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Not-so-queer Bowdoin? Or is it?

October 13, 2023

Kaya Patel

The first thing I remember hearing about the LGBTQ+ community at Bowdoin during my first-year orientation is that it is small. During a heart-to-heart talk with a gay-identifying senior, I was advised not to expect to have many friends who are also queer. While disappointing, it wasn’t unfamiliar to me. As an international student from a prejudiced country, I was never able to freely express myself and never had friends who did either. When you know that everyone around you—from an angry stranger on the street to your closest friend—would condemn you for what is simply a part of your identity and put a label on your existence, hiding becomes a necessity. At a certain point, it made me feel like I kept secrets so well that even I stopped knowing who I was and what I felt. Despite its problems, America was friendlier to difference than my country was. And yet, I didn’t dare to think about letting my façade down. I packed the untold stories of what happens to people like me and brought them to Bowdoin in small mental suitcases.

Something in me changed when I walked down Maine street and saw happy queer couples holding hands and other people passing by them without a glance thrown in their direction. It looked like a picture out of a book, but it was real, right in front of me. Such a seemingly usual thing left me reeling. The image resurfaced in my head for days on end. For the first time, I started considering the possibility of one of them being me, calmly strolling with a person I love, without fear.

I came to my first-year writing seminar in late September with this thought. The reading assigned for that day’s class featured gay and transgender characters, which opened the discourse about how queer representation in literature and media has changed over the years. Other students started speaking about books and movies that empowered them to come out or songs they listened to while feeling lonely and misunderstood. Before I could process my actions, I started contributing to the conversation. I mentioned how queer characters are taboo in my country and how they are frequently portrayed as villains. Those were hurtful things, but I can’t describe how good it felt to talk about them with others who understood that pain.

A few weeks passed, and the myth of “no queer community” at Bowdoin was debunked in my eyes. I realized that we were everywhere—you only had to look. From quinners and quarties to casual hangouts in the Craft Center, I felt seen and welcomed. More importantly, the people I met at Bowdoin never pressed me to define my sexuality; I never felt like I owed someone an explanation of why I came to an event or what specific label I identified with. I was there, and that’s what mattered the most. My long story of accepting myself and finding the courage to tell that to the world is still in the making, but at last, I feel like I belong somewhere.

I still find it hard to explain why so many students believe it’s unlikely to find people who are out at Bowdoin. Why do we, despite being all around this campus, feel isolated and detached in our identities? At the risk of sounding like a cliché idealist, I hope that all of us who identify as LGBTQ+ on campus take advantage of the opportunities we have here to come together and support each other. October might be the month of LGBTQ+ history, but we are writing the queer history of the College every second of our time here. As someone from a background where saying “gay” is dangerous, I cherish every second with the community I found here. So now I’m asking you this: If you feel invisible at Bowdoin, please reach out and help us become more present together, one moment at a time.

The author is a member of the Class of 2026 and chose to remain anonymous for safety concerns. 


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