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Gay and alone in the Gothic Wonderland

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As November comes to an end, the leaves are done changing and the chilly air is here to stay. Staying in and cuddling becomes more enticing, and cuffing season begins in full force. The undergrads of Duke scramble to secure a secure relationship before the holidays begin. It’s a time for single people to reflect on why no one loves them, and to invest in their own sweatshirts since they have no significant other to steal one from. In this time, I sit alone in my room as a young, single gay man and wonder what I did wrong.

Many people picture college as a wild frenzy of binge drinking and hooking up. Many people also picture being a gay man that way. My experience at Duke has failed to meet either expectation–well, maybe the drinking part. A night out usually consists of me and friends getting ready, dancing somewhere to “Electric Love,” then getting Heavenly Buffaloes. The area where we dance changes, but the people don’t. For LGBT students at Duke, it’s extremely difficult to meet anyone new. Why is that? For starters, Duke has a small and disconnected LGBT population. The community has many great people, and is growing, but there are shockingly few options for dating. It’s impossible to meet someone new when you know everyone. To meet people outside of Duke, the most accessible option is dating apps, which are frustrating, objectifying and rarely successful.

Duke’s “going out” culture isn’t really amazing for everyone, but it can be especially isolating for LGBT individuals. Most of my first-year friends are in sororities, and occasionally I’ll go with them to a formal or a date function. Now, I love being around my gals, but when the night goes on and straight couples everywhere are giggling and rubbing their noses together or whatever, I can’t help but feel like I’m missing out on young, obnoxious love.

Luckily, I’m not normally surrounded by such displays unless I stumble into Shooters on a given Saturday night. I’m fortunate enough to be a member of the co-ed SLG Mirecourt, which has a significant LGBT population and a largely accepting environment. Still, if me and my LGBT friends want a gay night out on the town, we don’t really have anywhere to go. The nearest 18+ gay club frequented by people my own age is 25 minutes away in downtown Raleigh. With a $50 round-trip Uber price, it’s an awfully expensive ordeal to dance to “The Fame Monster” era Gaga music and see a Drag Race queen on a good night. Furthermore, niche communities for gay POC are even more difficult to find. Feeling isolated in one community is difficult enough, and for gay POC the communities that should be a safe haven further reinforce feelings of otherness. 

Being single hurts, but being single and gay stings. Risking eternal damnation doesn’t seem worth it just to stay up until 3 a.m. watching a gay film on Netflix while eating caramel gelato. After spending years painfully coming to terms with my identity, I had high expectations of what liberation would feel like. Most of the time, I can ignore the parts of the world and my past that tell me that I am flawed for being gay. But when you’re alone, it is more difficult to feel like you’re on the right path. 

When I applied to Duke, I didn’t consider the size of the LGBT population or community in comparison to larger cities, given that at the time, I wasn’t even comfortable with being gay. But now I’m here, out and proud in a mid-size city in the South, living my prime years in mediocrity. I know that in a few years I will graduate and move on to a big city full of people like me. But for now, I have to enjoy the incredible opportunity I have here.

Hopefully, the LGBT population at Duke will continue to grow and eventually take over every facet of academic and social life. Initiatives such as the LGBTQIA invitational weekend, which had a pilot program last year, are great starts to making prospective students feel welcomed and a part of a community. I know I make it seem like being gay is all about finding romantic love, but historically an integral part of being LGBT is finding a community of people you can trust, a chosen family. And although in this era more and more people are accepting of LGBT individuals, there still remains a strong value in having a tight-knit community.

I know that I can do more to create a connected community on campus. Maybe if I spent more time going to LGBT-oriented programming on campus I would feel less detached from my identity. While I don’t see this involuntary no-nut November ending soon, there are other joys to be found this winter season that are more fulfilling, maybe starting with Drag Race watch parties–I’ll order the Heavenly Buffaloes. 

Nathan Heffernan is a Trinity sophomore. His column runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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