Missing Queer Space

I joined Out on Campus (SFU’s LGBT collective) immediately after moving from Ottawa to Vancouver in August of 1996—in fact, I was already going to meetings even before classes started—and the SFP!RG Zine collective in September. For the next year and a half I stayed on as a loyal member of both these groups—volunteering, going to meetings and socials, taking care of the OOC Web page and maillists, writing my own pieces for the Zine, etc… It was mostly fun, sometimes boring and tedious, but often inspiring. I enjoyed being part of these groups, part of a movement: an out queer working for queer visibility, in print, on the Web, and in person.

In February of 1998, time pressures forced me to choose between one of the two groups. I decided to stay with Out on Campus, but very soon came to miss the Zine terribly. So in May, when the next semester started—and my time was equally tight—I made the reverse choice, giving up all my OOC responsibilities and rejoining the Zine collective.

I had many other reasons for this move. OOC would probably slow down too much over the summer and, if I stayed on board even minimally, I’d probably obsess about keeping the group going. Besides, I needed a break from being the official Net geek. It was time someone else took over, not just for my sake but for the group’s. At the same time, I was seriously beginning to question which groups I wanted to be part of, and what I wanted to do in them. I was in the middle of a heavily introspective period, questioning a lot of things about my life, especially wondering if this introspection and the writing that came out of it could make any difference to help the causes I believed in. The Zine seemed a better place to explore questions of activism, self-exploration and self-expression, and how they intersected.

The immediate question was, how much did I want to be a part of Out on Campus? Would I come to miss it as much as I’d missed the Zine? I needed to find out for sure.

Since most of my socializing with other OOC members had revolved around meetings and socials, and since OOC was the only queer-identified setting I frequented regularly, I ended up staying away from queer space almost entirely. But I didn’t mind. In fact, I loved it. After a brief bout of guilt, I found I really didn’t miss Out on Campus. Working with the Zine group was as exciting as always, and I contributed one more article, the first in a year, in which I tried to explore some of the questions that were bothering me. And I hung out with two straight guy friends. That I was queer and they weren’t was a minor detail for everyone concerned. I was free to be myself around them, and they weren’t threatened by my sexuality. When I was with them, labels and identities just didn’t seem to matter much.

This was a totally new experience. Honestly, I’d never expected to have close straight friends. I knew how wrapped up my life had been in the queer world, but it had never bothered me before. I’d been accustomed to being queer, in a queer-identified space, with other queer people. Now, away from the world I knew, with friends who didn’t share my most basic identity, I was both exhilarated and incredibly confused. I treasured the confusion especially, working it in my Zine article.

While this was going on, I kept working hard on my queer history project. This was something I could do on my own, though, long fascinating hours of research in the Peak archives, more tedious hours typing it all in. I hadn’t forgotten my roots or my identity, but I wasn’t ready to rejoin Out on Campus.

Pride Day in Vancouver is the first Sunday in August. Even with all my questioning and confusion, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I had breakfast downtown with some of my straight friends and their queer friends, then headed off (by myself) to look for the OOC contingent. I didn’t particularly want to, but I’d promised weeks ago that I’d march with them. If not for that, I would have been perfectly happy to spend the day with my friends. Another shock: I never thought it would come to this, when friendship would conflict with (for lack of a better term) community loyalty. I felt more confused than ever.

The punch line was that I couldn’t find Out on Campus before the parade started, so I ended up marching with BiNetBC. Afterwards, at the picnic, I was happy to be guilt-tripped into doing shifts at the info table for the rest of the afternoon. (I really did feel bad about not keeping my promise, and it was nice to see some of my OOC friends again.)

I thought I’d found an answer six weeks later, at the Third Annual BC Bi Conference. For the first time in almost four months I got to take part in heavy discussions on queer issues, with other queer people, and it felt wonderful. Energizing. I realized that part of me really did need this kind of space. Not all the time, or even most of the time; but there were thoughts I needed to share, questions I needed to ask, and I didn’t think my straight friends could meet these needs.

It looked like my self-imposed exile from Out on Campus was over. Not that I wanted to get actively involved again—no time for that—but I could at least attend meetings from time to time, go to socials, etc… But things didn’t turn out as I’d hoped. The two socials I went to were reasonably fun though sparsely attended. The one meeting I went to was pretty energizing, though that may have been more due to nostalgia than anything else. Or the fact that I could simply slip into the role of Collective Member, and thus get a superficial sense of fitting in. But in neither case did I find what I needed: a space to open up and ask the questions I desperately needed to ask.

So after about a month I withdrew from Out on Campus again, more confused than ever, and feeling fresh pangs of guilt. I think part of me had been hoping I could still belong in OOC somehow, discover or rediscover roots to hold me to the group; hoping that the summer had been just a “phase,” a short break to clear my head and sort through a few questions. But my head wasn’t clear, and the only thing pulling me back to Out on Campus was an annoying feeling that I should get involved again because, as a queer, I had a “duty” to my “community.” But was Out on Campus my community? It didn’t feel like it anymore.

Now it’s been almost seven months since I left Out on Campus. They haven’t been easy months, full of confusion, insecurity, inner conflict, unpleasant and unexpected emotions. Yet I believe more strongly than ever that it was the right decision to make. Giving up what I thought I wanted was the first step towards finding out what I really want and need. It’s only the first step, though. I’m still terribly confused, with too many questions. But I can see that as a positive thing: at least I’m not kidding myself that I have those answers, or that I’ve found a community to belong in yet.

And where do I go from here? Unfortunately, these days I have very little time or energy to look for new ground and new people. But that’s okay. The support I’ve been getting from my straight friends is wonderful. With them, I’ve finally been able to open up and share my confusion. They’re the closest thing I have to a community right now. When my thesis is finished, then I’ll see what Vancouver has to offer me, and what I have to offer Vancouver. I still don’t really know what I want to do, or where I want to go, and I’ve only just begun to take in the lessons these last few months have been teaching me. How important is it for me to be in a queer-identified group? Right now, it’s not important at all. If I had the time, it’s the Zine I’d rejoin in a second, not Out on Campus. It’s only truly sunk in last summer what Antithesis and SFP!RG have to offer me that OOC doesn’t: a forum to hone my voice and listen to others’ voices, and an opportunity to meet a wonderfully diverse spectrum of people.

Yet I can’t forget the Bi Conference, and what I found there: people coming together to tell their stories, share knowledge and experience, build a community and culture. A culture I was and am proud to be a part of. I know that this is what queer-identified space can offer: a common language, a common frame of reference, an opportunity to drop our masks, a better chance of having a few more things in common with the people you meet, and a sense of community coming from all those things. Just because my needs have changed and I don’t have this sense of community and belonging in Out on Campus anymore doesn’t mean I won’t find it somewhere else in the queer world. Right now I don’t feel any need to look for it there, though I’m sure that’ll change sooner or later.

I started this essay in September, while still feeling the rush from the Bi Conference. I wanted it to be a celebration of queer space, to mark my coming home to Out on Campus. But then it turned into something better: a celebration of freedom. The freedom to step off my path and start a new one. The freedom that comes from shedding old certainties. The unhappy freedom of knowing I still haven’t found a place to belong. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.