By Emma Buchman
Paul Verlaine is always getting me into trouble. The famous French poet sparked controversy not only in 19th century France, but in a 21st century classroom. My French Literature class was discussing Verlain’es life, and we were focusing on the lovely part when he left his wife and infant child for fellow French poet, Arthur Rimbaud. I made my sentiments known, since I have never been a huge fan of Verlaine. But being an anxious person, I wanted to make it clear that it wasn’t the fact that he left his wife for another man; it was the fact that he hit his wife, left her, and then shot Rimbaud in the wrist (don’t worry, he went to prison). But when I said that I didn’t hate him for being gay, but rather for being a very bad person, one of my classmates immediately said, “He wasn’t gay, he was bisexual.”
Needless to say, I was furious. I have always tried to be a strong advocate of the LGBT community. I considered any correction to my understanding of sexuality to be an insult: I am not an ignorant homophobe like many of the people in the town where I grew up. So, I went to talk to one person who would be able to help me, to let me know that I was not in the wrong.
Senior Julie Kirkpatrick did far from that. However, she did open my eyes to the effect of labels within the LGBT community, and expanded my understanding of sexuality as a whole.
As Kirkpatrick explained to me, sexuality is much more complex than labels like “gay” and “straight.” There is an entire spectrum of attraction that occurs in a lot more people than you might think. That’s absolutely nothing of which to be ashamed. But the fact many “straight” people desire to put a label on those whose sexuality does not quite fit their own needs to be addressed.
Kirkpatrick said, “I think labels serve a purpose…it makes other people more comfortable if they identify as a certain thing, because then that is a label that can be stuck on and be like, ‘Oh, that person’s gay.’ Even if that person isn’t necessarily 100 percent gay…”
But the comfort level of straight people shouldn’t really be a factor. It is true, we currently live in a supposedly free country where gay marriage is legal in 19 out of 50 states. It is also true that centuries of warped religious ideals inspired powerful anti-gay sentiment that activists over the past 50 years have been trying to eradicate. But now is a better time than ever to try and understand others, now when so many of us our fighting for total equality in the LGBT community.
It may be difficult, especially for those like me, who think that they already have in down-pat. But there are always new things to learn, and being understanding of another person, or at least recognizing your differences, can make all of the difference in the world.
Sophomore Patrick Ginther, a WC student who identifies as part of the LGBT community, gave his opinion on “label education.” When asked whether it was mostly those with animosity towards diverging sexualities who don’t understand labels, or simply those who need more information, he said, “I think both cases are true, it’s not just one or the other. It’s a case-by-case situation as to which of those two it is. Generally, I think it’s just they’re a little uneducated on the subject, in which case you just need to talk to them… EROS is a great place to go for that… It’s mainly a lack of education.”
I later asked Ginther how he would feel if society was able to get to a place where the terms “straight” and “gay” implied a spectrum between fully heterosexual and homosexual and bisexual. He said, “… it would give you a lot more freedom… when you tell someone that you’re gay it puts you into a box, and it’s a very cramped box where there’s not a lot of movement. And if we got to a point in society where that was the case, it would give people who don’t quite fit into these ‘cookie cutter’ boxes a little more freedom to move around.”
After the initial conversation with Kirkpatrick, I went back to interview her for this article, which gave me the quotes provided. While Kirkpatrick identifies as pansexual in order to make others more comfortable, when asked what she would rather be called, she said, “A person.” And really, what more could you ask for?