Four LGBTQ+ students at the University of Mississippi open up about dating in the South
We are living in a world of struggle and uncertainty at the moment. Many of us are wondering what will come next. What does the future hold? With the day to day ups and downs of politics, healthcare, safety, and simply struggling to survive, I believe that dating and one’s love life takes a back seat to everything else we are taking on. These are hard times to face with the people we love, much less alone. That doesn’t mean we don’t crave the need to be loved and accepted. When the world turned upside down amid this global pandemic, I’m sure the effect it would have on people’s dating lives was not our first thought. However, it is still important for many to find love no matter your age, race, sexuality, religious background, etc. Love is love. That did not change the day that Covid19 entered the world. Dating has progressively gotten harder and harder over time. We face new obstacles every day when it comes to meeting someone, making a connection, and establishing a relationship. What I have learned recently is that it is even more difficult for the LGBTQ+ community. I can’t imagine finding my person and facing acceptance from others for loving them, on top of all the other things that we take on day in and day out. Dating is hard at any age. To be quite honest, it sucks. The reality is that it can be harder for some than others.
Growing up in South Mississippi, I knew little to nothing about the LGBTQ+ community. I knew very few people who were gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, trans, or queer. I honestly did not know what meant what. My knowledge about their obstacles was very very limited. It was unheard of to be gay in my hometown and if you were anything outside of the status quo you were not accepted. People were mean and judgmental of things they did not understand, and I think that still takes place today. I have two cousins that came out when I was younger, and I remember that they stopped coming to family Christmas and any other time we would all get together. I don’t think my cousins felt accepted and I also don’t believe my family understood how to handle it. There were just so many things that we did not know because we have never been exposed to anything different from what we always knew. I think there was such a stigma around being gay. There still is. There is so much I still do not understand about the gay community. I am sure there are people right there with me with questions. When I came to the University of Mississippi, I saw a completely different way people lived their lives but there was so much I did not understand. It was a new normal and one that has taken me time to adjust to. Four of the best friends I have ever made in college are gay men, but I didn’t know what I could ask and what I could not ask. What is offensive and what is not? I always want to take their feelings into consideration, but I needed to know more. I had questions and I wanted answers, so I sat down with four gay students at the University of Mississippi to discuss their lives and the struggles of dating in the south as a part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Nick Foerstel is an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Mississippi from St. Louis, Missouri. Nick has not come out to his family at home, however, all of his close friends at home and at Ole Miss know about his sexuality. Nick thinks that his family would be excepting of his sexuality but finds it difficult to even say the words “I’m gay” to his friends. He also finds it difficult to come out to his family because of his Christian upbringing. Since Nick waited to explore his sexuality and come out to people in college, he is still unfamiliar with aspects of gay culture, especially that culture in the south. What he has learned is that regardless of where you are there will always be people who are afraid and avoid people who are different. Nick personally hasn’t experienced any beneficial or harmful gestures because of being open about his sexuality, however, he has noticed the way people have treated his friends and other people who don’t fit into the typical heteronormative social construct. As far as knowing about his sexual preferences Nick said that he really became of his preference at the beginning of middle school but didn’t acknowledge it until his junior year in high school and then came out to his close friend at the beginning of his senior year. Coming to the University of Mississippi, to his surprise, has made Nick feel more comfortable about who he is because of the people and friends he’s made his first semester. Nick claims that he’s never been a part of a group so welcoming and inviting before that loves him for who he is. When it comes to dating, Nick’s experience at Ole Miss has not gone quite as smoothly. Laughingly he said,
“It’s hard. It’s not fun. I wouldn’t recommend. Stay out of the south if you like men.”
Although Nick said these words with humor, there is frustration behind them. He has struggled with dating here much as he has at home because not only do few people know, including his family, Nick says it is hard meeting people here. Many gay men in the south are scared to be open and honest about their sexuality out of fear of being accepted by their family, friends, and others.
Sabyius Boggan is a 24-year-old graduate student at the University of Mississippi from Philadelphia, MS. He has been aware of his sexuality for as long as he can remember. Growing up gay in the south has been very difficult for him because he comes from a very religious background. His family raised him to believe that it was a sin to be gay, so he hid who he was for most of his life. His family would not have accepted that he was gay, so he lived a very secretive life from a young age. Not having anyone to talk to about his feelings really changed his relationships with his loved ones. Not being able to talk to his family about how he was feeling altered his relationship with his parents, causing them to drift farther and farther apart over the years. The rift between Sabyius and his loved ones was so wide at a time when he was scared to be who he was. That all changed when he got to college. After coming to Ole Miss and meeting other gay students like him, he began to understand that the world was not what he always imagined after all. Being accepted was the most important thing for him. Sabyius feared people not accepting him for who he was, which is now something he isn’t concerned about. He has learned to love who he is while surrounding himself with people who love him for that. Dating for Sabyius has had its hurdles.
