Johns Hopkins Gazette: December 2, 1996 Form

Patton Gets Lesson
In Own Stereotypes

"Coming Out" day opens
freshman's eyes to bias.

Stacey Patton
An Undergraduate Life

I am a heterosexual female. I have always been heterosexual. I can honestly say that I have never felt the need nor the urge to experiment with the same sex. As a child I was taught that homosexuality was an ugly sin and that homosexuals were immoral, unhealthy and different. In Catholic school the sisters said that it was not God's intentions for two men or two women to be together. While growing up I lived in communities where homosexuals were shunned and were outcasts.

Last week homosexuality was the topic of discussion for my women's studies class. We filled out a survey that asked us to answer questions on our feelings about sexuality and homosexual rights. I found that while many people said what was politically correct for the sake of class discussion, they were not engaging in a sincere and honest dialogue. I stated to the class that I felt that homosexuals should not be discriminated against under the law or in the work force, etc. However, I felt that homosexuals should not adopt children.

A few weeks ago I happened to see students setting up for the Coming Out Day, and then I happened to stop by the actual event itself in front of Levering Hall. I saw and heard some of the backlash against the idea of the event and the people who participated in it. I was surprised that my own peers expressed themselves so ignorantly by spray painting degrading messages and speaking in such humiliating and vulgar manners. I would expect that from someone of a much older generation but not from my own generation. It makes me wonder how they feel about African Americans, Jews and other minority groups that are viewed differently and often misunderstood.

Although I believe homosexuals should be treated the same as heterosexuals, I know that they are not. And I have often wondered what life must be like for homosexuals and bisexuals.

Like most people I always had preconceived notions and stereotypes about people of a different sexual orientation. I used to think that homosexual males were very feminine and weak people who desired to be female. I pictured them wearing tight fishnet shirts, painted nails, weaves and high-heeled clogs. To me, they were men who shook their hips when they walked. They giggled like women and snapped their fingers when they talked.

I pictured homosexual females as very masculine and militant people who pursued the male role. I held the notion that they dressed in very baggy clothes or generally male attire. They wore very short haircuts, strutted like men when they walked, were "un-ladylike" in their mannerisms and talked in deep voices.

Despite these very ignorant portrayals that were taught to me as a young child and teen-ager, I try to look beyond those stigmatizations to see people as individuals with different preferences rather than as one person representing an entire group of people. My first semester here at Hopkins has been spent, in some way, understanding people and things rather than just viewing them.

I have discovered that if I view people and things that are different from what I am accustomed to, I will only have the capacity to see them from my own ethnocentric, cultural, ethical, moralistic and sexual perspectives. But if I step outside of myself and the so-called norms, then a whole range of ideas and notions is able to permeate through my mind causing me to become a more open-minded individual who is not totally subject to ignorance and rigid thinking.

After the Coming Out Day was over I had the opportunity to have a conversation with a homosexual female. I always knew of people who were homosexual, but I never had an open and honest conversation with someone about their sexual orientation. This female did not fit the stereotypes associated with being a gay woman. And before speaking with her I assumed that she was a heterosexual female.

She assured me that homosexuals are normal human beings who have feelings and are capable of being productive individuals who contribute to society. Yet, they are unaccepted and do not share the same rights as heterosexuals. She expressed that she was a person with a significant voice that is often shunned because of her sexuality. She felt that in her own world, her "closet," she could express her feelings because the walls cushioned her fears. But outside she could not do so without someone hating her with their words or killing her with their raging eyes.

She also reminded me of what it means to be different and misunderstood. She was white and lesbian and misunderstood in a community where the majority of the people are heterosexuals. I know what it is like to be a heterosexual, a black female and misunderstood in a community where the majority of the people are white. Nevertheless, we all have our differences that keep us as a human race from fully understanding that we are all here just to live and get the most out of life before we die.

On this campus and outside of this campus I have been mistaken for a lesbian because I am a basketball player with muscles, an athletic walk, an intimidating look and a tomboyish nature. Because I have a tendency to wear baggy clothing and can rarely be seen sucking face with males, people assume that I am gay. It just goes to show you that people operate on visual instincts and reflexes, just as I have, only to assume, stigmatize and view others rather than understand them.

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