College Lesbianage #1: I’m Looking for Girlfriends, Not Bridesmaids

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College: A time when straight girls experiment with gay girls, gay girls experiment with straight girls, and a lot of girls (so I hear) go completely wild! And while I’ve finished my first week at a women’s college without experiencing any of the aforementioned experiments, I sense there’s plenty of pent-up estrogen on this campus and it’s only a matter of time before my lady-loving drama begins. This is of course one of many reasons why Riese so lovingly gave me this column; subtly titled “Lily’s College Lesbianage.”+

What is this new College Lesbianage column going to be about, you ask? Welll … in addition to sharing my experiences as a young lesbian in college — my attempts at making friends & my attempts at making out (JK I’m great at that) as well as my insider perspective on what the “sisterhood” of all-women colleges are really about — I’ll also talk to y’all about the lives of queer ladies at other schools and hopefully snag some fun interviews & guest bloggers too. When I have a lot of money, which will be very soon, I’ll be able travel to other colleges and have these experiences with you ‘first-hand.’

So … my first week of college. Let’s begin.
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Always the Bridesmaids, Never the Brides

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I’d thought, idealistically, that my first week of school at Barnard College of Columbia University in New York would instantly procure me a million friends, countless options for potential associates, scores of cute girls, many late nights, and a decent amount of alcohol.

However, my level of disillusionment becomes immediately clear during the elaborate convocation ceremony held on the first night of orientation, when the President of Barnard tells us to look at the 580 girls around us and think about how within this crowd we’ll find “our future bridesmaids” and “our future best friends” — oh and not just any best friends, but the kind of friends who will one day hold our hand as we scream obscenities during child labor.

My level of disillusionment becomes immediately clear when the President of Barnard tells us how within this crowd of 580 freshmen girls, we’ll probably find “our future bridesmaids.”

UM…? I look around the crowd of girls hoping I can catch someone’s eye to agree with me on this: Maybe I’m just really, really gay, but all I can think about during this prediction of our futures is, What about those of us who can’t get married? What about looking into the crowd and seeing the woman we’ll be dating, marrying, the woman who’s hand we’ll be holding as she gives birth to our child?”

I guess I shouldn’t expect to a find a crowd of young lesbians agreeing with me in this room—after all, immediately after getting my acceptance letter, I’d done what any self-respecting high schooler would and joined the Barnard Class of 2013 Facebook Group, preparing myself to get in quick with a bunch of Tegan and Sara-loving Samantha Ronson lookalikes chatting cleverly about their love/hatred for The L Word (like I saw on the Smith College class of 2013 Facebook group). I was wrong.

Not only was the most discussed group forum devoted entirely to how my future classmates were going to find boys, but the women’s college = lesbian college stereotype was promptly debunked.

But also; as the week goes on I realize it isn’t just because I like girls that I find the boy-obsessions of my future classmates annoying, it’s ’cause I’d been hoping an all-women’s college would be a departure from the ‘hook up’ focused girls I’d known back in high school and if anything – it’s worse here!

Perhaps back in the day, women going to college was more about finding a husband than getting an education, but I’d figured that this mindset would have died out by now—especially at a liberal women’s college like Barnard.
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My Number One Feeling is Anxiety Attack

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Ok. So. Really, these orientation week issues probably have less to do with being a gay girl in college than they do with being a chronically anxious eighteen-year-old Floridian living on her own for the first time in New York City. My emotions have been all over the map; from elated to miserable, comfortable to extreme, body-numbing anxiety … and though before arriving my biggest fear was “coming out to a new group of people,” orientation week is presenting much more tangible obstacles … like that I’ve already lost three pounds because I’m afraid to eat alone in the dining hall. And! I don’t even have the guts to ask anyone to come with me!

Also, I thought I was lucky to get a roommate who considers herself somewhere between “Questioning” and “Bisexual,” but it turns out she goes to bed at nine o’clock, which isn’t meshing too well with my insomnia and my Love of the Night.

Everyone I’ve spoken to about my first-week loneliness & misery told me they felt the same during their initial weeks of college … but I have to wonder, where are these people? And why does it seem like everyone else was having more fun than me?

