OUr voice on campus: activism at OHIO

Activism and protest is language on campus.

It’s a form of expression and of passion.

It’s OUr voice.

And this is how we use it.

 

 

Comedian Julie Goldman brings laughs and energy to OU stage

Arms flailed and feet flew as she screamed on the stage. Wild-eyed and red-faced, Julie Goldman was a ball of energy on a roll.

Julie Goldman visited Ohio University on February 9, and left Baker Center Theatre rolling on the floor. Goldman is both Jewish and a lesbian, aspects of her life that she focuses on heavily in her comedy. Jokes about growing up in a Jewish family, eating Chinese food for Christmas and feeling like the black sheep for her sexual identity were all fair game.

Julie has fun with the OU audience
Julie has fun with the OU audience

Goldman is extremely conversational, pulling the audience in and making them feel like they’ve known her for a long time. She told stories of growing up with her family, including the time that her brother burned their house down. “When you’re the lez in the family your brother burning the house down is the best thing that could happen,” quipped Goldman.

Among the family stories, Goldman was not afraid to tackle big issues with her comedy. She joked that according to television women love getting proposed to, going out to lunch, cleaning, taking stripper pole classes and relaxing by themselves in lingerie.

Goldman did get a little serious later on in the evening, a welcomed change of pace. In a Q&A after the show, Goldman did not shy away from pointing out that comedy is more like a frat house than anything. This makes breaking out in a big way more difficult for women, especially a lesbian woman who doesn’t gain appeal from straight men by making heterosexual jokes.

“I think that the entertainment industry is extremely sexist,” said Goldman. “[Comedy] is like a frat house, within a bowling alley, within a football field. It’s super sexist, even though there are a lot of women in it,” said Goldman.

Despite this disadvantage, Julie Goldman has been a part of “The Sopranos,” “The Big Gay Sketch Show,” “The People’s Couch” and more.

Julie Goldman is fast, funny and high energy. By the time she is done with a joke you don’t know what hit you. I expect that we will see more of Julie in the future, and I would personally love if she came back to do another show at Ohio University.

Julie Goldman laughs the night away at Ohio University

 

Julie Goldman is one part Jewish, one part lesbian and all parts funny. The crowd at Baker Center Theatre on Tuesday night, February 9th, certainly seemed to agree, laughing early and often at the comedian’s humor.

Goldman started out by talking about her very Jewish mother. She described her mom as “very controlling” and “a typical Jewish mom” in many jokes that got the crowd laughing early and often. One of her best jokes on this topic was when she talked about how her mother sometimes compares Goldman and her brother.

Goldman thinks that she will and should always be thought of as the better child.

Her reasoning is based off a major event in their childhood.

Her brother was a big smoker. One day, thinking his cigarette was out, threw it under the front porch.

It wasn’t out. The house burned down. And Goldman was thereafter assured of being the better kid in her mother’s eyes.

Goldman went on to crack jokes about how things that guys typically do are kind of gay in a sense. One of her examples was how a lot of guys like to get together at someone’s house with only guys and watch guys play football on TV. “YA, not gay at all,” Goldman said.

She shared to the crowd an experience she once had at a Victoria Secret. She was just casually shopping and noticed that everything was in very small sizes. Goldman is not a big lady, so she figured the clothes should be in her size. She then asked a worker, who was of Eastern European descent, if there was anything in her size.

She cracked a joke about how it seems like workers at stores are always Eastern European that got a big laugh from the crowd. Anyways, the worker took her to the back to measure her. Goldman described being measured in a very entertaining way and, it turned out the measurement instrument being used did not fit around her.

There was nothing in that store that was her size. She went on a hilarious rant about her reaction to that.

IMG_0728
Julie Goldman doing a q and a session after her performance.

Goldman finished up by singing a song about being a lesbian, while playing a guitar. There was constant laughter in the crowd throughout it.  After her performance, she had a question and answer session with the crowd.

Before it started, some people decided to leave and, Goldman heckled them as they left.  She received questions mostly about the background of some of her stories she told. One student asked if she has a good relationship with her mother. Goldman laughed and said that she loves her mom to death.

