In preparation for Charlottesville’s first Pride Festival this weekend, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Cindy Gray and Katie Mayfield, the co-presidents of UVA’s Queer Student Union. We chatted for three hours over spicy nuggets and chocolate Frosties, and they answered every question I’ve ever had about the LGBTQ community. They are the best of friends, with similar teenage coming-out stories, yet surprisingly different perspectives, concerns, and fears. But they both encourage inquiries from everyone—they said they’d rather people ask uncomfortable questions than make assumptions.
Is the term queer considered derogatory? I remember hearing it used as an insult in middle school.
Katie: There’s still kind of a controversy surrounding that – the older generation might not identify as queer because for a lot of them it has really traumatic associations.
Cindy: At the Queer Student Union, what we mean by queer is that it’s all-inclusive, which includes allies, trans, asexual, intersex. It also refers to gender, not just sexuality.
What’s the difference between a woman identifying as gay versus lesbian?
Cindy: Oh, I don’t care. I think people put too much meaning into words. But, in the academic sense, some people think that gay means something completely different from lesbian.
Katie: I think a lot of women use gay rather than lesbian because lesbian is the insult that women face more; “lesbo” kind of sounds like a disease.
What about the term dyke? Is that an offensive term?
Cindy: Some people hate it, but for me, it more refers to a fashion sense. Whenever I think of dyke, I think of a type of dress, not a type of person. But if I get called a dyke and it’s obviously derogatory, I do get angry. ‘Cause, I mean, I look like this…(laughs and gestures short hair and t-shirt)
Katie: I think it’s used by lesbians a lot of time to identify themselves, but at the same time, I’ve heard frat guys say “God, you dyke…”
Are there terms, like racial slurs, that are accepted inside the LGBTQ community but not outside?
Cindy: I think that’s completely ridiculous. Nobody should be privileged to use a word while others can’t. That’s the whole purpose of equality, right? Everybody should be able to use it, or nobody should be able to use it. Like the word faggot—nobody should use that word.
Katie: I think people within the community can use it, but if I hear a street person using the word faggot, I don’t like that at all. I’ve heard it used in that context, and it just makes me really uncomfortable.
How do bisexuals fit into the queer community? Is being bi less acceptable than being gay?
Cindy: My girlfriend is bi, and she hates how we’re automatically defaulted to a lesbian couple. She’s not a lesbian, so we’re not a lesbian couple. So people asked what we should call ourselves—well, we’re a couple. The end. I think that bi people are very erased in the queer community because of that idea of what is a “real queer.”
Katie: Also, you can pass as straight. If you’re a bisexual woman dating a man, people will assume you’re straight and you don’t have to come out visually.
Do gays and lesbians have the obligation to look the part?
Cindy: I actually love it when there’s a really beautiful, strong woman who is a lesbian. I think it’s great because we have this stereotype that all lesbians are women who cut their hair short and get obese and eventually move on to men’s clothing.
Katie: I think the gay man culture is much more publicized, and you have easy access to it—you have so many different options and different styles to evoke. I feel like there’s a flexibility there though. Like, one of my best friends, he’s a drag queen, but he also wears camouflage, and it’s just what he’s comfortable with.
Do you intentionally look the part? Do you want people to look at you and know that you’re gay?
Katie: For me, I never want to be read as straight. I don’t want to be subjected to the male gaze; it just makes me really uncomfortable. There’s so much pressure to look pretty for men. The short hair is nice because it’s easy to wash and I don’t have to brush it (laughs). But really, in having short hair and looking obviously gay, you take away a lot of that power for men, and I think that’s really appealing.
Cindy: For me it wasn’t as complex as that at all. I felt like I looked better with shorter hair—it’s also the convenience of not having to use as much shampoo; it’s just much easier to deal with. I also don’t really care about what people think about me; I don’t really dress to impress anybody—especially now that I have a girlfriend
What if you go to a formal event? Would you and your girlfriend both wear a dress, or would one of you feel obligated to wear pants?
Cindy: For a special occasion I love putting on a nice dress, doing my nails. I would hate doing that every day, but I love it for that special occasion. I do have feminine parts of me—I still like going shopping and stuff. I just don’t like doing it every day.
Katie: So many of my friends are drag queens—I get so exhausted just looking at them! I have a tube of lip balm that I use occasionally. I don’t know, for a formal event, suspenders might be nice…
What were your thoughts on Obama’s stance on gay marriage?
Katie: I was frustrated because he sort of edged around it for so long. I was pleased, certainly—I’m really glad we have a supportive president, but I wish he hadn’t edged around it so much.
Cindy: This is really surprising for most people, but (“You’re killing me, Cindy,” says Katie) I’m actually a republican. When he finally came out with it, I was just kind of like, okay, same thing, you’re going to say something and not do anything about it. I hate opportunistic politicians. I would’ve respected him a lot more if he had said that and done something about it before it was time to get reelected. I knew it was a political move for him to get the gay vote. However, in saying that, yes I am happy that I have at least some kind of support. If Mitt Romney were elected, I would never be able to get married in those years that he would be serving. I do have confidence, though, that Obama is just waiting to get reelected so he can finally do something. It just really makes me angry that my rights were kind of used as a political ploy.
A gay glossary
sex: physical identification, male or female
gender: more psychological identification, male, female, neither, or both
sexuality: sexual orientation, both in presentation and practice
transgender: someone who is biologically born one gender but identifies with the other
transsexual: a transgender who has undergone an operation to transform from one gender to the other
cross-dresser: a straight male who dresses as a woman
drag queen: a gay, bisxual, straight, or transgender male who dresses and performs as a woman (e.g. extra extra high arched eyebrows)
faux queen: a woman who dresses as a drag queen, extreme make-up and clothing (e.g. extra high arched eyebrows); often described as “a drag queen trapped in a woman’s body,” but sometimes a female to male transgender
gender queer: identifies with both genders, not necessarily gay or straight
agender: identifies with neither gender
pansexual: attracted to the soul of a person, not the genitalia, regardless of gender
asexual: not physically or sexually attracted to either gender
fem: lesbian or bisexual style, woman who doesn’t necessarily “look the part” (e.g. longer hair, make-up, feminine clothing)
dyke: can describe type of person or style, lesbian or bisexual with more masculine hairstyle, clothing
bear: a gay man, usually characterized as heavy-set or muscular with facial and body hair, rugged and masculine appearance
Cindy and Katie will both graduate this spring, but in the meantime they want to be the first stop for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer UVA students and community members. The QSU meets weekly, and serves as the University’s social and educational group on LGBTQ issues.