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My Lesbian College Life’s in Turnaround

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As the week plodded on and eventually came to an end — was I the only one looking forward to classes beginning? Yeah? Just me? This is becoming a pattern! — I realized that no, the identically-outfitted boy-hunting girl gang-les aren’t the only people here, or even most of the people here. I guess you notice the things that make you uncomfortable most of all.

Truthfully these “annoying” girls are only a small contingency. Most of my classmates are more focused on education but they also wants what any human wants, including me – some kind of love life. Just not necessarily one that ends in marriage.

And luckily, smack-dab in the middle of my first anxious week, I attend a Barnard/Columbia LGBTQ breakfast to learn about all the on-campus queer groups, and being there, surrounded by people who’ve all been through the same tough thing I’ve been through, makes me feel a lot better.

It turns out that this community is an incredible thing to fall back on.
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I’m Gay and I’m WeirdLily-Moma-Comic

The weekend before classes begin, I suck it up and take a Columbia University field trip to the Museum of Modern Art. It’s there that I finally face the fact that it’s not because I’m gay that I’m not able to make instant friends but because I am, in essence, a bit strange.

It’s there that I finally face the fact that it’s not because I’m gay that I’m not able to make instant friends but because I am, in essence, a bit strange.

My personality, whether belonging to a gay or straight person, is not one that automatically makes new friends and finds perfect groups. I overanalyze every situation and stop being funny and loveable when faced with new people. I live with a total outsider mentality, one I’ve felt all my life and one most gay people are very familiar with. Perhaps this is why I feel so comfortable in groups of weirdos and misfits and why the museum — full of weirdo art — feels more like home than anything else I’ve experienced in my first week of school.

The more pretentious and ridiculous the artwork, the more I loved it. I found myself in what can only be described as a child-like bliss skipping between the Picassos, Kandinskys, Mirós, and every other piece of artwork I recognized from my Art History textbook.

I’m standing awestruck in front of a giant Rothko and the painting wraps itself around me like a childhood blanket, like the warmth of my hometown’s sun, like the comfort of being surrounded by every person who knows and loves me. I listen to people next to me snidely remarking that they too could just paint a couple of colors on a giant canvas, and I’m glad to be me and not them, even if they are here with each other and I’m alone.

I’m aware that I’m gay, and I’m weird, and I’m okay. And that I’ll definitely be here for another few years.

I even take the subway back to Barnard myself, without the seeming “comfort” of a Columbia tour group—and I think for the first time …

that I could maybe,

possibly,

actually

do this.

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A Gay Blessing in Disguise

As the days went on, I kept seeing that it’s the things that make me different that make me feel the most at home. Even my sexuality, something I once considered a burden I hadn’t asked for, is one of my favorite aspects of life and ultimately the one place I found solace during an otherwise traumatic first week of college. The experience of being gay never ceases to amaze.

Luckily, my school’s LGBTQAIDONTKNOWHOWMANYLETTERSTHEREARENOW potential is proving to be a lot higher than I’d expected after searching Facebook months ago.

I’m now on every Columbia University/Barnard College gay organization’s email list, I have a very gay-friendly academic advisor (who teaches in the Women Studies department), and I’ve strolled by a ton of ladies sporting alternative lifestyle haircuts on campus. I’ve even found a friend to share ridiculous ex-girlfriend stories with (every lesbian’s favorite past-time whether we want to admit it or not), showing me, yet again, that I’ll always have this community to fall back on.

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In no time Autostraddle will obvs be near and dear to the Columbia/Barnard community as I’ll be dropping AS business cards everywhere I go. I mean … it has to get better, right?

Future posts will hopefully not be so “feelings-heavy” as I explore the rest of the world here and all over the collegiate map.

But for right now all I have are my feelings … and my love for women. And I’m learning my way around.

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Lily has written 33 articles for us.

57 Comments

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    I felt the SAME things during convocation; I was looking for the girl who would one day go out with me, not the one who would smile brightly back at me while my dragged husband-to-be looking eagerly on.

