Wednesday, September 06, 2006

the few, the proud

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WARNING: This isn't one of my serious-type posts, where I try to be all artsy and tie everything up in some profound bow. This is a newsy, slightly bitchy post. I hope that's ok, because I am feeling slightly bitchy a lot these days, which means you have to listen to it but hey, it's better than depressed. For me, anyway.

I went to my first meeting today. No, not THAT kind of meeting, though after this weekend's multi-martini bender in Midwest City with GF and my best friend from out of town, I probably should go to one of those meetings. No, today's meeting was a chance at last to meet GLBT people at my school. I have been looking forward to it. The group calls itself SOLIS, which stands for something I've already forgotten having to do with Sexual Orientation Legal whatever. I find this acronym very interesting, because it sounds so, well, solitary, which is exactly what I've felt here. Note that the usual name for the gay groups in many law schools is OUTLAW, of which there are chapters all over the country. Now, besides the sly nod the name gives to the way gay behavior has been criminalized in the past, OUTLAW is also a cool acronym because it sounds very OUT. SOLIS, on the other hand, not so out. Maybe masturbatory, as in one of my favorite nineteenth-century euphemisms, "solitary vice." But not exactly loud and proud.

Ok, so I used to teach English, and I'm a little heavy with the close reading, which law school is only intensifying. But I go to this meeting, and there are twelve people. I know, you're wondering, "Where's Jesus?" Me too. But besides this, I'm wondering why the hell there are only twelve gay people in a college of 680 J. D. students and 37 L.L.M. students. To make my heart sink even further, the president of the group applauded the "large turnout."

So you're doing the math, and you're coming up with about 717 students, right? Ten per cent of which, if Kinsey is anywhere near the mark, should be gay. That's 70! Five per cent if you credit recent scholarly insistence that Kinsey overestimated his one in ten. That's 35! Half of that is, well, you get the picture. We didn't even get half of that. The twelve of us waited for our pizzas to arrive (pizzas are apparently the way they get you to show up to organizational meetings at my school), and introduced ourselves to each other. It wasn't hard. And you better believe I memorized each name there like it was my secret agent password to get me out of the war zone.

Now, I understand that the law is a conservative profession. I understand that my school is in the cornfields. I understand that even the people that make it to law school as out GLBT folks tend to stay in big cities, if only to stay alive, get a date, and not go ballistic when they walk by the Federalist Society organization booth.

But we are a public institution less than 150 miles from one of the largest cities in the country. I couldn't help it. Yes, I was crabby. "Is this it?" I asked, loudly. "Is this really a large turnout?"

I regretted saying it almost immediately. Some of the people in the room got that sad, shamed look in their eyes you see when country people think you are making fun of their town. I grew up in the country, and I don't think city life should always or even ever be the measure of value and sophistication. That wasn't what I meant. Certainly this college town is fairly urbane. When you go to the Panera (ok, now I'm getting that look in my eyes) you can see a mix of people that includes genuine farmers in jeans and John Deere caps, ladies with long white hair who look as if they have looms in their houses and pottery wheels in their backyard sheds, Sikh men in turbans, hippies, many different people of color and families of color, professor types, student types, graduate student types, people who haven't quite figured out how to leave here and get on with their lives, people who are various combinations of several of these identities, and more.

In addition, our law school is in the top 25, top 20, or top 15 of the 200 law schools in the country (depending on which ratings system you go to). I certainly don't feel as if this is a second-rate or backwards place. And yet.

Twelve people.

The good news is, I could probably take over the gay organization if I wanted. Hell, I could crown myself Queen of the Night and drop down to my seat in Contracts every morning riding a crescent moon. But all of this doesn't matter if there are no subjects to rule. Where are they? Did they not come? Are they not out? Or--and this is my favorite theory--are they so young and so interested in NOT being alternative that they aren't out yet even to themselves?

On the bright side, I met some very nice people at the meeting. One went to my undergrad college, though much more recently than I--aged thing--did. Two knew people in common that I am friends with at Elite University, though as teachers, not friends in the way I--aged thing--know them. One went to the MidAtlantic university as an undergraduate where I--aged thing--got my PhD. The 2Ls and 3Ls planned barbeques and happy hours, talked of getting a speaker or two, and invited the 1Ls to visit a firm in Midwest City in October.

The best part, though, is that several people in the group are 1Ls, which makes me think that even if Jesus doesn't show up for one of our meetings, talks, barbeques, or happy hours, we'll somehow figure out how to keep our tiny sect alive here in the coming years.

There's my moon idling outside to rapture me off. Gotta go read Torts now, but next time, I promise to tell you all about how truly creepy it is being a student in the machine that is the law classroom.

I won't make you wait long, because it is bugging the hell out of me.


MaggieMay said...

Great post. I have to admit I am looking forward to your post(s) on being a student in a law classroom, because My Favorite Student will be going to law school next yr (I think), and I want to know what she's in for from someone who's not yet... assimilated/converted(wc?).

Flavia said...

