Sexuality is possibly one of the most complex aspects of the human race. It underpins a large part of how we interact with our peers and can significantly contribute to a person’s well-being; from personality traits to lifestyle choices.
At third level education, our individual awareness of sexuality is heightened as we reach adulthood and are left, once and for all, to fend for ourselves. Studies prove that the average human thinks about sexuality and all that it encompasses just as often as we think about food.
That considered, why are we often reserved when it comes to opening up about it? I sat down with several Trinity students over the course of a week to hear their views on sexuality and its place within the college community.
Experimentation with sexuality is a side dish served to many at some point in their college life. Arguably a product of pop culture, the combination of living away from home, the company of people our own age, and indeed alcohol, is a trail that often leads to experimentation. In addition, heightened hormones are certainly a contributing factor when it comes to curiosity.
Is there a pressure then to experiment with one’s sexuality whilst attending a third level institution? Would someone be deemed ‘boring’ if experimentation is bypassed? Some believe Trinity provides that necessary safe and comfortable space to explore one’s sexuality. However, others disagreed after drawing on their own personal experiences.
One student in particular spoke to me about how she had never once felt like she had that pressure placed upon her, and felt wholly confident in her sexuality from a young age. She furthered this by stating that in identifying as heterosexual, this likely contributed to such confidence and comfort regarding her sexual identity.
Meanwhile those interviewed who identify on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum expressed that college provides them with a fresh platform, much different from any they’d previously experienced. They were able to discover who they really were, and were openly grateful for that. They found themselves in social circles which provided them with a safe space that is typically required in taking that first step when wading through the queer water.
“There also is the danger of eroticising experimentation. Those who actively engage in experimentation with their sexuality, be it by having a threesome or becoming intimate with someone of the same sex, are frequently subjected eroticism by others.”
We must ask ourselves if Trinity students, however indirectly, associate heterosexuality with conservatism? If so, could this damage our students’ views of hetersexuality? We are indeed privileged to attend a college within which there is an indispensable opportunity to express our sexuality with pride and confidence, and yet oftentimes we find ourselves putting those who identify as heterosexual down for their sexual preference. If there exists an association of liberal politics with being cool and conservatism with being the opposite, is heterosexuality therefore considered uncool by default?
There also is the danger of eroticising experimentation. Those who actively engage in experimentation with their sexuality, be it by having a threesome or becoming intimate with someone of the same sex, are frequently subjected eroticism by others. This is particularly common for female couples, who are rarely surprised find themselves being approached by men asking if they can “join in”. This can evoke an air of both caution and hesitancy for queer couples, with the repression of public displays of affection on their part resulting.
Debate surrounding the use of labels for sexual preferences is especially prevalent in Trinity. Recently, the adoption of umbrella terms such as ‘queer’ and ‘fluid’ has been embraced by many. The interviewees agreed that labels can allow people to organise their feelings and inclinations towards their sexuality for their own comfort but also in a way that society recognises.
However, those I spoke with also expressed an uncertainty towards those who actively label other people against their will. This prompts questions such as: what happens when someone who identifies as bisexual finds themselves in a relationship with a person of the opposite sex? There is a distinct danger that the validity of the person’s sexuality will be put into question, with their attraction to the same sex suddenly deemed null and void due to the existence of their heterosexual relationship.
“One of the interviewees expressed how she finds it difficult to break away from the heteronormativity attached to being married to a man, despite the fact that she identifies as bisexual.”
This brings us onto the topic of bi-erasure, one of the biggest problems facing the bi* community at present. In addition to this, bi people may be labelled as gay or lesbian should the erasure work in the opposite way to the situation previously mentioned, and this could discourage prospective partners from seeking to engage with them on a sexual level. It can be difficult for those who gather under the bi* umbrella to escape the imposition of such stereotyping if they happened to be previously involved with someone for a considerable period of time.
One of the interviewees expressed how she finds it difficult to break away from the heteronormativity attached to being married to a man, despite the fact that she identifies as bisexual. She told me that she also feels increasingly subject to stereotyping with age as the presumption that older people are more conservative is constantly being assumed of her.
We also touched on the reclamation of the word ‘queer’ and its increased usage in everyday vernacular. The general consensus among those I interviewed was that they were wholeheartedly in favour of this term and it’s return to use as a positive and definitive word. Some felt that it provides an open and yet relatively concrete bracket to identify within for those still unsure of and perhaps still seeking to determine their sexuality.
Furthermore, there are those who have embraced ‘queer’ as an adequate and appropriate term through which they define their identity. This is equally valid. Certainly, there remains an air of mystery surrounding the term for a significant portion of the general population remain unfamiliar with the term and its departure from the original pejorative meaning.
Personally, when I first came to college I did not realise that to be queer was a positive declaration to make and not, in fact, that schoolyard insult thrown around as often as the sliotar. It was merely through my interest in the subject that I discovered it was a distinction one could be empowered by.
Moreover, there is a strong, proud culture of expression, especially when it comes to political views in Trinity. We wear Repeal jumpers, we decorate our coats with badges flaunting the political messages we stand by, we start the discussions that others seek to avoid. Does this culture extend to our sexuality? If so, is the effect necessarily a positive one?
Our debating societies are some of the largest societies on campus and it’s possible this sparks an inclination the to reveal our views on everything but the kitchen sink, sexuality included. Many of the weekly debates openly discuss sexuality in a formal setting. Is sexuality and its modern implications, thus, embedded in our Trinity culture?
