Musings on Life for the Queerly Inclined

Posts tagged ‘Mount Holyoke College’

Post-Graduation Blues or How to Survive Mohomesickness

Dear Class of 2014,

My dear, beautiful friends: you are now a month out of Mount Holyoke and in many ways life probably sucks. Perhaps you’ve got your post-graduation shit together: you have a job and/or prestigious graduate school plans. You’ve found an apartment, maybe even with a Moho roomie. You’ve figured out the best bar in your neighborhood, where to get inexpensive yet delicious produce, and public transportation runs past 12:50am, meaning that you never have to fear missing the last PVTA back to campus. All of that is wonderful and I could dwell endlessly on how capable and well prepared you are, how proud I am of you.

But I bet part of you is lonely. Even if it only creeps up on you in the middle of the night—or at 9:30pm when you should be heading to a dining hall for M&Cs—I bet part of you is desperately lonely, so that is what I want to talk about. Your friends have been flung across the world. You’re no longer surrounded by familiar mentors, traditions, and a library full of comfy, extra-large-and-perfect-for-snuggling armchairs. Maybe you’re living somewhere you have a strong community already, maybe not. Maybe you know exactly what you’re gonna do with your future; maybe you’re a constant stream of questions. This can be exciting and it can also be terrifying.

Here’s the thing: graduating sucks. It’s an enormous accomplishment that leads to an enormous period of uncertainty. After packing up my room and bidding goodbye to everyone and everything on campus for the upteenth time, my mom and I started the long drive back to Chicago. As we left South Hadley, I apologized to my mom for the fact that I was about to play the same song for two hours, put the M&Cs’ version of Vienna Teng’s “Harbor” on repeat, and cried non-stop across Massachusetts and New York. Thankfully, my mom understood.

A friend of mine (and Hampshire ’08 alumna—whaddup Five Colleges!) gave me some great advice when I graduated. She told me that the two years after her graduation contained some of the hardest times in her life. It was a period full of highs and lows and figuring out how to handle new circumstances. She told me to expect that and know that it’s natural. That realism has been more valuable to me than any specific career or life advice I’ve received. It’s gonna suck, just go with it and know you’re not alone.

How to handle the suckage that is post-graduation?

  • Listen to your favorite MHC music. I’ve played “Harbor” on repeat a lot over the past couple years. Sink into it and let yourself mourn passing out of this place we call Mohome.
  • Create an awesome, kick-ass playlist of “pump me up so I can handle anything” songs. Attitude is everything and music can have a huge impact on that. A few favorites: “Watch Me Shine” (Joanna Pacitti; you’re damn right it’s on the Legally Blonde soundtrack), “The Bullpen” (Dessa), “The Show Goes On” (Lupe Fiasco), “Stronger” (Kanye), “Can’t Get Me Down” (Lo-Ball; let’s be real: the whole Legally Blonde soundtrack is perfect).
  • Have group Skype dates/Google hangouts with your Moho friends. Someone’s internet connection will inevitably be awful (probably yours), so the quality may be lacking, but hearing that cluster of voices together again is priceless.
  • Read. I was so busy at MHC—even in high school—that I rarely had time to read for pleasure. I’m trying to reclaim this time now. I confess: I’ve read J. Courtney Sullivan’s Commencement several times. It’s set at (and post-) Smith College and, though I have my fair share of criticisms of the novel, I found the setting comforting. It’s about the time we’re living now. I love the fierceness of its women characters and the references to the Calvin Theatre and other Valley landmarks make me feel at home.

  • “Celia remembered how Bree used to refer to their first year out of college as their freshman year of life. Celia might call her crying from a bathroom stall at work, complaining about her boss, or she might send a pained text message from yet another ill-fated first date, and Bree would soothe her gently, saying, ‘You’re only a freshman. It’s going to get better. I swear’” (Sullivan 52). You, Moho grad, are a firstie again. Take it easy on yourself.

  • Reach out to your local MHC alumnae club (if there is one). Seriously, just do it. While at MHC, we hear a ton about inspiring older alumnae—those who are well into their careers and are transforming the world in big ways. That’s terrific and I don’t want to downplay the significance of having these role models; however, they’re probably not the most helpful people when you’ve just graduated. Who will help you find a roommate, navigate public transportation in a new city, or clue you into where to get the best $5 margaritas? Enter young alumnae. Mohos whose time at MHC didn’t even overlap with mine are now huge parts of my social and professional networks. In short, they’re the best.