Goldman currently hosts her own show The Peoples Couch on Bravo. She has also performed on Comedy Central, E!, Rupaul’s Drag Race, LOGO and VH1. She was a star on Logo’s Big Gay Sketch Show and was a comedy writer for E!’s Fashion Police.

Where did all the gays go?

When Ohio University courts potential students, it sells, perhaps oversells, the idea of community. It boasts loud and proud about the Bobcat family, their supportive attitude, and the comfort they provide to students who are living on their own for the first time.

Within this microcosm are other, more specific communities. One that’s currently clinging to relevancy is the gay community of Athens, Ohio. For years, a large gay presence was seen in pride parades, pop-up dance nights, and parties scattered throughout off campus housing. Recently the community, if there even is one anymore, is dismal, and appears to continue unraveling. But the question that remains to be answered is why. Looking ahead at an uncertain future, is a gay community in Athens salvageable, and more importantly, necessary?

Tyler Barton came to OU in 2007 as a freshman undergrad and is now the residential coordinator for Brown Hall. Throughout his time here, he’s seen what he considers the peak of the Athens gay community, and its demise.

“When I first got to OU there were multiple LGBT student organizations that were a pretty big deal. Open Doors discussion group had 30 or more people who went every week. Gay dance night at Casa used to have a giant line just to get in. There were large groups of friends that were almost entirely gay. There were parties with dozens of gay people and maybe a couple of straight people sprinkled in,” says Barton. “There was a large, visible gay community and it was awesome. You just don’t see that anymore.”

Louis Baragona, a junior, lives in the ruins of a once thriving area for gay people.

“I would say our gay scene is when three gay people maybe end up in a room at a party,” says Baragona. “Our gay community is fairly small and sort of exclusive and separated. There are different groups of gay people that somewhat associate with each other and outside of those groups will occasionally intertwine in terms of hookups/relationships.”

Baragona claims that the lack of a united community results in strained relations between gay people on campus. A competitive environment has surfaced where making worthwhile friendships or relationships is tough.

“The gay people in Athens have left a bad impression on me,” says Baragona. “I’ve been called fat by half of them, and the other half I’ve hooked up with, neither of which is a major recipe for friendship.”

While a large group of friends of the same sexual orientation is a privilege of straight people, for gay people it can be a luxury.

“My friend group is primarily straight people, and it sucks,” says Nicole Abele, a sophomore. “Talking to them about gay things can be weird because they don’t know what the hell I’m talking about half the time. I catch myself making gay jokes they don’t get and I realize how lonely it can be without people who are going through similar experiences.”

Baragona has a similar social circle, composed of almost entirely straight girls. And although he says it hasn’t necessarily affected his personal growth, it does make him more aware of his status as the lone gay in the group.

“At bars in Athens I’m always aware this is a straight bar, and if my one gay friend isn’t there it’s entirely possible I am the only gay person in the bar,” he says. “Girl friends are great but you can only be an ally to the community for so long before you’re a straight girl and there’s a slight disconnect.”

Zipporah Abrams, a senior, says that although there is a gay community here, it’s small and relatively inclusive. She was lucky to make a strong group of gay friends early in her college career but thinks for a current freshman it wouldn’t be so easy. She remembers as a freshman how much stronger the presence of gay people on campus was, and how it’s now a shadow of its former self.

“The people who were perpetuating and keeping the gay community alive are mostly gone. I feel like there are a lot of gay people on campus, but they may not be so open or involved with LGBT life so they stay isolated,” she says.

She goes on to say what whatever culture is left exists in secluded cliques. Many of those cliques frequent OU’s LGBT Center, according to Baragona. Despite being a safe zone, it often ends up being a place of judgment.

“I think our LGBT center is for the activist gays, the ones who build their whole identity on being gay and being mad at society and trying to find a space of Zen in their sexuality, which can come off a little superior. Its presence is really polarizing and not helpful to be very honest. I feel excluded by the LGBT center,” he says. “Everyone there is gender fluid or toying with their sexuality in different ends of the spectrum. Going there would be like a nun walking into a commune. It wouldn’t really make sense for me to be there.”

