There’s nothing as acutely dissatisfying as the knowledge that somewhere, many people are having sex, and you are not one of them. That’s not the only reason why gay Ivy Leaguers flocked en masse to Princeton for IvyQ, the annual LGBT conference, but it was certainly one of them. IvyQ’s stated mission is to “create a pan-Ivy community of LGBT students and allies equipped with the skills to examine their identities” and “value those of others.” But it is better summed up in the conference’s keynote speech: “Have fun, make friends, and get frisky.”
One night during IvyQ, I thought to myself: that all sounds very good—a chance to meet lifelong gay friends, or at least one night stands. But why aren’t I there now? It’s not that I don’t want to go to IvyQ; part of me does. It’s probably as close as I’m going to get to my high school self’s notion of college: a place teeming with intelligent, eligible gay men. I can picture them now, all with crew neck sweaters and well-coifed hair and charming things to say.
“Are you going out tonight?” my roommate asks me.
I look up from my computer screen, considering. If I go to IvyQ, I have to be gay tonight. That seems like work. “Yeah I guess so.”
Later, out on the street, there is beer, and music, and straight couples hooking up. I feel vaguely guilty for not going to IvyQ. I tell myself I know what I would have found there—only men confident enough in their homosexuality to travel from other Ivies, men who have gone to hundreds of LGBT events and will likely go to hundreds more, men who are gay and loudly so.
It is my enduring curse to have mixed feelings about anything queer-related. I sometimes envy those who can go to the events nonchalantly, who look forward to them, even. I want to go—to be surrounded by other people who will talk to me, understand me, and maybe even hook up with me. But I also don’t want to go somewhere I will be defined by a part of me that isn’t representative of the rest of me. I don’t want to go somewhere I know I won’t fit in.
I want to say it’s temporary, a small adjustment period—I’ve been out for only about two years now. But it’s probably one of those permanent things. I’ve been Jewish all my life and I was never comfortable at synagogue. Having a defined identity was always a weird concept to me—it felt constricting, like a pair of skinny jeans.
And yet: I am gay, and that is my identity. When I came out, I told my then-girlfriend, my parents, and my friends in that order, but I never told Facebook. I have had my share of hook-ups, but no boyfriends. I’ve gone to the street more times than I can count, but never to the LGBT center.
I always knew about their events. There was even a time, back around frosh week, where I would seriously consider going to them. I would often waver: I could go, and face the potential embarrassment of being grossly unprepared (and in my mind, I would always be unprepared, as if everyone else would be somehow better than me at being gay); or I could stay away, and feel vaguely guilty as I watched the opportunity slip by. I invariably chose the latter.
The next morning, nursing a hangover on the couch, I drink coffee and peruse my phone. On a whim, I go on Grindr, the gay dating app (or, more commonly, hook-up app). I do this rarely. The first time, it scared me away—too many gays all in one place, and all of them looking to fuck. It was intimidating, and I felt inexperienced. But there are so many other gays here, from other schools, and I can’t help it if I’m curious.
This time, I have a message waiting for me: “Hi.”
It’s unpromising—not even a picture on his profile—but I respond anyways. “What’s up?”
“Not much. You?”
“Nothing exciting, just woke up,” I tell him.
“Were you at IvyQ last night?”
That’s forward. “Yeah. Did you have fun?”
“Felt a little out of place, tbh.”
That’s promising. “Yeah me too. It’s not really my scene.” He doesn’t respond for a while. Desperate, I double text. “Where do you go to school?”
“Junior faculty at Penn.”
Hesitant to ruin anything, I ask “How old are you?”
“30s,” it takes him a while to reply. No wonder he felt out of place. I stop responding. The virtual gay scene, like its real life counterpart, is full of men uncomfortably close to my father’s age.
But I linger on the app, looking at other profiles. I scroll through a grid of pictures—potential dates, potential husbands, potential hook-ups. But I click on none of them. I have my rationalizations
for each of them: no picture, ugly picture, too-attractive-for-me-to-consider picture.
And yet, there are a few who looked promising. One with bright eyes and a warm smile, or another with a witty tagline and a well-defined set of abs. I let the image of a handsome man waking up next to me play across my eyes for a moment before I open them and close the app.
I know there will be more IvyQ events tonight. I could go to them, but I know I will feel uninvited. I know I will most likely find a group of sweaty and drunk students, not unlike the typical crowd on the street, except for a higher average Kinsey number.
But that is not what I fear. I fear that I will find kids who are nice, cute—and not defined by their homosexuality. I fear that I will find kids like me, and that my years spent avoiding LBGT events will have been for nothing.
I’ve spent a fair bit of time trying to be the guy who just happened to be gay—and now, the opportunity to just be gay is here and I don’t know how to feel about it. Part of me still sneers at it—the whole thing seems like it would be too easy. After months on the street spent grasping at every hook-up opportunity that came my way, I wouldn’t even know how to choose among all the options at IvyQ. Part of me worries that I’ve gotten to the point where I couldn’t fit in there, even if I wanted to, that it will be all men who shop and eat bonbons. I want to say that this stereotyping is just playful self-hatred, but I know I don’t fit the stereotype, which makes it just hatred. And I don’t want to hate. But I also, for some reason, don’t want to go to IvyQ.
My roommate walks into the common room. “Dude, how was your night?”
“It was fun,” I tell him.
“You going out again tonight?”
I know it’s foolish, but I can’t help hoping that I’ll somehow bump into someone—at Ivy, maybe, or Terrace—and we’ll both just know the other is gay. We won’t need to say anything about it; we’ll chat, drink, dance, kiss, go home. It’s happened, but rarely, and always there was someone else who whispered reassurances in my ear before I approached: “Oh I know him. He’s gay too.” I pretend like I didn’t hear, like I didn’t have to hear, and the night proceeds well enough.
When I go out later that night, that doesn’t happen.
The weekend passes, and I haven’t gone to a single IvyQ event. I feel a little guilty, a little relieved, but mostly sad. It’s not coming back to campus while I’m here, and it left before I got to find out what I was missing. But no matter. There is always next weekend—before heading out into the cold night, I will pull on my skinny jeans. And I will see where they lead me.