    Lovely article…I feel like my school is quite similar to yours :)

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    lily! love this piece so much — especially: “I listen to people next to me snidely remarking that they too could just paint a couple of colors on a giant canvas, and I’m glad to be me and not them, even if they are here with each other and I’m alone.”

    the pictures = perfect

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      This is off topic to be sure, but I read that line and was like, ‘Oops, that’d be me.’ I minored in Art History and LOVE visiting the MOMA (and every other art museum, ever!), and I understand the revolution behind the technique and (lack of) content and such… but Rothko and the like make me… ugh. Sorry. Beautifully written though! I love feeling that way about art in general. Like you want to move into the museum because you feel so at home.

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    Fantastic! I know it’s [it = yo life] going to get much more super-awesome and blog-worthy and anxiety-less and other fake compound words!

    Although I do think you should insert the word ‘quddies’ somewhere in your next article so you can create a massive new lexicon…

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    This is so great Lily! It sounds so much like the beginning of last year for me. Lonely freshbian searching for the gays. Once you find them and are sucked into their scene, you’ll wonder how you ever hung out with the strais. Or maybe that’s just me. I do not have many straight friends here. ANYWAY I’M JUST REALLY EXCITED ABOUT THIS COLUMN AND THE REDESIGN AND THE FUTURE AND I JUST WANTED TO LET EVERYONE KNOW!

    #ilovecollege

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    I was afraid to go to the dining hall by myself too. I thought I was the only weirdo that felt that way. I survived it all and left college with some amazing friends – you will too!

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      My first year at Sarah Lawrence I went to the dining hall TWICE! Then I transferred to Michigan … and again, skipped the dining hall for lunch all year (literally only went once), only went at dinner when friends dragged me. Obvs we need to set up some kind of lesbian dining hall assistance program.

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    the asian lover above me has got to be sally. no doubt. haha

    how cool that you have a blog on this website, i will definitely keep reading.
    feeling the same way too…minus the looking for a gf thing :]

    miss you and love you!

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    OMG, exact same feelings here. I just started my first week at a certain school in cali that rhymes with “hamford” consumed with anxiety because all my friends told me “oh, it’s so conservative.” Now I can say nay, loser friends, there are at least three dykes in my dorm alone, and the dean is totes gay. So, Lily, it just takes some looking, but don’t give up hope. and don’t give up on the straight friends either (they can be great for borrowing fancy shoes and…make-up remover?)

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    love this! beginning of last year was definitely like that for me, still not found myself a group of gays but definitely settled in and met some amazing people, just took a bit of time.

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    OMG lily. I’m on my fourth day of college and this hit home so hard. I think you actually ripped a page out of my journal and typed it out! I hear it gets easier too. I hated it at first but I reckon I’m adjusting. Plus I’m getting gayer by the minute. A guy asked me out today and I said ‘Oh, that is sweet, but you should know I’m gay’ which took us both by suprise. then I marched up and joined the LGBT society. I felt so empowered!
    Keep up the column, its so nice to be reminded someone else is going through something scary similar.

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      Ah reading your comment totally made my day!!
      I’ve been getting gayer by the minute as well. I feel like every night I have another gay meeting to go to and most points I bring up in my various classes have to do with homosexuality, homophobia, or sexism. It definitely makes me feel all empowered as well!
      Keep up the gay empowerment!!!

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        I really want to give you a hug right now. It’s so reassuring to know we are all out there, braving it together. I think getting gayer by the minute is sort of synonymous without getting happier by the minute. I think that personally I am at my best and happiest when I am at my most gay. Can’t wait for the next installment lily.

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    yep, my first few weeks at college were just about exactly the same. I even went to a women’s college! (though not barnard. I went to one of the horde in massachusetts.) I ended up loving it. best thing I ever did.

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    I thought that – just maybe – going to an all-girls high school would give me a small advantage in the making-friends-with-lesbians department. I’m going to have to say that more than 50% of my school is homophobic, and let’s not even get into views on “gender issues.” Good luck in college, though. :) (I’d never be able to put myself through another all-girls school. I think for obvious reasons.)

