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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

OSU 'I am gay' writing class essay printed as paid advertisement in student newspaper

Cory Zimmerman 'I am gay' essay paid insert to Barometer Nov. 20, 2015

PHOTO: An "I am gay" essay by Oregon State University student Cory Zimmerman (listed as Interior Design major in the accessed Nov. 21, 2015). The essay was written for an OSU WR121 writing class student project and inserted as a "paid advertisement" in the student newspaper, The Daily Barometer Nov. 20, 2015.

I found Cory Zimmerman's "I am gay" essay to be an excellent example of how common issues of sexual orientation and identity have evolved at OSU since World War II. First, if Cory reads my comments below, I hope he will not take them as criticisms and instead take them as questions for self-reflection and learning. Furthermore, he should take my interest as being praise because I have to choose carefully the smaller number of things I can read and comment on today given my low vision blindness. Google was unable to find me a link to Cory's essay, and so I've included below my personal scanned OCR text version that is suitable for reading with an ADA accessible Web browser like the one I use (note: please accept my apologies for any OCR transcription errors I couldn't see):

"[Headline: I am gay]: These three words are pivotal in a homosexual man's life. They characterize him and shape his life. Whether or not he chooses to define himself by those three words are his choice. Most, however, do not.

"Many gay men prefer to keep their sexuality a very small flavor in their life's main dish. Yes, they're gay. Yes, it's who they are, but it isn't the only thing that defines us. We're singers. We're engineers. We study biology, business, and medicine. We play video games, and Netflix, binge. We play sports. We jam out to music. We like to take photos. We're adventurers and hikers.

"There are many elements of my life that people sometimes thoughtlessly ignore. Recently, I was being introduced to someone by my friend. She began the introduction with my name, how she knew me, and immediately divulged my sexuality. This apparently, was to her, the only quality worth mentioning. This new acquaintance will most likely associate me solely as being gay from here on out. And although there is a possibility that I can salvage this relationship and substitute a hobby or passion as my defining feature, it is doubtful, and I will likely receive various phallic shaped objects for my birthday as gag gifts rather than actual gifts that I may enjoy. Instead of a new book or maybe a gift card, it's more likely I'll receive a shot glass shaped like the male organ. That's all that matters. I am gay so there is no need to remember anything else about me. Yeah, okay.

"I am not saying there is anything wrong with this lifestyle. I know many gay men who would prefer their sexuality be a very visible part of their identity, to the point of adorning, themselves with rainbow-trimmed tee shirts and flower crowns. They make it known that they want products sahped like a penis for their birthdays. A friend of mine back home wears pink shirts with the words "gay" and "queen" and the like on it. He often makes various gay jokes, typically at his own expense. However, he also loves biology. No, I'm not talking about anatomy -- he loves plants. When he came to visit me at OSU, I introduced him to my friends as my friend from back home who wanted to major in botany. He immediately interjected and said that he was one of my gay best friends. In that introduction, though I chose to leave the gay part out, he made a conscious decision that he wants his homosexuality to be included as a prominent part of his identity and on par with his passions.

"When it comes to sexuality, different people assign it different degrees of significance. This goes for anyone from the LGBT community. Some people don't care for it being viewed as any more than a minor trait, while others let it define them. Some prefer it to be somewhere in the middle. Any way is acceptable. What is not acceptable, however, is to presume for anyone -- straight or gay -- the degree to which their identity is determined by their sexuality."

(Quoted from Cory Zimmerman , "I am gay," "The Exchange," paid advertisement insert to OSU student newspaper, Barometer, Nov. 21, 2015, p 3 of ad between pages 4-5 of printed newspaper and not in online edition)

Google failed to find a link to the above essay, but amazingly Google found a relevant link to "The English Letter," College of Liberal Arts Spring 2015, p. 15-16 (PDF 2.4 MB) that explains how "The Exchange" will be written "by students of WR121 and appear in a special insert (of the OSU Barometer student newspaper) with a print run of 7,000 and distribution across Corvallis."

In addition, Google also relevantly linked me to an OSU gay frat boy page that I assume was written by the same student: "Delta Lambda Phi is a traditional Greek social organization founded by and for a decidedly nontraditional group: gay, bisexual, and progressive men." contact " Cory Zimmerman 2251 SW Jefferson Ave. Student Experience Center Suite 306 Corvallis, OR 97331 ( page accessed Nov. 21, 2015)

As I said above, I found Cory Zimmerman's "I am gay" essay to be an excellent example of how common issues of sexual orientation and identity have evolved at OSU since World War II. First, if Cory reads my comments below, I hope he will not take them as criticisms and instead take them as questions for self-reflection and learning.

