Andrew Deppe: […] I had really positive experiences while I was here and integration between my personal life and my academic life as a gay man. One of the best courses I took was an EXCO topic taught by seniors, who were women in the English Department. It was on contemporary women’s fiction. It was truly one of the best classes I took at Oberlin. We read a novel a week, or a piece a week, and it covered Gloria Naylor, Alice Walker, and Margaret Atwood. It was really significant stuff for me because I was mostly studying Shakespeare and Chaucer. It was like a smack of reality and validated for me to talk about that stuff as a gay man in this context of students, and not have to write papers; we just kept a journal.
It was great, but I also had a really good experience studying Shakespeare with Robert Pierce and Phyllis Gorfain being able to write about gay interpretations of the canon. You know, how Mercutio is in love with Romeo and how the Merchant of Venice would have made a lot more sense if you highlighted the sexual tension between the merchant Antonio and Bassanio. I got support for doing that as long as my papers were well argued and well crafted, although I did come up against Calvin Hernton in some Black Studies courses against what I perceived as some real homophobic stuff. I called him on it in class, saying, “As a gay man I resent blah, blah, blah,” and he accepted that and listened to it in the context of class. So I felt comfortable being gay and taking a gay approach to all the academic stuff I did here.
Beth DeSombre: I studied government and Latin American studies and particularly international relations because I had a big split, even now that’s still what I study. I’m just not sure how much of a gay perspective international relations can have, so it felt, in fact, a lot like I had my social life and I had my academic life and they didn’t meet at all. In fact, the only times they did meet was when I didn’t go on the march on Washington because I was doing honors and working on it that weekend. My various gay, lesbian, and bisexual friends came and yelled at me afterwards saying, “How could you not go?” I wish I had now, but it just felt like a really big separation. I tried a couple of times to get into a Women’s Studies class and didn’t, but I’m not really sure what I could have done differently to integrate the two.
Beth DeSombre: There would be people who were rabidly homophobic who would not tell you, and you would have no idea what was going on. There was a woman in my freshman class who, when she found out I was lesbian, she walked on the other side of the sidewalk when she was close to me. She lowered her head as she said, “Hi.” It really freaked me out because I realized that people did not necessarily react to me the way that they were feeling. I know that seems really simple, but I always feel so straightforward that if they hated me they would let me know. I realized all of a sudden that there were these people who would hate me for what I was and I would never have any idea what was going on.
Andy Cemelli: I experienced this in the Theater Department. When I talked to you about this, I was in the production of Cloud Nine. And the director said to me at one point something like, “Oh, I bet you like `Italian sausage’ on your pizza.” I feel safe here at Oberlin, so safe that when I got hit with a homophobic comment, I didn’t realize it. I said, “No, I’m a vegetarian.” One of the other actors said, “No, no, Andy.” There were three times when it happened and each time I didn’t recognize it for what it was because I expected it to be so incredibly safe here. When I did realize what it was, I was actually livid and furious and I didn’t know how to react. I didn’t particularly know who I would go to or what I would say. When I graduated, I realized that in many ways there was really a lot of homophobia, but it is just so covered and convoluted and couched in PC stuff that I don’t know. There is a double standard, I think. A lot of people come, and this is their four years of being liberal and going out and becoming less liberal. Hopefully some of them come and are very liberal while they are at Oberlin. That does happen, but I think a lot of them come and, “Oh, wow, lesbians and gays can be our friends, too.” It just isn’t a part of their life anymore and there is a difference.
Andrew Deppe: I thought of two things. One, I feel a significant number of gay men came out in a course called `Self-Concept,’ taught by George Langeler at his home. I don’t know if someone else remembers it; it was a three-credit course and I took it. I didn’t come out in it, though I got pretty interested in maybe being bisexual, reading all those readings that George gave us. He does a huge emphasis on sexuality in that course. He knows most of the people taking it are freshlings, and he knows that most of us don’t know how to spell our own names. I know for a fact that quite a few gay men came out in that course.
Andy Cemelli: Do you remember, this had to be my freshman year, so it had to be 1981. I don’t remember what it was called. It wasn’t Bisexual Network — maybe it was — the bisexual group started. I saw the sign and said, “I don’t want to be gay; that is too frightening.” I came out as bisexual for a couple of months, and I finally realized I was not going out with any women, that it probably wasn’t true and I went to the meetings. There was a whole contention about whether it would be under the Gay Union or it would be a separate group where we’d get a budget.
Anne Beth Mitrakul: For a long time there was not a bisexual group, and then there were all women and men sitting around in a circle. I remember meeting Emily there; there were a number of people there, it was a really interesting group. That is the way I came out. I don’t know if anybody else remembers that or has any other thoughts about it. There was a course that was taught each semester that was called `Human Sexuality,’ and one of the highlights of that course was the films. I still have vivid memories of what was shown as the lesbian film, the gay film and the bi film. I want to see if anyone else can remember which ones they were. No? They might not have shown the same three films. I have a very vivid memory and they were extremely stereotypical. The gay male film was two very handsome, hunky men like football players. There was no affection, no romance; they just took off their clothes and went to it. The lesbian film was about two women who lived in a cabin in the woods, showing both of them in night gowns in bed talking about baking bread together. They were very wholesome. Perhaps they did something. I remember it as having very little sexual activity.
Nori Mandell: The bi film was outrageous, there were two parts to it. One was an orgy with about thirty people in a room all doing things to one another. The second was a really cool, groovy man who had a picture of his woman lover on one side of his bed and a picture of his man lover on the other side. The idea was that you had to have both at once to be bi. He was just `Mr. Swinger.’ All three films had serious deficits, but at the same time all the students were watching with big, wide-open eyes. For me, my eyes were just as wide when watching the films of a man and woman having sex; I had never seen that. There were pictures of people masturbating. I have to say that the films presented that these people were all supposed to be really cool. It was not couched in deviance.