  • Explore your surroundings. If you’re in a new city, find places that speak to you. If you’re at your pre-college home, venture beyond the places you hung out in high school. Get to know your neighborhood food trucks and restaurants, your local public libraries and parks, become a regular at a bookstore, coffee shop, ice cram parlor, or farmers’ market.
  • Meetup.com can be great. Even if you don’t actually go to any meet ups, it’s helpful to get a sense of what’s available around you and to know that there are strangers out there who have similar interests and could become your friends.
  • Cook. Not everyone likes cooking, but I love it and find it relieves stress. Take advantage of the fact that you’re no longer on a meal plan and try out some new recipes. This is also a wonderful way to build friendships/relationships. Everyone loves being invited to share in some homemade deliciousness. Everything from bringing cookies to the office to inviting new friends over for a potluck dinner is lovely and will most likely be appreciated by those around you. (If inviting someone over, check for allergies/dietary restrictions first. Your meal will go a lot better if everyone can eat something.)

Whoa Tamar, post-grad life sounds pretty rough!

I hear you. Here’s the other thing: it gets less sucky. You’ll take baby steps initially—you’re a firstie, remember?—but slowly, slowly you’ll start making an adult life for yourself outside of MHC. About a year and a half out, you’ll finally look around you and think, “I have friends and a life with things that are important to me. It’s not everything I’ve ever wanted, but I’m creating something real.” That is an amazing feeling. And I assure you that, over time, you will find your footing and the life that you’ve dreamed of will become increasingly real.

All my love, honeybunches! You’re going to do just fine.

Got other suggestions for coping with loneliness, acclimating to new places, or taking the world by storm? Leave comments!

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I May Not Look Queer, but I Do Look Like I Might Send a Stiletto to Your Face

“You don’t look queer.”

“Your nails are too long to be gay.”

“She probably cut her hair to get people to notice her.”

“Just wear plaid or get a tattoo!”

“Well…you just look straight.”

“Wear one feather earring–that’s a queer thing.” *

“If I can’t see you, how am I supposed to know you exist?!”

Okay, now that I’ve gotten them out there, all of these comments can go die in a fire.

Currently, all the new Mount Holyoke students are mid-orientation.  This is a magical time of getting acquainted with Moho and having the most jam-packed long days of activities, yet somehow they’re still managing to blog about it.  Earlier today, on Tumblr’s #mount holyoke tag, someone posted the following:

Some immediate thoughts:

  • How do you even have time to write this stuff?
  • Fuck you!  Maybe I don’t wanna wear plaid every day.
  • Poor firstie, you can’t find the community you want.
  • BUT FUCK YOUR WELL-INTENTIONED IGNORANCE
  • You’re trying so hard AND FAILING SO MUCH HARDER
  • I’m sorry you’re lost and looking for friends and feeling queer-deprived.  I so want to help you out.  But this here is some BS.  Check yourself.

The way I saw it, there were two potential responses.  A) Reblog her post with some helpful commentary about LGBTQ+ orgs on campus, or B) declare loudly to myself “fuck you, we’ll wear what we want” and go make a glorious plaid-free lunch.  I was sorely tempted by B, but I decided on a compromise.

Fast forward several hours.  I went out to dinner with my fam–flowy skirt, matching bag, and 3″ heels included–and returned home to find that this firstie’s post had accrued 90 notes.  Two of those were mine and a friend’s, both calling her out and suggesting some places she might meet the people she’s seeking.  Most of the comments were along the lines of “OMG yesssssssss!  Can this be a thing?  Can we collectively buy into the notion of visible markers of queerness and condemn anybody who doesn’t follow?!

No.  Stop.  Just shut up before I fight everyone this blog post gets even longer and angrier.  Femmes are not necessarily incognito; we are not a group to be “weeded out”, much to your aggravation.  We are not an annoyance.  Just because we are not decked out in rainbows and plaid doesn’t mean we’re not there.  Or ya know what?  Maybe we are sashaying past in plaid and rainbow jewelry, but you’ve been conditioned not to recognize us.

What do “gaydar” and “reading” someone’s sexual orientation actually mean?

We are, in fact, not describing sexual orientation at all–we’re responding to gender transgressions.  Obviously there are cases in which you see two people whom you perceive to have the same gender making out and you think to yourself, “Wow, they’re pretty queer.”  Yep–in that situation, you’re probably right.  That aside, most people who are described as “looking LGBQ+” are feminine men and masculine women.  Those gender presentations are culturally coded as not straight.  Tada!  Conflation of gender presentation and sexuality.

What comes to mind when you think “queer woman”?

All too often, the image conjured is white, short-haired, masculine, either very stocky or very slender (either way, no curves allowed), and wearing some combination of the following:

  • Bean boots, baggy jeans, boxers, androgynous suit, rainbows, plaid, ear gauges, facial piercings, down vest, flannel, etc.

These clothes–as well as women enjoying “manly” activities/accessories/ hobbies–are coded as queer and are understood as markers of “legitimate” queerness.  The people who embody these stereotypes are “really queer.”

What happens to the rest of us?

According to this model, femme and other feminine-of-center women can’t possibly be queer, or at least aren’t “queer enough.”  It’s clearly our fault we’re not seen: we’re in hiding, we just haven’t learned yet how to be truly queer, we’re new to the queer community, we don’t understand how things work, our presentation is just not right.  It’s up to us to change.

