“A polarised experience”: an LGBT perspective of Oxford

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Being gay at Oxford for me is a very polarised experience; my college is one of the most accepting places I’ve ever been to, and I’ve never felt so comfortable anywhere about my identity before, but the institution at large still suffers with an amount of internalised homophobia I naively thought was extinct.

Being a woman from a state school in an institution never meant for women from state schools obviously presents itself with a lot of challenges that the homogenous elite will never be able to understand. My lgbt identity however makes me even more marginalised in the university and throws all sorts of weird and wonderful obstacles at me.

I’ve had to listen to a strange man at Port and Policy (wearing what I can only describe as an abrasive cloak) shout about how being a homosexual comprises a third of the ‘tripartite of sin’ he sees as corrupting the body politic of Britain. I had to sit in a class where my tutor just couldn’t see why there would be any gay sub-text in a Thom Gunn poem. In the college café, a girl asked me to clarify what she referred to as the ‘ethos of Plush’. On social media it doesn’t take a lot of scrolling to see that the University is not removing the honorary degree of a man who would very happily kill me simply for existing.

Homophobia exists everywhere at Oxford, be it casual or violent, and it makes it difficult to have the self-esteem and confidence necessary to survive and prosper in this institution. I’m proud that I’m gay, and I’m happy to be gay in my college, I even became the lgbtq+ rep there.

You can never be sure about the attitudes of others until you reveal your identity to them

The problem is however, that I have to exist outside the parameters of Mansfield, the fact that I like girls does not vanish upon leaving the college gate. It is with bated breath that I answer the questions of those not in the safe space I deem my college to be. You can never be sure about the attitudes of others until you reveal your identity to them, and by that point it’s too late to hide.

Oxford is far from being representative of minorities, and there is still institutional inequality yet to be tackled, but at the same time, I feel more comfortable here than I do anywhere else. My home town is a scary place to be a lesbian since the majority of people are either ignorant of, or very against, people in the lgbtq+ community. I feel comfortable and safe enough in Oxford however to hold a girl’s hand, wear a rainbow ribbon or correct a man on the rare occasion one tries to flirt with me.

There are so many opportunities here for people in the community, be it events to attend, talks to listen to, or safe spaces to inhabit. Oxford as an institution has a long way to go, that is undeniable, but the majority of the individuals here are what makes this place accepting and special. Even though the buildings are old, young people are coming here with new attitudes and ideas every day. Slowly but surely we’re getting there, and I can’t wait to see what Oxford looks like in years to come.

Image: patrickdevries2003