I think there's another possibility (unless this is what you meant in saying that some students might be "so young and so interested in NOT being alternative that they aren't out yet even to themselves"): students who are out as gays or lesbians, but who simply don't have a sense of the importance of that community in their lives--in the same way that there are plenty of students who are, say, Asian or Latino, but who never go to the events at their respective cultural houses or join the relevant student associations.

I'm sure that such students DO have other queer friends, but for whatever reason they're not interesting in seeking out new friends and acquaintances on the *basis* of that identity.

I wonder whether this is a matter of age, or a generational thing, or a matter of region (as you suggest). I do know that as an undergraduate I had NO INTEREST in the campus women's center (which isn't the same thing, but it's as close as my experience gets me). None--even though a few of my friends attended events there and spoke well of them. For whatever reason, I didn't see that it addressed anything of any use to me, and I threw out every single mailing I got from the center.

Now, however? I *asked* to be put on the mailing list for the women's center at my new institution, and I intend to promote it to my students whenever appropriate.

I don't know what changed, other than to say that once upon a time I felt that being female was only a fairly incidental part of my identity, and now I know otherwise.

Sfrajett said...

Nice one, Flav! I think you are right about this, and it is important to view identity/identification in a nuanced way, as something that develops with a hard-won political sensibility. MM, I am looking forward to giving you the scoop asap. After I read my Crimlaw assignment . . .

What Now? said...

I was going to say something much along the lines of Flavia's post.

Other possibilities: Maybe SOLIS kind of sucked in previous years, and so some folks decided not to participate in it this year. The parish I was part of in Grad School City had a gay ministry, and I only attended a couple of meetings because I really didn't like the vibe there and didn't feel like I fit in. So who knows what the group was like a year or so ago that might be affecting this year's turnout?

Or maybe some of the 1Ls are so freaked out by law school and how much studying they have to do that they've decided to let the "social clubs" wait until later in the year when they have things under control.

So maybe if SOLIS (and I'm totally with you on the name, by the way; maybe you could lobby to have the group become part of OUTLAW?) does something interesting this year, attendance will grow. Ooh, I seem to be arguing that you *should* take over the group and become Queen of the Night!

Elizabeth McClung said...

Well, I can only suggest marketing - and wild infamous parties. I have to say that at my uni the women's and men's centre had an all out war for several years which made me leery of women's centres for about 8 years. I am with What Now? in taking over - but I think that 1L are the few students that will have time, as the more you get sucked down the law school maw, the less new interest that are likely to be taken on.

Margo, darling said...

What Now, great comment. I think you're absolutely right. We've all been those leary hangers-back at one point or another. And yeah, Sfrajett, you totally could work to make it more visible and more cool and should look into joining up with Outlaw. But later, after you get through this first semester. For now, strategize, make alliances, and gently suggest.

labrat said...

Mmm, I wonder. I think it might be the school. It seems to attract very few out folks, a lot of straight folks, and a bunch of closeted types (a number of whom have come out since graduation). My gf went there, and met a lot of lovely, smart, accepting people, but a mecca for queer law students it wasn't. Conservative profession + cornfields + big ol' queer mecca close by = small out GLBT population.

She made a lot of friends in law school but often felt pretty solitary too. Most of the friends she made are stright.

(And we did the long-distance thing while she was in law school so I'm feeling for you and margo darling right now.)

Good luck.

Oso Raro said...

Do I smell a coup d'├ętat in the air? Oh my! Hell, forget OUTLAW, join COYOTE! Now that would stir things up! Queen of the Night indeed! Toot toot! Heeeeey! Beep Beep! Hey Mister! Need a deposition?

It has been so long since my student daze that I barely remember the organisation bit, but your post brings back a lot of really, really bad memories. I'm traumatised, you'll be hearing from my solicitor forthwith! Ironically enough, contemporary to your post, I was re-inculcated into the LGBTQXYZABC organisational world through a welcome back BBQ (sans BBQ, but whatev) for the LGBT student group at Cold City U. There have been vague rumblings about becoming their faculty advisor, although the need for such a thing is unclear. In any event, I had had a long day and the LAST thing I wanted to do was schlepp across town to this thing, but I did and was glad. Like Mrs. Wilcox, I am apt to brood, and getting out is good for me.

It may not have been Howards End, but it was something. Initially, I was disappointed with the turn out (10 folks), but it was lively and fun and friendly, and it rejuvenated me. It was quasi-community, although I could never (nor should I) forget I was the professor, even if the students are in fact non-trad and much older. Could this be my community? No. But some of the alums there are my age and are officially not affiliated, so, yes, they could become community. Ever since Prancilla left town my only friend is the late-night shift lady at the bodega (oh, and a very sweet altho terribly ugly gay dude, who actually copped a modest feel the other night. I let it slide. It's nice to be appreciated!).

In any event, community takes work. It is rarely, if ever, truly handed to us on a plate (unless we're Paris Hilton). So I would agree with Margo, Darling. Watch, wait, and see, then go gangbusters on it. If you can't find the community you want, well then gosh durn it make it yourself! You're up for the task, for sure.