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I came out to my dad the summer after my freshman year—“Big news: I’m gay!” was
my it-made-sense-at-the-time line—he responded, without missing a beat, “News
to who?” Well, news to me.
Five days at Yale, and my 18 years of pseudo-heterosexuality were obliterated.
first week at Yale, in the Pierson courtyard, I saw another freshman and
thought he was cute. With only 12 of 19 target years of education under my
belt, I still managed to figure out what this meant. I experienced the Gay Ivy
at its most merciless: five days at Yale, and my 18 years of
pseudo-heterosexuality were obliterated.
what in the Yale air caused this miraculous burst of self-awareness? I don’t
credit the concerted efforts that fall by the administration and students to
convey the school’s inclusiveness. Unlike many nervous gay freshmen, who are
leaving a difficult home or unenlightened classmates, I disliked the
sensitivity events during freshman orientation and couldn’t imagine making a
friend from the gay affinity groups. Institutional displays of tolerance remind
me of my liberal high school in New York City, where teachers and guest
speakers—and even, on one surreal day, a bunch of my friends sitting around a
living room—would announce in the modern progressive parlance that it’s okay
to be gay. I never
believed them. Every time the possibility of being gay crossed my mind, I felt
certain of what coming out would mean: I couldn’t continue to be myself if I
Yale, what was unsaid was immeasurably more persuasive than any of that. The
sight of gay students walking around campus without acting gay, and the sight
of no one caring if they did act gay, was entirely new to me. Here, the raison
d'etre of strident gay identity had vanished, because an ecosystem like Yale’s
is apparently too hospitable to require it. Being gay at Yale, I realized,
meant precisely the opposite of what I had always feared. Far from forcing me
to change myself, coming out would liberate me to become more myself.
I could be openly gay everywhere I went, and it wouldn’t matter.
in those first wonderful months after coming out, that is precisely what I felt
I was doing: jettisoning parts of me that I didn’t like, becoming more
fundamentally honest, learning to share myself more deeply with other people.
Near the top of my list was a conviction that the gay Mitch would be no less
free than the straight one in ambition or personality or musical taste. After
the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling, that seemed entirely possible: I could
get any job I wanted, marry, have kids, be openly gay everywhere I went, and it
there is a present-day vision of paradise for gays in America, this is it. But
I worry that the same effortless acceptance that makes Yale a vision of a
post-gay future has also led me, quite unexpectedly, to wrap myself in gay
identity. In these past four years, I haven’t felt the need to adopt the
in-group behaviors of first- or second-wave gay liberation in the way I talk,
or the causes I do or don’t pursue, but I have felt an internal pull to socialize
increasingly exclusively with other gay guys. Gayness has become constitutive
of my identity in a way no other part of me ever was.
is an outgrowth, I think, partly of the tribalism endemic to any sharply
delineated social group, and partly of the zeal of a still-recent convert. But
I’ve cocooned more and more mostly because it’s so easy to cocoon at Yale,
where gays are easy to find and there’s no hint of stigma attached. Given that
it was Yale’s easygoing attitude toward gays that wooed me out of the closet in
the first place, it’s an ironic situation. My epiphany was always supposed to
expand my world, never to limit it, and I’m disappointed in the contraction of
my social panorama.
my real worry is prospective. Being gay at Yale hasn’t entailed an ounce of
social struggle, but I know the world is hardly so hospitable as Pierson. Twice
when I’ve stepped out of the bubbles of central New Haven and Upper West Side
Manhattan—once on a plane with my boyfriend, a second time on a club dance
floor—I’ve managed to get called a faggot. Both times, I felt an incomparable
ache to go back to Yale. But I know it was the pang of longing for a place that
is only a temporary haven.