50 Years of Queer Anger: Gay by May

A. Pallas Gutierrez, Assistant Opinion Editor

This is the eleventh column in “50 Years of Queer Anger,” a series examining LGBTQ+ issues in the United States since 1969.

“Gay by May.” I heard it repeatedly throughout Wildcat Welcome and the early months of fall quarter. Although it was not meant derisively, at least in my social circles, it did unsettle me. Six months later, with May looming, I have figured out why.

The expression “gay by May” jokes that by the end of their first year in college, many students realize their sexuality or come out. This phenomenon definitely does exist to an extent; for a variety of reasons, people question or feel more comfortable in their sexualities throughout college, which can lead to many people coming out by May.

Despite its elements of truth, the use of “gay by May” is still toxic. The people to whom the phrase most often refers are effeminate men and masculine women. The assumption that all people who do not fit into society’s expectations of gender are gay is problematic. Not all people who challenge societal gender roles are gay, and not all gay people challenge societal gender roles. Claiming either of these circumstances invalidates the identity of traditionally masculine straight women or gay men. This reinforcement of gender roles works against much of the progress the queer liberation movement has been trying to make since the 1970s. These ideas  equate gender identity and expression with sexuality, when the three are actually separate and personal.

Saying “gay by May” to people who say that they are straight is very intrusive. Discovering one’s sexuality and coming out is a very personal, emotional journey, so claiming that someone should determine their sexuality before they are ready to share that information can be uncomfortable or frightening. There are a wide variety of reasons why people may know their sexuality and choose to not come out: They may not want the attention, they may rely on queerphobic parents, or they may simply just not be ready to share. Telling people with these experiences to “just come out already” can make them feel threatened or otherwise unsafe.

On its surface, “gay by May” seems harmless. Plenty of people discover their sexuality in college, and it is definitely important to recognize and celebrate that experience. But we cannot continue to reinforce stereotypes about who is and isn’t gay, because sexuality is not something you can just “tell” about a person. People are very complex, and proclaimed identities should be respected rather than doubted. This May, let’s support people who have come out, people who are figuring it out and people who just like to paint their nails.

Pallas Gutierrez is a Communication freshman. They can be contacted at pallas2022@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.