About a month ago, I published an article in 34th Street Magazine, telling my friends, family, and the Penn community that I am bisexual.
I grew up in New York City — a place that, to many, presents itself as the liberal epicenter of the East Coast, where everyone is confident and proud. But for me, New York was limiting.
In high school, it didn’t seem like there was a queer community that I could connect to. Nearly all of my friends were straight, and I let everyone assume I was too.
At Penn, however, embracing the piece of myself I’d been hiding for so long became an option. I was away from my high school in New York, where I’d fallen into toxic corners of materialism and self-doubt. Corners that I knew existed at Penn, but felt more avoidable here.
Instead of going to school with a couple hundred people, I was in a brand new city with over 10,000 fellow undergraduate students. There had to be a place for me somewhere, even the parts of myself I was unsure of.
During my first month here, recruitment flyers for clubs piled up almost as quickly as homework assignments. I met hundreds of new students whose names I could never remember, and frequented info sessions for different organizations, hoping I’d fit in somewhere. While intimidating and sometimes lonely, the size and breadth of Penn made it a place where I could be more true to myself than I was in high school.
Depending on individual circumstances, college can seem like a good place for students to accept their identities. But there are parts of the culture here and the transition to Penn that everyone struggles with. Grappling with one’s sexuality adds a whole new layer to the adjustment process, one that is invisible to most others. Often, students coming to terms with their queer identities must carry the weight of this invisible layer alone. But they shouldn’t have to.
While there are supportive and accepting people at Penn, we should continue to challenge the less inclusive spaces in the community. Even though these environments can make you feel like you don’t belong, remember that you do. The ubiquity of these spaces and the tacit acceptance of them do not validate their exclusive nature.
Although college offered me a fresh start, one thing I didn’t have was a support system. It’s difficult to find true friends in college — people we feel safe with and can rely on — especially as a freshman. Initially, no one here knew me beyond superficial conversations and awkward waves on Locust Walk.
Eventually, I made some new friends. We were close — or as close as anyone could be after knowing each other for only a few months. Together, we complained about the hectic nature of New Student Orientation, long lines at Hill Dining Hall, and roaches in the Quad. Inevitably, these conversations led to guys: cooing over cute boys we’d met and lamenting about old boyfriends. Mostly, I’d nod along and giggle, sometimes throwing in a snarky comment. Talking about guys was easy, and I didn’t want to further complicate things by revealing my sexuality to my friends. So I continued to struggle with it alone.
A lot of this fear ended up being irrational. When I did come out, everyone was supportive and treated me normally. Unfortunately, other parts of Penn weren’t as accepting as my friends.
Fraternity parties dominate the social scene for freshmen. Sometimes as early as Thursday night, girls, doused in perfume and dressed in all black, travel in packs to the fraternity houses. A few boys straggle along, but not so many that the gender ratio is disrupted and they’ll be denied admission. This is what most freshmen are doing; it’s the norm. A norm I feel excluded from.
The frat brothers won’t let girls and guys into their parties at equal rates in order to ensure there are enough women to hook up with. Aside from the obvious problem with these ratios — that they reduce girls to sexual objects — they are also heteronormative. They assume that any sexual activity that occurs at these events will exclusively be between men and women. Frat parties aren’t welcoming spaces for queer students.
And maybe the easy answer to the problem is to boycott fraternity parties, which, most of the time, I do. But where else can I go out and meet new people that is free and convenient?
I’ve come to find that just because there are a lot of people at Penn, it doesn’t mean they are my people. I just don’t feel safe or comfortable spending my weekends doing what it feels like everyone else is doing.
Being a freshman at Penn is tough. But being a queer freshman at Penn has made my adjustment to college way more difficult than it should be.
The less accepting parts of this school are discouraging, especially when the majority of my peers subscribe to them. They can make me feel like maybe I don’t have a place here. But I’m not writing this for those people or places. Although it doesn’t always seem like it, I know there are other students who are grappling with these challenges, who spend weekends hiding in their dorm rooms, listening to the muffled laughter of fellow freshmen in their halls. I want them to know that someone else is going through the same thing. We belong here; you aren’t alone.
ISABELLA SIMONETTI is a College freshman from New York. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Simonetti Says So” usually appears every Tuesday.
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