NO.  Fuck that.  I will dress how I damn well please.  I’ve wasted too much time trying to rearrange my wardrobe, interests, and style to fit these bullshit standards that privilege masculinity.**  If you overlook my femmeness, that’s your loss.  The problem is not that you can’t see us; it’s that you choose to ignore us.

* Most examples of this are super appropriative of Native American cultures and modes of dress.  That shit’s gotta stop.  Like now.

** Oh hey there, patriarchy!  Can’t forget about you.

I’m a soccer-star-fairy-princess! Duh.

When I was five years old, I decided I wanted to be a soccer player when I grew up (that is, whenever I wasn’t being a movie star or a fairy princess).  I wasn’t especially good at soccer.  In fact, I barely knew how to play.  That wasn’t the point.  I had just learned that women’s soccer wasn’t taken as seriously as men’s soccer and that, comparatively speaking, not very many people watched it.  My five-year-old logic went like this:

“Surely the only reason people take men’s soccer more seriously is that there aren’t very many women playing soccer and so people don’t know about it.  If there were more women soccer players, it would be a much more popular sport and everyone would support it.  Ergo I should be a soccer player and help make it really popular.  If tons of little girls become soccer players, then everyone will pay attention.”

A+ plan, right?  This was 1995 and Mia Hamm was becoming a household name, after she became the youngest USA woman to win the World Cup in 1991.  A whole generation of girls was being ushered into sports camps.

June 23rd marked the 40th anniversary of Title IX (law requiring gender equity in federally funded educational programs, including sports).  Growing up as a post-Title IX child during the “girl power” 90’s, I never really grasped the significance of this law.  I still don’t have a thorough enough understanding of what it was like to be an aspiring female athlete pre-1972.  My family has never been big on team sports.  I follow figure skating like some people follow football (complete with the stereotypical yelling at the TV and threatening to throw things), but I grew up basically ignoring team sports–men’s and women’s equally–so I wasn’t immersed in the culture that glorified men’s teams and disregarded women’s.

When I was three, I began figure skating; when I was 14, I moved over to dance.  Stereotypes aside, these are definitely girl/woman-dominated activities.  (Side note: if you think figure skating isn’t a sport, you are hereby dismissed.)  My friends who were athletic were skaters and dancers.  Again, no connection with dominant sports culture that prioritizes men.

It wasn’t until college that I had friends who were athletes in the world of team sports.  Going to a historically women’s college, the athletes were almost exclusively women.  (Now I’m that weird kid who thinks rugby is primarily a women’s sport and gets confused when people talk about ruggers being upwards of six feet.  Yeah.  Same goes for crew.  Why do people think of this when they think of rowers?)  I began seeing what it means to center sports on women’s teams and how much of these athletes’ lives and passion would be overlooked in a setting that didn’t value them.

Watching this video, something finally clicked.  In it Laurie Priest, MHC’s Director of Athletics, explains that “at Mount Holyoke, women are treated as first-class citizens, because all the opportunities are for women.  Women are not the sideshow.  They get top billing as the only show in town” (4:57).  Ah ha.

That’s what Title IX gets us–confirmation that women are just as deserving of a top-billed spot and consequently merit all the training, facilities, and support that will get them there.  Next step: getting women’s athletics to be recognized with the same prestige accorded men’s.  Oh and maybe I should stop referring to half-time as “intermission”…

It’s Always Bigger in Texas

For the newbies who don’t actually know me in real life (and yet are somehow magically here reading my blog—thank you), I just graduated from Mount Holyoke College.*  What happens when you graduate?  All of a sudden you have to move four year’s worth of accumulated stuff home.  Oh the joy.  To solve this problem, my mom and I loaded up the car and drove from western MA all the way to Chicago.

While on the road, we stopped at an Ohio diner for breakfast.  The menu listed Tabasco sauce as it’s own meal item.  What is this?  Toast options included rye, wheat, etc., and Texas toast.  “What is Texas toast?” I asked the waitress.

“Oh, it’s man toast” she replied, as though this were the most obvious response in the world.  “Ya know, bigger.”  She held up her thumb and first finger to show us that Texas toast is sliced twice as thickly as regular bread.

Me in my head: “Did she just say ‘man toast’?  Wtf is this?  Who comes up with these things?  I must’ve misheard.”

My mom and I shared a look across the table.  Judging by her expression, not only had I heard correctly, but Texas toast was apparently a legit thing and this definition was to be taken seriously.

Me out loud: “Oh.  Umm I’ll have rye, thanks.”

It was then, staring down at my placemat that doubled as a menu with more product placement than I could handle (Minute Maid orange juice, Premium crackers, Tabasco hot sauce), that I realized my true calling: to chronicle these incomprehensible moments that life hands us—these adventures through heteronormativity.

*The liberal arts haven of critical thinking, sexual and gender fluidity, and optional clothing located in the fine hamlet of South Hadley.

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