The Collegian
Monday, February 26, 2024

Try looking for Ms. Right

Westhampton College '09

A few Sundays ago I sat in the chapel, wearing my graduation gown, surrounded by my fellow Westhampton seniors and the first-years and transfers, listening to speakers for Proclamation night. Over and over, I heard references to weddings, finding "Mr. Right," and being in college for one's MRS degree. There was an unspoken assumption that all of the women in the room were heterosexual. I know that not everyone in that room was.

This assumption of heterosexuality is called "heterosexism," and its power runs unchecked at the University of Richmond. While homophobia is often much easier to see (for example, taunting someone because of one's perceived sexual orientation, using the phrase "that's so gay," refusing to allow an openly gay man into a fraternity) and thus much easier to name. Heterosexism goes unseen, even by straight allies to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer communities (broadly called sexual-minority communities). Often, heterosexism forces non-straight people into the closet, even when someone has been out for a long time. I have seen the power of heterosexism over and over at the University of Richmond. I heard from a friend in a sorority here that the heads of the sorority had voted to forbid the sisters from bringing female friends to socials. They said that a sister could bring another woman as a romantic date, but bringing friends was no longer allowed. My friend, who is bisexual, said she would feel uncomfortable bringing a female date after that ruling came down. For a hypothetical closeted sister, the heads would have cut out her ability to bring her "friend" as a date.

The e-mails I received for Ring Dance last year were filled with heterosexism. The e-mails constantly referred to one's "boyfriend or male friend." Instead of just referring to the junior woman's "date" and leaving the invitation open, the e-mails defined the expectation that all women would be bringing men as their dates. Women are asked if they're interested in any guys at school, and men are asked if they've found any cute girls. If a faculty member has a ring on his left ring finger, he's asked to bring his "wife" to a reception. Symbolic logic problems state that if Bobby loves Sally and Sally loves Bobby, then Bobby will marry Sally.

In her last letter to the Collegian, Lex Reynolds suggested that, for the female reader, "your male date paid for your last evening out." Well, I'm sorry Lex, but my last date was with a woman. (Though she did pay -- she was the one who asked me out and had a full-time job, leaving her with more financial discretion compared to my status as an unpaid intern and full-time college student.)

In the sexual-minority communities, each person and couple must negotiate their own rules and expectations. We can't rely upon gender roles to dictate who asks out whom, who drives, who picks up the check, and who is expected to say "yes" or "no" to sex. For me, I base my expectations from the person and the situation: Does my date work full-time or is she or he a college student like me? Do we both have cars or should I expect to drive? Who asked out whom? I bring this need to negotiate the boundaries, which I have learned from my same-sex relationships, to my opposite-sex relationships, which often throws guys off.

With our historical single-sex colleges, I feel that the University of Richmond could learn something from the sexual-minority communities. Stop relying on outdated gender stereotypes. Look at your partner and negotiate how you want your relationship to work. For some, the best relationship does model the traditional, and I wish you all the best. But for most, ditching the expectations and learning how to create a partnership based on each member's abilities and beliefs will create a much stronger relationship.

Lastly, I want to impress upon the student body that you cannot assume that everyone at this school is heterosexual. We non-heterosexuals are here. We are a small group, often closeted by the homophobia and heterosexism that runs rampant on this campus, but we are here (and going to VCU to find a date).

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