On Friday, Oct. 25, HOUSE hosted HalloQween, the first drag show of the season, hosted at The Workshop in Hewitt. The show was a great success, with fiery performances by queens such as Miznomer (Ariel Munczek Edelman ’20), Princess Vi (Hillel Friedland ’22), and Kitsch Enade (Michael Montoya ’20). It was an especially exciting night for me as I made my drag debut as Benzo Diazequeen, lip-syncing to “Cornflake Girl” by Tori Amos in perhaps one of the most on-brand turns of the century. Pervading The Workshop, however, was a feeling of collective anxiety, as the Office of Residential Life (ResLife) tried to shut down the festivities on several occasions due to the size of the crowd, which was hardly a safety concern. Whether or not their intentions were homophobic, ResLife’s aggressive policing of the event opened my eyes to a much larger problem at Wesleyan: the profound lack of queer spaces on campus.
When I first visited Wes, I was immediately struck by a powerful sense of community that I hadn’t felt anywhere else I toured. More than anything else, this feeling of intense belonging is what made me fall in love with the school, and arriving on campus in September, I hoped I would continue to feel this way. Coming from a high school where I was one of the only out students in my grade, I looked forward to finding a posse of like-minded queer people at Wes. However, I soon realized that the Wesleyan I thought I knew, the school where most people were at least a little bit gay or at least “creative,” was far different from the one I encountered.
While Wesleyan definitely has its fair share of queer people, the sense of community among queer students on campus is incredibly diffuse. In an interview with The Argus last month, Ariel Munczek Edelman said that, aside from bringing drag to campus, one of their main reasons for founding HOUSE with Sammy Morreale ’19 was to form a more concrete sense of community among queer people. In the interview, Edelman states, “There’s so little intentional queer community here. There’s a lot of friend groups that are like lots of queer people…but there’s a lot less intentional community building.”
Indeed, a large part of the problem is the lack of queer student groups on campus. On their website, Wesleyan lists a handful of queer affinity groups, three of which—BELLIG, ESQUE, and WesKink—no longer exist. Wes lacks even a basic GSA, which is shocking considering the number of queer students on campus. Along with HOUSE, the only other club I know of that actively tries to build community among LGBTQIA+ students is SPECTRUM, a group for queer people of color that holds several events throughout the year. With such a limited number of queer student groups, being gay at Wes can often be alienating. In fact, one of SPECTRUM’s members told me that sometimes even white students try to join SPECTRUM, underscoring the profound lack of queer cohesion on campus.
Even the party scene at Wes can often feel incredibly bro-y and heteronormative. My first weekend on campus, I remember feeling incredibly intimidated walking down to Fountain, a chaotic and fratty environment dominated almost entirely by athletes. Though there are definitely smaller, more intimate party spaces on campus that feel more welcoming, virtually none of them are thrown by queer students for queer students. This past weekend, there was not even one queer Halloween party, something I find appalling considering Halloween is basically gay Christmas.
Let’s face it: Wesleyan will never be a queer utopia. Regardless, there’s so much we can do to create a more unified queer community on campus, and part of that responsibility rests on us as students. We need to band together and voice our ideas about how to improve queer life at Wes, whether that includes forming new queer student groups or requesting funding from the university to host more queer events. I’ve spoken to many other queer students on campus, and though many echo my sentiments, none of our hopes will be realized unless we come together as a community. As much as we need to hold ourselves accountable as students to effect real change, the burden does not rest on us alone. For a university that claims to so openly embrace queer students, there are many steps Wesleyan must take to actualize this promise, the least of which includes updating their website to more accurately reflect queer life on campus to prospective students and their families. All in all, our efforts to carve out more queer spaces at Wesleyan will not be easy, as made clear by ResLife’s intrusion into HalloQween, but if we are successful the fruit of our labor will ultimately be fulfilling, and I look forward to joining you all in this fight.
Ben Togut can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.