Cory's essay is a good example of how young gay men today have no issue with coming out in their school newspaper, but they feel a need to have some control over "the degree to which their identity is determined by their sexuality."

Cory admirably acknowledges and accepts the choice of other gay men to advertise they are gay on their t-shirt, and I likewise accept his choice to decide when, where and how much he wants to identify as being gay. However, based on my experience with these issues over the last 50 years, I think he should do some deeper self-reflection by asking himself why does being introduced as being gay bothered him enough to write and publish an essay?

For example, would he have the same reaction if somebody introduced him as being a student in the interior design department? I doubt he would have a problem today, but prior to the 1969 Stonewall riot, he might have been offended by this because introducing somebody as an interior design major or a fine arts major, like I was when I was as a freshman, would have been interpreted by most people as saying you are gay, which in those days also labeled you as being either a criminal or a mentally ill person. As a result, gay men back then were careful to only use such introductions if they wanted to drop "hair pins" to suggest to somebody they were gay.

Cory should also ask himself, is internalized homophobia behind his desire for "some control" over how he is introduced? Why is Cory not comfortable with deflecting the conversation to the things he wants people to know about him -- he says his fear is that the "new acquaintance will most likely associate me solely as being gay from here on out."

Note that I am not asking the question of "internalized homophobia" to offend or browbeat anybody, as it was historically used by Stonewall era gay liberationists who accused the more conservative homophile activists of being "internally homophobic" because they wanted to avoid a backlash from mainstream society by working quietly within the system to achieve equal rights for gay people. (Note: a famous homophile activist W. Dorr Legg was an OSU Professor during World War II before he later founded the Log Cabin Republicans)

Instead, I am asking the question about internalized homophobia, based on my experience with totally out gay men still being timid about disclosing their gay identity in certain situations. While I think it is both polite and appropriate not to make gay jokes in front of your evangelical Christian aunt because it will shock her, I also believe this type of restraint should provoke one into thinking about how you should discuss it with her in the future -- e.g. do you wait until you invite her to your same-sex wedding ceremony?

The problems of identity are universal and age-old. My first experience was with the cultural identity of children I grew up, who all looked the same to me as blond haired and blue-eyed Scandinavians, but I quickly learned that it would offend them if you called a Norwegian a Swede or said they were from Finland instead of Sweden or Norway. I learned that the reason was that all of these cultures had over millennium built up different cultural stereotypes that nobody wanted to be associated with. It took me awhile to be able to see it, but there are certain genetic physical differences that most native Scandinavians can use to detect the other person's country of origin. They really are born that way!

My experience has made me realize that it is easy to lose sight of how the customs of your own culture can subtly affect your behavior and how you interact with other people. It also made me realize that yes, there were some situations where I had "internal homophobia" and was in fear of how others might react to my queerness. For example, when I started college as a Fine Arts major, I wanted to do computer animation, but realized I would have to take engineering classes to learn how to design the computer needed for doing it, but the Fine Arts Dean refused to sign my course plan. Instead, I had to go to the engineering dean, who signed off on my cross-disciplinary coursework because the University President wanted to see more engineering students taking liberal arts classes. (Back then there were almost no female engineering students.) I quickly learned not to go to an art class and say I was taking engineering because I would be discriminated against. Likewise, engineering students had a stereotyped view of liberal arts students being non-productive and unemployable in a good job.

I found the issues and concerns raised by Cory's essay to be historically interesting because they represent a young man's view of similar problems shared by gay men decades ago. For decades, gay men have argued if it was right to "flaunt being gay," or better to "stay in the closet except during sex." Cory represents the modern and more tolerant view of accepting where a person chooses to be, including somewhere in-between on the spectrum of always introducing yourself as being gay to only coming out when it is relevant.

In my experience, I would advise Cory to lighten up and not worry so much about how he is being introduced. If somebody locks it in and forever associates him as being the gay guy, then so what? If it is a real problem, then address the problem instead of wishing that everyone will be polite and allow you to decide how and when to identify yourself.