Dublin – Ireland’s Epicentre of Liberal Culture
Trinity students, for the most part, believe they are lucky to attend such a forward-thinking university when it comes to queer rights. One of the interviewees contrasted the capital city to their previous hometowns in America and Canada. They moved to Dublin when the Yes Equality campaign for 2015’s marriage referendum was in full swing.
Interestingly, they didn’t feel completely and wholeheartedly welcome in Dublin upon their arrival. This person identifies as a bisexual. They shared with me that their partner, who identifies as trans*, found it a challenge to adjust to life in Dublin. Q Soc was notably welcoming towards them and they voiced their appreciation for the society and its existence.
Q Soc was the very first LGBTQIA+ third-level organisation formed in Ireland and was co-founded by Senator David Norris when he was an English lecturer at Trinity in the 1970s. There is a history lingering in this institution propelling us to lead the vanguard when it comes to sexuality, and I for one appeal that we continue to do so.
“Associating “looks” with certain preference terms seems like it would have a destructive impact on those labels in questions, though there’s something to be said for the comfort that can be gained from the uniformity which often results.”
None of the interviewees believed that Trinity in particular imposes a pressure upon its students to conform to the stereotypes surrounding each sexuality. The same cannot be said for society as a whole, but are there stereotypes pertained to Trinity exclusively which the interviewees failed to identify? Or, in keeping with Trinity’s ability to make people feel at ease, do they simply feel comfortable enough walking under Front Arch to adopt the form of their true selves, perhaps for the first time in their lives?
Keeping this in mind, think now of the unspoken dress-code of festivals, where attendees are almost expected to drown themselves in glitter and carry bum bags around everywhere they go despite the fact that in reality, no-one wears a drug rug on their average Tuesday. If someone manages to pluck up the courage to come out to their peers, why should they feel obliged to shave their head if they’re a lesbian or pierce their nose if they’re a gay man?
Associating “looks” with certain preference terms seems like it would have a destructive impact on those labels in questions, though there’s something to be said for the comfort that can be gained from the uniformity which often results. Still, this in turn begs the question: how should a bisexual dress? What about a pansexual?
I asked some of those I spoke to when the began to become conscious of their sexuality. Joe revealed that he first realised he was attracted to men exclusively around the age of 11. He went to Irish college between fifth and sixth year in primary school with the intention to come out as gay to those he encountered whilst away. “It was an experiment. If people didn’t accept me there then I decided that I wouldn’t come out at home.”
Happily for Joe, he was more than accepted at the Gaeltacht. He told me of how surprised he felt at this, considering the vast majority of his peers were pre-teen and considerably removed from existence of the LGBTQIA+ community. I asked if he felt like there was necessity to be overly confident in his sexuality in order for it to be welcomed at such a young age; he openly disagreed.
The gay best friend cliché, or what’s known today as the “token gay”, is harmful to young queer men when they are coming out in that men feel like if they’re not camp enough then this has the potential to undermine the validity of their orientation. Incidentally, other interviewees reported awakenings around the age of thirteen and fourteen.
How often does one think about sexuality? For the most part, those I spoke to told me they didn’t feel like they thought about it very often. Society assumes that if we’re thinking about sexuality then we must be thinking about the act of sex. What about asexuals, demisexuals and graysexuals? Too often, the conversations around sexuality in college are dominated by inquisitions into how many people you’ve slept with as opposed to the reasons why you did so. We have a tendency to broach the dreaded question, “so how’s your love life?” at every opportunity. Sexuality is rooted far deeper than jumping in bed with another human; it consumes us, including our personality traits at times.
“Is it not suspicious that a large portion of the queer community love a good game of Pokémon Go?”
I asked if any interviewees believed sexuality was an integral part of their personality. Many agreed sexuality did contribute to their individual traits but certainly did not dictate them. They felt that the environment in Trinity can pressurise them to allow their sexuality to become a large aspect of their image. In contrast, our heterosexual interviewee said they didn’t feel their sexuality dominated their personality in any way.
Those on the queer spectrum, however, believed they had to allow their sexuality to dominate, at times, in order to stand out from the rest. This seemed to be a common theme among gay men and the pressure to appear camp which is prevalent in the early days of coming out. Moreover, do traits contribute to sexuality or indeed hobbies and interests? Is it not suspicious that a large portion of the queer community love a good game of Pokémon Go?
Grindr is an institution in the male gay community. The sometimes animalistic dating app received mixed comments from our interviewees. They believed it to be mostly for those “who know what they want”. “It’s like going in with a shopping list” which is blatantly shallow and fuelled by looks. These aren’t safe spaces for those who fall under the asexual or aromantic umbrella.
However, they permeate our college culture insofar that those who use Tinder, Grindr, Her or others oftentimes find they are sieving through their mates on their latest swiping spree. The interviewees expressed a positive view towards dating apps though. For those who identify as lesbian or gay, they agreed that it was one of the few spaces they could approach in search of a potential partner without feeling they were “one of the few gays” in the club or bar.
There is no doubting that a significant portion of our mental health and wellbeing, as well as our development as a person, stems from our relationship with our sexuality. We should take the unique opportunity given to us as students in Trinity to establish a healthy rapport with it. It is important to educate ourselves on what it is to discover our sexuality without the attached pressure to physically experiment with it.
There’s a lot to be said for philosophising it and simply discussing it with our college peers. The open discussion must continue. If we really do think about it as often as we think about eating then we can only hope that our appetite does not dwindle any time soon.