You are a queer kid and you are looking for a college to call home.
You hear about Sarah Lawrence College. You hear about its liberal lineage and its radical makeup. You hear about the mostly feminine student body so queer you’ll be “queer in a year or your money back,” and you decide: you want to be a Sarah Lawrence student.
You are a queer, trans Asian-American girl, and you wanted to be a Sarah Lawrence student.
You write on your application, an essay about your racial and queer identity and becoming a person in the world that disenfranchised you. You add with that essay a sample of your academic writing where you analyze how your country’s laws dehumanize trans people, and therefore you. You get into Sarah Lawrence and you become, a Sarah Lawrence student.
You get to Sarah Lawrence and you assert your pronouns as she and hers. Although you haven’t started hormones, your peers and professors don’t linger on that fact and regardless your androgyny is allowed. It feels like the queer haven for you, which doesn’t demand of you anything you aren’t. You think about big universities you also applied to and you feel the sinking presence of historical repression all the way from your campus, where you are protected.
You go through your first year and amidst the courses on Marxist theory and Foucauldian discourse you recognize a strain of anxiety - a tinted loss.
You unlearn heteronormativity as you wonder why you have only seen one queer couple before college and now you have seen an infinite amount and might still feel shocked - you stand before Westlands at #BLACKOUTSLC as friends and strangers disavow racialized aggressions on campus and how your school needs racial diversity - a friend of yours tells you they feel more comfortable with they/them pronouns and you revel in the fluidity of human experience - you look around the crowd in front of Westlands and you feel yourself washed away by the sea of white people.
You are nearing the end of your first year and in a conference project, you mention the quintessential Sarah Lawrence student in your mind. You close your eyes and you imagine a girl. A girl in all black - with a bob. A queer girl, studying literature and social sciences and art. A white girl - a pale white girl.
You think about why you don’t imagine yourself. You think about the sacrifices you made in picking Sarah Lawrence. You remember learning how painfully white Sarah Lawrence is during your college research. Though most of your friends in high school had been people of color, you chose the playground for the queer intellectual. In high school you had started to understand the implications of historical and modern imperialism, but you still chose a school full of rich white people.
You understand that there were sacrifices but then you wonder why not even your own queerness feels observed at “queer in a year or your money back” SLC. You wonder why the student representing your own school in your own mind is a queer white girl.
You then realize - your first mistake was trying to divide yourself into fragments. Regardless of what neoliberalism has tried to convince you, you knew your own understanding of your gender had always been informed by your racial otherness. Your sexuality was racialized because there is no other possibility when the world in your mind only knows the world your body lives in. Your queerness devours that which your Asianhood had digested from a terror regime of whiteness; the psychic symbiosis has constructed your being. You remember learning the history of your college and finding out that even after student sit-ins in 1989, demanding resources for students of color and diversity, there wasn’t a proper safe space for them until 2005, and even in 2016 you keep wondering where the students of color they had demanded are. Your identity had been co-opted by American liberalism but you understand that to be the racial other at your queer school means that even at your queer school you are the queer other.
You are now in your second year. You understand the sacrifices you made for spaces out of your hands’ reach. You hear on Facebook that your school listed as number one most LGBT-friendly school in the US.
You rejoice in pride that your school was ranked by the Princeton Review as the most queer college, where you are the queer other.
Tâm Nguyen '19