A Queer Dating Scene Emerges
Every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday night, I know exactly where and how to find potential hook-ups or even partners — I just drop by Webster Avenue sometime around 10 or 11 p.m. There, I can find basements full of men, with whom I can dance, join a quick game of pong or two and maybe even go to formal in future terms. My status as a white, affiliated, cisgender, heterosexual female has radically simplified my search for sex and romance on campus. For many queer students at the College, however, this isn’t necessarily the case.
“Dartmouth obviously has a much smaller queer community than it does a community at large, and I think that’ll naturally limit your pool, versus being in a major city like New York or San Francisco where there’s a high population of people in general and therefore a high population of LGBT people,” Akash Kar ’16, who identifies as gay, said.
Queer is now commonly used as an umbrella term referring to sexual and gender identities that are not strictly heterosexual or cisgender. The acronym “LGBT” is commonly used to reference the queer community, although several variations exist, including “LGBTQ” and “LGBTQIA.”
Whether or not someone chooses to make their sexual orientation explicitly known in public further complicates the possibility of finding sexual or romantic partners, as it narrows the options for potential partners even more, Amara Ihionu ’17 explained.
“There’s a sizable amount of people who are out and proud, and then there’s definitely some people who are not so open about their sexuality,” Ihionu said. “Out of that, you still have your preferences in people and different kinds of characteristics you’re looking for. So it’s definitely harder to find someone who could really be a good fit for you.”
Ihionu identifies as aromantic-asexual — in other words, she does not feel sexual attraction to any gender, nor does she experience romantic attraction. Rather, in a partner, Ihionu seeks something that straddles the borders between friendship and romance. Unsurprisingly, this presents some hurdles for finding a partner in the context of the what often appears to be a dominant hookup culture.
“For me, intimacy isn’t inherently sexual. It could be emotional intimacy,” Ihionu said. “How many people would agree to a relationship in which they’re not going to have sex ever? I could imagine they’d just go running for the hills.”
For other students, the primary obstacle is the sheer size of the College’s queer population, which not only limits the pool of possible partners but also lends itself to a queer community where its difficult to maintain privacy in ones personal life. “You know someone that you’re interested in dating, or you know someone who they’ve dated before or they’ve dated a friend,” Reese Kelly, the director of the Center for Gender and Student Engagement and interim director of the Office of Pluralism and Leadership, said. While this may help simplify the process of breaking the ice or finding potential partners for queer students, “it can also create tensions if you want to meet someone and learn about them on your own terms, rather than knowing that they’ve dated three of your best friends already,” he said.
The small size of the student body also makes it difficult to change patterns of behavior and dating, Kelly said. It’s easy to gain a reputation for dating people of a certain gender or sexuality, which can put students in a box and work as a barrier to more complex or fluid identities, he explained.
Ellyn Golden ’17 identifies as bisexual, but said she navigates Dartmouth nightlife as a heterosexual person.
“I haven’t been able to tap into my love for women,” Golden said. “It’s hard for me to find what the queer scene would be or where that would be.”
She’s not alone. Yeja Dunn ’16, who identifies as queer, describes the College as a “bubble of heteronormativity.” For Dunn, the queer dating scene is close to invisible, and the queer community itself is very splintered.
“You have people that are really involved in the community, people who are queer who aren’t involved in the community — which is totally fine,” Dunn said. “But it’s definitely hard to find a queer community here that is more than just your friend group.”
While it may not be the most visible or straightforward to navigate, most students agreed that a hookup scene certainly does exist in the queer community — it’s just not quite the same as the broader hookup culture on campus.
“The difference between the [broader] Dartmouth hookup culture and the culture I’m used to is a hookup culture without the pong and without tails,” said Kar. “A lot of the major social venues that facilitate the hookup culture at Dartmouth don’t necessarily function as the same venues for queer students.”
Instead, Kar said he has found a dating scene outside of the College in Hanover and surrounding areas, noting that there is an LGBT community in the Upper Valley that includes College faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, in addition to community members unaffiliated with the College.
On top of that, organizations like Spectra and Dartmouth Alliance, which are aimed at creating social and pre-professional connections among the queer community, host events such as Q-Tails and IvyQ. Kar said events like these have allowed him to meet fellow queer students at the College outside of the social spaces he described as facilitating interactions between heterosexual students.
When it comes to expressing intimacy in public, the students I spoke to agreed that the College generally promotes inclusivity and acceptance of queer couples.
“It’s always exciting to see same-sex couples holding hands, because it shows that at a school like Dartmouth, most students wouldn’t bat an eye at it,” Kar said. “I think normalcy of same-sex relationships is a positive thing, and it shows [the] progress we’ve made as a community.”
Seeing queer couples express public intimacy can be refreshing, Dunn, who is dating someone, said. She added, however, that her level of comfort with expressing that intimacy depends on the space. She said she could not see herself making out with another girl in a fraternity basement, for example.
“I don’t want to be that kind of public spectacle,” Dunn said. “I’m okay with my queerness, but I don’t want my queerness to be on display for other people.”
Golden echoed similar concerns. Fraternities and sororities, she said, reinforce a culture of heteronormativity and a gender binary.
“I don’t think that I could have gone to a fraternity basement and expected to hook up with a woman,” she said.
Her inhibitions, she said, come down to the expectations people generally have of what happens in a fraternity basement. For example, she said that most discourse around sexual assault assumes that the assault occurs between a man and a woman.
Marriage tails, another staple of Greek life at Dartmouth, also generally involve a pairings of fraternities and sororities, she noted. At marriage tails, members of opposite houses often pair up and progress through the stages of matrimony with corresponding beverages — in some cases, they drink champagne at “marriage,” wine for their “honeymoon” and tequila shots at their “divorce.”
Still, students expressed ambivalence about whether the College could or should be doing something to promote more inclusivity for queer students.
“All any college can do is not have any prejudice against queer people,” Golden said.
The College holds Pride week each spring, recently hosted students from various colleges for IvyQ for the first time and introduced the Triangle House this year, said Ihionu. The queer community, however, still remains disjointed, she said.
Women’s and gender studies assistant professor Eng-Beng Lim, who teaches both “Introduction to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies” and “Radical Sexuality: Of Sexuality, Wildness and Fabulosity,” advises students to “think and do otherwise” in order to disrupt heteronormativity.
“You should not be confined to given scripts about how you should be, [or] how you should act or behave. College is precisely the time for you to think freely and act openly,” Lim said. “Queer intimacy is precisely about that set of possibilities that’s unhinged from any kinds of normative, restrictive mandates.”
Increased pride within the queer community and among allies would also help to facilitate a healthier and more inclusive campus climate, Kelly said.
“I think that the greater pride we have in queer students being an integral part of the core fabric of Dartmouth College, the more students are going to want to come here, and be out, and be visible and be a part of the Dartmouth community,” Kelly said.