I bet you thought that, after buying that Support Love shirt, it meant you understood the plight of gay students at Boston College. You don’t! Why? That’s because what rarely, if ever, gets talked about in GLBTQ dialogue on campus is the social scene for GLBTQ students. On the surface, BC has undergone what I call a “glitter makeover”-the idea that less progressive college campuses followed national trends in becoming more tolerant and accepting places for alternative lifestyles. Beneath the surface, though, the social scene of BC’s GLBTQ community is rather fractured.
Matthew Murphy, A&S ’14, gives the best description of the gay scene at BC that I’ve heard. According to him, there are four groups of GLBTQ students at BC: (1) the very out and activist students who tend to run GLC; (2) the out students who remain indifferent to the campus’s GLBTQ activism and do their own thing; (3) those students who are not open about their sexuality but are active in the “hook-up” culture of the GLBTQ community; (4) the group of students who are not open and also opt out of the “hook-up” culture because of their identity struggles. These categories, although slightly restrictive, represent a vast majority of gay experiences at BC. Students fluidly move in between each group dependent upon their own growth and development.
Now, GLBTQ students in any of these categories intermingle somewhat through classes, mutual friends, on-campus organizations, and sometimes even the occasional GLC party. Regardless of their category, however, students at BC consistently find it difficult to meet other gay students to be friends with, hang out with, and maybe even ask out on a date. A strong GLBTQ community does not exist, even though the BC student body and, to some extent, the archaic administration are becoming more accepting. The GLBTQ community is still rather small, inaccessible, and disjointed.
For GLBTQ students at BC, though, the desire to make connection is not dismissed-students are simply forced to become more innovative. Some use traditional social networks and thrive. “I have become quite comfortable in my short time at BC,” said Isaac Holterman, A&S ’17, describing his experience. “I made lots of friends in and outside the GLBTQ community and have had no problem meeting others through GLC, the Spectrum retreat, and many other functions any student at BC would find interesting whether or not [he or she identifies] as LGBT.” In addition to the Spectrum retreat, a confidential GLBTQ retreat put on by the Office of the Dean of Students, Holterman mentioned the positive influence that adult GLBTQ mentors at BC such as John McDargh have had on his development.
Sadly, I fear Holterman has had an atypical experience. For more than a few gay students, the dominant social script for social activity-and by that I mean the search for community and the search for intimacy-revolves around an app called Grindr.
Grindr is an app that is available for download on a variety of smartphone platforms. It’s relatively simple. Using the embedded GPS in smartphones, Grindr creates an instant messaging platform for gay individuals, and on a campus like BC, it allows for gay students to interact with one another when, otherwise, they might never cross paths. As it turns out, Grindr is very often used to initiate casual sex, and for gays at BC, it is definitely used to fill that very specific need. My guess is Kerry Cronin would be appalled.
Grindr offers a solution to the search for intimate relationships by giving gay students a method of navigating this difficult terrain of college social life. It lets them explore natural human desires while existing in a fractured and, at times, suppressed culture. It provides some gay students a semblance of “community” instead of leaving them in total isolation, and it also allows for those people at BC who are not out or are questioning their sexuality to download and experiment.
Yet, at its core, Grindr is an app based on finding sex. Grindr builds this so-called “community” in a hyper-sexualized way, creating an environment that fuels itself on illicit picture sharing and a redefinition of the word “bored” to mean horny.
Polly Vernon says in The Guardian, “Grindr is reconfiguring the landscape of human relationships.” I could not agree more. Specifically at BC, I think Grindr is costing many students the ability to find the meaningful connections they innately crave because Grindr replaces meaningful relationships with casual sex.
This difficulty finding meaningful connection is a wider problem at BC that is writ large in the GLBTQ community. It is pretty well established that in the intense and competitive environment of BC, students struggle to develop worthwhile and meaningful relationships. I think that GLBTQ students at BC run a higher risk of not developing these types of relationships because they live in a fractured and historically dismissed community-one that is not well understood by most people on this campus.
The life of GLBTQ students at BC is fraught with complexities that cut straight to the heart of humanity. So, consider this: The next time you put on a Support Love shirt, ask yourself, do you actually support love, or do you put on the shirt because it is the fashionable thing to do? It’s an honest question, and I hope you give it an honest answer. No shirt or bumper sticker or slogan proudly displayed can fully validate the range of emotions a GLBTQ student experiences in his or her years on the Heights. So, take off the shirt, forget about the bumper sticker, and instead go speak with one of your GLBTQ friends and find out the truth about GLBTQ life at BC. My bet is you’ll learn something you never knew before.
Editor’s Note: The views presented in this column are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Heights.