“Dating in the south is different. I feel like dating as a gay man is difficult in general.. especially in the south, men are limited. The supply doesn’t match the demand.”
Sabyius says he also struggles with dating and being an African American. He says that there is a standard in the gay community that you have to meet. From his perspective, people expect you to reach all these requirements in the gay community, and a lot of the time he feels that he doesn’t fit that mold, especially here in the south at Ole Miss.
Gavin Wolfe’s story is different. Gavin always knew that he was gay from a very young age and so did his family. At a young age, Gavin embraced who he was with courage and commitment. Even though he was young, Gavin knew who he was and what he wanted. This is a characteristic that Gavin still embodies to this day. Gavin was raised in Richmond, Virginia where being gay was much more accepted by others. He was able to be who he wanted, and it not be seen as wrong because he was raised in a more diverse area. After coming to Ole Miss, Gavin’s mindset rubbed off on others and he was a huge support system for his friends. Gavin is very passionate about this big part of him and he stands for gay pride He fights and urges people to educate themselves on the ins and outs of the LGBTQ+ community. He wants people to know that the gay community is here, and they will not back down from receiving equal treatment for himself and others. Gavin says that one of the hardest things about going to college in the south is the dating scene.
“Dating here is nonexistent for me. There are not a lot of gay men here in general. Gay southerners are very different from where I come from. You know we are in the bible belt. It’s very religious and a lot of people interpret religion to be anti LGBTQ+. When you mix that with a person like a gay man, it can lead to a lot of pinned up anger.. They aren’t used to being in a community where they are accepted. They don’t really know who they are. They’ve been suppressed their whole lives. They have self-hatred that they project on to you.”
Adam Smith is a 20-year-old sophomore from Phoenix, AZ. Adams also realized at a young age that he was gay. From the time he was little, Adam knew that he was different from his other friends. His family does not know that he is gay, but he has a feeling that his mom has to know.
“I am sure that my mom knows, but I just don’t want to have that awkward conversation. I know she will accept me; it is just the fact of saying the words out loud to her.”
Coming to the south from the west coast was a huge scenery change for Adam, especially the dating pool of men. Dating in the south has not been the easiest thing to do for Adam. It was a bit of a culture shock. Being gay on the west coast isn’t seen as abnormal or taboo. It is common and widely accepted. The south has been a much different experience for him during his time at Ole Miss.
“The dating pool is very shallow here. It is a very shallow puddle, so it is definitely hard pickings. Most of the people here, I don’t find myself to be attracted to so it’s kind of difficult. I feel like there is more of a stigma around being gay in the south then there is back home on the west coast. A lot of people down here are closeted, or they are just not really comfortable with themselves yet and so obviously they are out and ready to date someone like that so yeah nothing really too spectacular.”
Love and acceptance are two of the most important things many of us search for in this life and it is much easier for some to find than others. People throughout history have always feared what they do not understand. That is still the case today. We have to work harder to educate ourselves, be aware of the feelings of others, and always take them into consideration. With all of the hate and animosity in the world, we should fight to spread more kindness and love. The LGBTQ+ community wants that just as much as anyone else. What I have learned is they do not want you to be afraid of them or scared to approach them with questions. They want to answer your questions. They want you to know that they are here. They have a voice.
“There are a lot of questions people have and they don’t know what to ask or who to ask much less how. We’re here, we’re queer. We just want to coexist in a very peaceful and civil environment. We want to be expressive with who we are.” – Gavin Wolfe
It is 2020. We are constantly making improvements in technology, medicine, and so much more. We need to make just as many advancements in the treatment of others. Everyone wants life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It doesn’t matter whether you are black, white, straight, gay, rich, poor, etc. We are all going to be different and we can love each other for it instead of fear what is not considered normal. What is normal anyway? Normal is boring.
Throughout this experience, I have heard four wonderful stories about love, family, friends, acceptance, fear, laughter, and tears. They have hopes, dreams, and aspirations just like anyone else. We all face things in this life but not being accepted for who we love should not be something we face in a negative way. The LGBTQ+ community is here. They are our neighbors. They are our classmates. They are our friends. Let’s ask the hard questions and learn more about the people around us so can we continue to move forward.