabe Benjamin ’15, Rachel Berger ’16, Bryan Chen ’15, Kate Collins ’18, Thomas Corbani ’17, Priya Dieterich ’18, Avni Fatehpuria ’18, Nathaniel Graf ’16, Joan Huang ’15, Nora Kerrich ’16, Darbus Oldham ’17, David Ortiz ’16, Amit Schwalb ’17, Joyce Wu ’15, and Z.L. Zhou ’16.

2 comments

  1. 0
    perplexed says:

    While I understand the purpose of the chalkings, I’m baffled as to why the SQU members okay-ed the sexually explicit nature of them. Let me get say this first: I am not heterosexual. But SQU is beginning to make me question whether or not I belong under the umbrella term “queer” as an asexual person. After viewing these chalkings, I am positive I am not welcome in this community.

    Allosexism strikes again. I would be angry, if I was at all surprised.

    Here’s the thing: Not every asexual/graysexual/demisexual/non-allosexual identifying person is sex-repulsed, but there is a good portion of our community that is. Walking by a depiction of two-touching penises is a good strike to the gut for us — it reminds us that society does not accept us and our so-called “queer allies” do not either. We’re basically informed that we’re “broken,” that there’s something wrong with us for not wanting to participate in sexual relationships or sexual acts, or that our sexuality is not legitimate because we “haven’t met the right person yet.” I do not want to remember this as I walk to my science classes.

    This is our week of representation and awareness (Oct. 26 – Nov. 1), and yet SQU and the rest of the Swarthmore community cannot even put it in their minds for one week to maybe think about their asexual members. Sure, there were some asexual and aromantic flags here and there, but always preceding a “sucking dick is the best thing that ever happened to me” or something of the like.

    Having sex was one of the most uncomfortable experiences of my life, and why did I do it? Because I was told it was the best thing that would ever happen to me. I don’t need a daily reminder of my greatest regret; I’d just like to go to class in peace.

  2. 0
    abc says:

    I don’t see how the comment “#fuckherrightinthepussy”, which you deemed “egregious” is so different from “I like to fuck people in the ass”, which is a chalking that seems to have been written by a member of SQU. I think both of these comments are completely inappropriate to be displayed so publicly in an open campus because the language and content in both comments is incredibly foul and offensive. Students aren’t the only ones who have to be exposed to these comments; our professors, children who walk through campus with their parents, prospective students, and our parents who visit read these too.

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