Image Credit: Wikipedia (CC BY 2.0)
It’s strange writing this piece for Oxford students—especially for students new to the Oxford LGBTQ+ scene—while being far away. It would be an understatement to say that the LGBTQ+ community, in its many iterations, shaped my time at Oxford. I’ve been thinking about what I would’ve wanted to know when I began at university, and when I came out as trans. And although I’m sure past-me would not have listened to now-me on any of this, I still think it’s worth saying to you.
I was certainly under-confident when I arrived in Oxford and started making friends. I assumed everyone was cooler than me, knew more than me, and wanted little to do with me. This was a lie. The truth is that no one knows what is going on, and they probably don’t think they’re cooler than you. And if they do think or act like they’re cooler than you, they are just using aloofness as an excuse for being utterly boring.
“Leaders and organisers, you need to build caring and friendly communities. Care for the most vulnerable people among you.”
It took me a long time to figure out how I wanted other people to address me once I came out as non-binary trans. Coming to the conclusion that I wanted ‘they’/’them’ pronouns, it took until mid-Trinity of my first year for me to decide, and I didn’t change my name for more than a year after that. When I was still trying to figure out what I needed, some people would ask me repeatedly if I’d made up my mind yet, if I was ready to change my pronouns, to ‘just let them know’ when I had decided. I knew enough to take my time, but I wish I’d had more confidence in my waiting. You don’t need to decide and state every aspect of your identity immediately, and, furthermore, if you make a decision, you are allowed to realise later that it’s no longer right for you. I wish I’d had the confidence to ask people to stop pressuring me to make a final decision. I wish that the people (some of them LGBTQ+) around me hadn’t exerted this pressure. I hope for you, if you’re searching for the right words for yourself, that you have the space to experiment and try on all the new words and feather boas you need. I hope that those who read this who feel confident in their identities give space and kindness for those still trying to figure things out.
LGBTQ+ spaces can be difficult. They can cause damage. But many of the LGBTQ+ spaces in Oxford have the potential to be healing: I can only speak for my own experience, but a number of the official and unofficial leaders of these spaces are working hard to provide care for others. I hope that you all find the space that is best for you—I know The Oxford Student previously published an article about the different societies and campaigns that exist in Oxford. If the obvious spaces don’t feel right—if the people are too cool, or if they want you to behave in a way that isn’t you—you’re allowed to leave and find somewhere else. There is space for you.
Leaders and organisers, you need to build caring and friendly communities and care for the most vulnerable people among you. Be aware of the resources you can and cannot give, and the biases in your own viewpoints. Welcome as many people as you can.
It’s strange being gone—usually I would say “And if you’re looking for community, come hang out with me.” But I have left Oxford, and other people are in my role now. And they will welcome you, too.