It’s no secret that Wesleyan has a thriving population of queer students. Whether they are partying it up at Open House or criticizing the heterosexism of the assigned literature in English classes, queer students make their presence known. However, while various other communities on campus have had concrete, photographic documentation of their members over the years, the same is not true for Wesleyan’s queer community. On Saturday, Nov. 22, Open House opened its doors to fix that by photographing any members of the queer community who chose to show up.
“The idea is based off of [how] fraternities and societies have composites of their community, so we were just trying to sort of do that but in a way that was open to a wide variety,” said Ben Romero ’16, the house manager of Open House and the main organizer of the event.
All of the photos that were taken will be featured as part of the queer composite in the Queer Resource Center at 190 High Street, while a select few, with permission from the subjects of the photos, will be published online.
The photo shoot took place in a friendly, welcoming environment. Romero introduced himself to those who entered the Open House living room, while other residents of Open House sat around and chatted with those who were waiting to be or had already been photographed. Those who chose to be photographed were invited to have their picture taken either alone or with a friend, and they were allowed to pose however they felt most comfortable, resulting in some fairly comical photos. One person, for instance, was photographed covered in what appeared to be soap suds or shaving cream.
To Romero, photographing as many people as possible was a crucial part of the project, since creating a queer composite was an opportunity not only to document Wesleyan’s queer community but also to engage community members who typically remain at its fringes. Indeed, he marketed the event to make it seem as encompassing of the entire queer community as possible, titling the Facebook event “CALLING THE QUEER COMMUNITY.” The event description merely announced, “WE WANT YOU*,” with “you” clarified as meaning anything from someone who identifies as butch to someone who has “drunkenly eaten ice cream in Open House.”
Although many people showed up to be photographed, Romero felt that not a wide enough variety of people were featured to provide an accurate representation of the entire community. As such, Open House scheduled a reshoot day on Thursday, Dec. 4, this time in Room 113 of 41 Wyllys rather than in the house’s living room.
“With few exceptions, [the people who came to the photo shoot were] the same people who normally show up to the queer community events, which is great,” Romero said. “I love them. I know them all. They’re wonderful… And that’s why I’m hoping, with a reshoot day, hopefully more people will show up. But it’s also just tough because I’m sort of constantly trying to think of ways to engage with the queer community, but there’s also, ‘Who’s comfortable in what space?’ and, ‘How can you get people to want to be associated with the queer community?’ So a queer composite is as inclusive as possible—you don’t have to do anything except just show up and smile—but it’s still actively affiliating with [the queer community.]”
In general, Romero has found it difficult to involve community members with events.
“I think [Wesleyan’s queer community] can be incredible, and I think that there are some incredible people who are a part of it, but I also don’t think it’s as strong a community as I wish it was,” he said. “I think that—in tune with the changing culture of normalization and assimilation—there’s not as much need for immediate support for lived experience homophobia, and that just makes it sort of a part of your identity, but you don’t need the community. But I still think it would be great if the queer community were stronger, if it was more active, if it was more lively.”
Though photographing the queer composite may not quite have engaged the fringes as Romero had hoped, the response among the subjects was positive overall.
Sophie Massey ’15 said she feels the photographs will help fill a gaping hole in Wesleyan’s collective queer history.
“I think for me, when I first saw it, I was excited because in the Queer Resource Center, if you go through the stuff that has accumulated… I just think it would be cool if I had come across portraits, or something, of the older members of the queer community,” Massey said. “A lot of it’s written material, and there’s no faces to it. So it’d be cool to see that.”
Hannah Rimm ’15, meanwhile, thought that the photographs could help dispel generalizations of queer people in general.
“It’s fun to take pictures of what queer people look like, and be like, ‘Look, we don’t all look like stereotypes,’” she said. “‘We’re people. This is fun.’”