LGBTQ+ Social Dynamics: Isolation Within Our Community
By Violet Chernoff and Liam Mackenzie
In high school, worrying and overthinking social interactions is inevitable. No one is impervious to the deep-rooted desire to fit in with peers, and everyone is united in their hatred of quizzical stares in the hallways. But despite the universal nature of these challenges, the uniquely difficult experience of existing within a heteronormative culture intensifies this internal struggle for many members of the LGBTQ+ community at Packer.
As hard as some of us try to adapt a self-preservational “I don’t care” attitude toward the social intricacies of high school, it is extremely rare for a student to remain genuinely untouched by social dynamics. Packer alumnus Sam Ervolino (‘18) appeared to walk the halls with incredible confidence, but remembers feelings of extreme anxiety simmering beneath this convincing facade.
“Every day [when] I walked into Packer, I had to grapple with how the way I dressed would not be embraced by the community. I was being asked to value and emulate elements of a community that was not interested in expanding its values to include me,” Sam explained.
Describing himself as the subject of disdainful stares and the witness to countless ignorant remarks, Sam classifies his relationship with Packer’s straight community as “intensely toxic.” Packer’s binary tendencies made him feel consistently excluded from the social culture of our high school.
“Existing as radically queer in a predominantly straight institution made me feel as if I was alone. Being invited to parties that privileged straightness never felt like an extension of community, but a test for me to prove that I belong.”
Seeking solace within Packer’s LGBTQ+ community seems like the obvious solution to offer someone who feels consistently isolated, like Sam did. However, as Ellie Elsesser (‘20) points out, Packer’s LGBTQ+ community may not appear accepting to everyone.
“I know that there is an LGBTQ+ community within Packer, but we don’t meet up and hang out—like it isn’t very tangible, and I kind of wish it was. Some people go to Spectrum, and that is a place where the community can connect and socialize, along with affinity groups, where the turnout is generally better.”
This is not to say the affinity spaces are not valuable or productive—they are—just that they do not automatically provide every LGBTQ+ individual with a total safe haven. Although our generally progressive community tackles issues of exclusion fairly well, we are not completely immune to the deeply-ingrained issues that permeate greater American culture. While the existence of comfortable spaces signifies that Packer is making an effort to further the discussion around sexuality and gender identifiers, the affinity groups cannot act as a panacea to the homophobia and subtle acts of ignorance that pervade the culture of our school.
Packer’s hookup culture is incredibly heteronormative, which perpetuates feelings of exclusion and loneliness. There is a distinction between opting out of hookup culture and being essentially barred from participation because of your sexuality. The coveted subtle looks, casual flirtation, and excited gossip about who likes who is rarely directed at LGBTQ+ individuals, thus provoking insecurity and normalizing underlying feelings of exclusion. Our constant, collective discussion of hookup culture often reinforces preexisting separation and distance between the straight cis community and the LGBTQ+ community.
Amadi Williams (‘21) believes that the heteronormativity of Packer hookup culture “sets up a standard for what is a normal relationship.” She explains her personal relationship to the hookup culture, saying: “I feel like as a black woman I’m already excluded from the hookup culture at Packer, so as a black gay woman at Packer, there is definitely a sense of exclusion.”
However, she also remains relatively unbothered by this, and points out that because there are only so many people that identify as gay in the community, “for [her] to expect to have the same kind of relationship to hookup culture as a straight white female would be asking a lot.”
That being said, it should be recognized that hookup culture only serves a portion of the Upper School, and while some students are indifferent to this exclusivity, it makes others extremely upset.
There is no apparent solution to the issues within our culture that exclude the LGBTQ+ community, nor is there a way to make every Packer student a “perfect” ally. However, there are tangible ways to recognize the privilege that accompanies being cisgender and straight. Whether this pertains to accessibility of sexual partners, being able to relate to the majority, or not having to worry about one’s gender expression being questioned. As Sam puts it, for us to move forward it is “necessary to identify and understand the way power works through heteronormativity.”