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      I think high school all girls schools are probably muuuuuch different than college so don’t limit yourself! That sucks about your high school though.
      From my experience thus far at Barnard I really have not run into any blatantly homophobic girls and have been able to be “out” with everyone I meet without having to say “oh by the way, I’m gay” but by just living my life. It’s really quite wonderful.
      So hopefully your college experience will be better than your high school one! I have a feeling that it will=)

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    Hear, hear, Lily! I go to a co-ed public university in the bible belt (insert hopeless look here). My freshmen year here was pretty brutal – I was saved by our campus LGBTQ group and the plethora of gay males that saw me as a pet project, haha. My school is moderate so I’m definitely not being stoned as I walk to class, but I believe that’s because half the time I’m mistaken for a guy. There are very few out lesbians on my campus and even now that I’m a junior, there are only a couple I can hang with. I can’t wait until grad school and finally moving somewhere West or North.

    Hang tough, Lily! You’ve got a cyber support staff now, too! :)

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    I’m a lesbian upperclassperson at Columbia University, and I want to tell you from the bottom of my heart that if you go to Queer Awareness Month events (which are really fun) and get involved in activist groups on campus, you will meet awesome, passionate people! I look forward to meeting you at some point or other, and good luck.

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      Thank you!
      I have been going to a lot of the meetings and am definitely going to be going to the QUAM events so I totally know what you mean. I’ve already met a good amount of people here who are making me feel much more comfortable about this school. Plus, those rainbow balloons today at Low, that was very nice to walk through on my way to my Women Studies class–SO GAY. It was wonderful!

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    I just searched for this to find some reassurance that other people don’t enjoy their first week. This is my second day and so far the only people I’ve met are the people sharing my flat/block and I spent all last night listening to them say how gay people are creepy! I go to university in BRIGHTON! I know I haven’t even finished my first week but I’m already worried I’m never going to find a group of friends or be comfortable telling my flatmates that I’m gay…

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      Ellen! Let me tell you a story I also told my sister, whose Freshers Week was last week, and she did not believe me until she experienced it for herself and then she was like “you were SO RIGHT”: Freshers’ Week is so messed up that if it were a psychology experiment you wouldn’t be allowed to do it because it would be unethical to submit people to that much stress. You are away from your friends and your family (i.e. your support networks), everything is new and different, and it feels like everything that makes you who *you* are is connected to the place you just left, not where you are now. Plus everyone around you has only just met you so they are judging like your entire character based on each individual thing you do/say, and on top of all that you feel you have to keep trying trying trying all the time to have fun and be social because it is FRESHERS WEEK and FRESHERS WEEK IS MEANT TO BE FUN.

      So, here is the reality: it is okay not to enjoy your first week at uni. It is okay not to enjoy your first month at uni! It is okay to take time away from being around other people to take care of yourself. You do not have to meet your actual friends in the first week — in fact that odds are really good that you won’t, I hardly know anyone who did — and that in no way reflects on the fact that you are awesome and interesting and you are going to make loads of really fun friends, you just need to give yourself a break because that takes time.

      The best way to meet them is to join societies and clubs and stuff about things that interest you, and to ask people in your courses who seem nice to go for coffee/a drink afterward and so on, but it is a much more gradual process than anyone ever tells you. I mean, at home, you’ve had friends for years now, and people have joined your circle and left it but you haven’t had to put a sustained effort into making lots of new friends at once since, what, the start of secondary school? It is a new thing. It is a stressful thing. All of that is normal and to be expected and it is going to be okay.

      In conclusion, here is a lovely poem by Dallas Clayton about a good attitude to take to all this:

      Sure, making friends is different now
      than it was at camp
      but it still holds true
      if you can’t be bothered
      to get out of the corner
      and ask those folks
      if you can play with them
      no one is ever going to give you a cool nickname
      like “Lightnin” or “Magic.”

      P.S. Lady you are in BRIGHTON. I don’t know how those homophobic morons even got let in but it is going to be okay.

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    haha your college sounds a little like my all-girls private high school. Today we were told that “women should be judged by the children they raise” and that yes, women can have careers, “but not at the same time as raising their children.”

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