Abele also finds the LGBT center unwelcoming, noting that recently they had to conduct a meeting about how they treat new visitors.

“The people there are overly sensitive. There are so many taboo topics in that place. If you say the wrong thing they’re instantly offended, and then you’re ousted. It’s not a safe zone anymore and hasn’t been for a while,” she says. “It’s a cult when it should be a club, so barely any casual gay people go there to hangout. It can be uncomfortable when it should be welcoming.”

Barton, recognizes that the localized community here suffered greatly when key leaders of the various LGBT organizations left town but also thinks it has something to do with the gay community at large.

“The lack of gay culture here is consistent with the broader gay movement, which has become very assimilationist,” says Barton. “The goal now is to appear heteronormative, get married, have kids and pride yourself on fitting in with mainstream culture,” he says. “For decades the idea was recognizing the establishment culture was shitty, realizing we didn’t fit in and didn’t need to, and to have our own culture. It didn’t mean oppress us. It just meant that we could still be contributing members of society without sacrificing who we were. It was very in your face queer, now I see so much less of that.”

Not only has the gay community changed its focus, it also communicates differently. Through technology, apps allow gay people to chat and meet without the middleman of a bar or club.

“Before there was a true need to have explicitly gay social events because that’s how you met gay people. But now you can meet a lot of gay people on campus online,” says Barton. “Grindr, the biggest app, is primarily used for casual sex, which ends up being like fast food. You do it, you’re done, and then you’re home alone.”

The problem with technology is that although there’s a virtual community in place to test the gay waters, there’s no physical manifestation of its members, leaving many who use it to still feel isolated and without a support system.

“Grindr doesn’t create any shared sense of culture nor does it promote a solid community. It physically is incapable of doing so,” says Barton. “It just allows people to live their semi-closeted heteronormative life and still have their gay sex on the side.”

Abele, who’s experienced harassment about her orientation on multiple occasions, believes there is a strong need for a gay community. She believes it would benefit those in the LGBT community who feel isolated, and it would be a chance for straight people to become more educated and understanding of the gay experience.

“Most of people here accept you, but there’s an underbelly of homophobia that they hide, says Abele. “It’s like straight pride down here. I think if there were more gay people, everybody would eventually be more comfortable and less ignorant.”

Barton recognizes that at this point the only way to resuscitate a gay presence in Athens is to completely rebrand and rebuild it, starting with social events and friendlier attitudes.

“Gayness — not sexual acts but living life as a gay person — is about a culture. Within a culture there are symbols, music, an inside understanding where people can joke and relate to what they have in common,” says Barton. “In order to re-establish a community here, there has to be gay events that people want to go to. There has to be interest. We have the numbers here. We know right now a lot of gay people are divided, but if a couple of people really stepped outside their comfort zone to socialize with new people and make gay dance nights fun again, the community could resurface as quickly as it disappeared.”

***

Deven Middleton is a strategic communications major in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Although his dream job is still hidden deep in his subconscious, he hopes to one day make an honest living off his writing to lead a partially dishonest life. Connect with him on Twitter @devenmiddleton.

 

Positive LGBT activities at Ohio University

My story, a personal essay on my recent feelings of loneliness, is a little bit depressing. It’s hard to write and hard to read. I want to make sure that though I have felt unhappy or disenfranchised, I’m also exploring the options and resources offered to me as a member of the LGBT community. While sometimes our community feels small or far-apart, we have the option to tell our stories, allowing us to learn and to educate those on our campus willing to participate in sharing LGBT experiences.

Ohio University’s LGBT Center offers activities that are innovative and informative, centered on breaking the walls of marginalization in a community with a sparse LGBT presence.

Speakout! Panels
These student-run and organized panels  provide up close experiences in an honest and safe environment. Made up of four or five students, the panels encompass LGBT experiences and bring them close to home. Speakout! Panels can be booked for class times or for out-of-class activities.

SafeZone
SafeZone is a series of workshops or training sessions on becoming a major ally to the LGBT community. SafeZone certification means one is tolerant and willing to listen in the hopes of learning and protecting the experiences of LGBT students. Safety is in the name, and it’s an apt reference to the secure nature that certification brings. A SafeZone-certified person offers a sympathetic ear, advice, or just a word of encouragement. I always feel a little brighter after seeing people on campus wearing SafeZone pins or stickers.

Dine N Discuss
LGBT Center’s Dine N Discuss offers both lunch and conversation. The topics vary, whether it’s a discussion on coming out or trans experiences.

 

Walking home at midnight on Court Street

The cold November air bites at my face as I walk, a dark figure navigating through stumbling students as they head down Court Street toward the bars and I head home, staring straight ahead and trying not to make eye contact with anyone who passes me by.

To be heading home at midnight from the bars on Court Street in Athens, Ohio, is a clear sign of a problem.

“I think I’m just gonna go home,” I whispered into a friend’s ear over the pulsating bass of Pitbull’s confusingly catchy Spanglish.

“What’s wrong?” my friend asked, noticing that I was practically twitching as I nervously bit the end of my straw and hopped off my barstool.

“Nothing! I’m just tired,” I said, using a classically transparent excuse for something I  just didn’t want to explain for fear that I would sound ungrateful, insecure, or even worse, like a boring and whiny buzzkill.

I stop at the corner of the street and wait as cars careen past me and turn onto Court.

Court Street is beautiful. “It’s like a little piece of New York City. It’s perfect for you!” my mom had gushed on my first visit, looking around in amazement at the busy street.

The first time I walked down Court Street, I felt magic. I attempted to hide my awestricken excitement by distancing myself from my mom as she power walked to the T-shirt shops in the hopes of finding an OU MOM!!! <3 T-shirt.

My mother wasn’t with me as I took Court Street on my own, fake ID (about 50 pounds from the truth) in hand and wide-eyed enthusiasm in exploring each of the bars, and learning the ins and outs of Court, propelling me throughout the weekend nights.

“Grilled cheese! Only $5! Want one!?” yells an enthusiastic sorority girl, practically thrusting the piping hot ball of aluminum masquerading as a sandwich into my mouth.

“Sorry, I’m lactose intolerant,” I mutter as I meander down the street toward my apartment, located above China King on Court. The lights of the illuminated China in China King have gone out, so only the word King glows red at night.

My phone chimes with a text as I near my door. Two guys smoking cigarettes outside my building entrance give me a halfhearted nod of greeting as I punch in the code and look down at my text messages.

“Is everything okay?” asks another friend I had been out with earlier in the night.

“I’m just having a weird night,” I say.

I have trouble keeping up false pretenses with my friends when I go out. The truth is I’ve grown tired of the bars, Court Street, and the hook-up and dating culture that permeates them. I’ve become exhausted by going out with my female friends and feeling like I’m holding them back from flirting with boys because I’m the clingy fungus that attracts about as many boys as an undercover cop at the Crystal.

I hate to admit it, but part of my problem is that I haven’t gotten as much male attention as I’ve wanted in Athens.

As my friends have all dated, rejected, or hooked up with boys ranging from subpar to husband-material, I’ve felt stagnant in my complete lack of ability to find a boy who will even text me, let alone spend actual time with me in a romantic way.

I remember telling myself in high school that I would definitely have a boyfriend in college, practically assuring myself that OU was a sea of gay people, the academic equivalent of a pride parade. The piece of the puzzle I was missing, or subconsciously attempting to ignore, was that I was choosing a school with a very sparse gay population in the middle of Southeast Ohio.

Now I’ve been reduced to pity matchmaking in a place where I know almost every single gay person who steps foot on the red bricks of this campus.

“Oh you have to meet my friend,” an eager and well-meaning straight girl tells me as she grasps my hand conspiratorially and searches through her Instagram followers for the man in question.

My mind races for a second. I’m an optimist at heart, always hoping that maybe a cliché mystery man will emerge from some dorm room or Palmer Place or wherever the hell hidden societies of attractive gay men tend to hide.

“Here he is,” she says as she points to the screen, practically giggling with sheer joy at her matchmaking abilities, probably already planning our not-legal-in-Ohio gay wedding.

“Oh yeah, I’ve met him,” I say, hoping not to burst her bubble entirely, and feeling the rush of optimism exit my veins, leaving me a little bit deflated.

I climb the stairs to my apartment, the familiar smell of my neighbors’ weed filling the hallway of the building.

As I reach my door, I dial my mom’s cell phone and she picks up on the second ring.

“You know I’ve never really seen you like this,” my mom tells me after I rant on the phone to her about my grievances.

My mom has been sick my whole life. She pushed for me to go to OU and to leave home, despite my guilt for leaving her. As her youngest kid of four and her only boy I’ve worried about her throughout my time in Athens.

“Maybe this is my fault,” she says, “I’ve made you and your sisters think it’s all about having a man in your life.” My mom’s signature move is to blame herself for things and then launch into an autobiography about the struggles she has overcome in life.

“It’s not that, Mom. It’s more than that. There are only so many boys here and there is only so much room for me here,” I reply, hoping that my mom isn’t coming to the conclusion I’m as dependent on male attention as I sound.

It really isn’t all about boys.

I would compare what I’m feeling to rock fever.

Urban Dictionary (the Webster of my good old millennial generation) defines the term rock fever as “the hemmed-in, claustrophobic, trapped feeling mainlanders get when they spend too much time in Hawaii.”

Athens is my Hawaii. I escaped the mainland, my hometown of Akron, for the freedom and exotic beauty of Athens, a refreshing and unfamiliar island nestled into the confines of a sea of highways, farms, and forests.

There is no denying Athens is a special place. Its magic isn’t definable. Court Street is like Mecca for college partygoers. Fest season is considered a carefree time of nirvana, and the town itself is a community that seems to expand beyond the borders of poverty with constant exploration of culture and hometown pride.

I can’t be the only one who has seen the magic of Court Street slip away from me with time. The expanse of the main street in the small town we call home is only so large, over the years twisting from something that had once made me feel grown-up and carefree into something that made me feel jaded and limited. I can’t be the only one who has wondered if there isn’t more or if I’ve seen and done it all.

After I tell my mom I love her and hang up the phone, I make another call to my best friend, Deven, as I heat up leftover Chipotle in my microwave and attempt to navigate through the mess my roommate has made of the kitchen.

“You know too much,” Deven says after I attempt explaining to him the direction my night has taken. “You know this is all bullshit. You know deep down it should be better and that’s been gnawing at you for a while,” he says.

“When it’s fun, it’s fun, but when it’s not it just isn’t,” I say as I grab my bowl out of the microwave and go sit on my futon and stare out the window. My living room windows face Court Street, a perfect view of the Athena Grand’s lights and the drunken crowds that take over Jimmy John’s Thursday through Saturday.

“You can’t keep pretending to have a great night at the CI every weekend and you can’t keep pretending that some of the stuff you’re doing here isn’t bullshit, but you also can’t keep ignoring the great stuff in order to focus on the negative stuff,” Deven says.

Deven is right. I do know too much. I’ve seen too much.

As a freshman with starry eyes on weekend nights I sought to find out everything there was to know about Athens and what it was like to suddenly have access to bars, guys, and freedom without the worries of my mom or my hometown.

Eventually I found my answers and I learned everything there was to know. I met who I needed to meet and I became who I wanted to be. Athens and Court Street are only so big and there is only so much to find out, only so many possibilities.

In Athens, my possibilities are limited.

Eventually after a long talk, Deven and I say good night and I look out my window as I finish my Chipotle.

I see people walking home from bars and I watch them do what I did an hour ago, try to walk home through the cold almost-winter wind without seeming unhappy or killing the vibe everyone on Court Street is working so hard to uphold.

I give them a silent salute, finish my burrito bowl, and attempt to gather whatever positive vibes are left in my apartment in the middle of it all on Court Street.

 ***

 Louis Baragona is a junior news and information journalism student at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Louis’ career aspirations are to make celebrities laugh while revealing highly personal information about themselves on live television, to write stories for a magazine, to become Beyonce’s close friend, and to make his mom proud. When not writing, Louis is watching Braxton Family Values, listening to SZA, trying to be funny, or eating alarming amounts of Chipotle.