As Princeton’s paper of record, The Daily Princetonian plays an important role in the creation and maintenance of the queer archive on campus. Unfortunately, given a history of violence toward and attempted erasure of the LGBTQ+ community, the archive of queer existence on this campus and beyond is often remarkably thin and marred by a lack of empathy for its subjects.

This issue, entitled “Queer Remembrances, Queer Futures” argues that, before diving into the present challenges and future aspirations of the queer community, it is essential to provide space for reflections back on queer narratives of the past. In potent prose, Professor Jeff Nunokawa and Dean of the College Jill Dolan reflect on their experiences as members of the LGBTQ+ community in the 1970s, documenting the vastly different reality for the LGBTQ+ community just a couple of decades ago. Engaging with the past can inform how the queer community tackles critical issues in the present and how they imagine a future where fear of plurality is subsumed by celebration.

In this issue, we do just that — exploring queer students’ experiences securing housing accommodations, the power of representation offered by campus queer student-athletes Abby Meyers ’22 and Marge Donovan ’22, and a reflection on living between worlds by a queer Muslim student. Together, their stories form a snapshot of Princeton’s LGBTQ+ community today.

But we are looking forward as well, challenging the design and content conventions of our paper in a digital and print product that incorporates the work of queer artists and their reflections on identity. In self-essays and profiles of LGBTQ+ students on campus like Josh Babu ’22 and Griffin Maxwell Brooks ’23, we offer a multiplicity of queer experiences that affirm the present diversity of queer voices, ushering in a future that embraces queer experiences and identities on their own terms. 

We conceive of this more than anything as an invitation to the queer community on campus. An invitation can only be truly genuine when it goes beyond empty words: The content curated for this issue represents a public record — and a public commitment — to elevating the voices and stories of queer folks in our pages.

Our sincere hope is that this marks not a one-off product, but a catalyst for continued, consistent, and abundant storytelling in the ‘Prince’ for and by members of the Princeton queer community. 

Omar Farah is a Managing Editor at the ‘Prince’. They are also a queer visual artist and curator who have poured their heart and soul into this issue. They can be reached at ofarah@princeton.edu.

Marie-Rose Sheinerman is the Editor-in-Chief of the ‘Prince.’ She has endless gratitude and admiration for the staffers and editors who made this issue possible. She can be reached at eic@dailyprincetonian.com.


In a Manhattan nightclub, Griffin Maxwell Brooks comes alive

By Sam Kagan

It’s 2 a.m. A pop-house remix of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” is playing loud enough to make your teeth chatter. And the pride of Princeton diving is plunging into a crowd of 600-odd fully vaccinated, mostly queer, and scarcely clothed partygoers in Midtown Manhattan.

As tequila-powered dancers stumble through the strobe-obsessed basement venue, Griffin Maxwell Brooks ’23 literally rises above it. Wearing little more than an oversized white faux-fur vest and tight-fitting black leather pants, they grab hold of their necklaces (one pearl and one a Beanie Baby Dalmatian head), lean against my shoulder, and hoist themself atop a table. 

Griffin Maxwell Brooks ’23.

Brooks is a paradox. Unapologetically queer and expressive, their larger-than-life wardrobe and personality stand out among the clean-cut khaki of Princeton, N.J. All the same, balancing a rocket scientist’s course rigor with the demands of a Division I sport are hardly the norm in New York City’s queer nightlife scene. For Brooks, life itself is a contradiction in terms, a never-ending balancing act of remarkably disparate identities.

“I am me,” they told me. “Queer, genderfluid, gay, all of those things, on a men’s varsity athletic team at Princeton. It’s funny, I wouldn’t call myself not a walking dichotomy.”

A junior majoring in mechanical and aerospace engineering, Brooks’ ascendance to New York nightclub notoriety took hold through TikTok. The self-described “digital club kid” carved a niche of comedy, fashion, and social justice rooted in their queer identity, earning @griffinmaxwellbrooks (they always go by their “government name”) over 980,000 followers. 

“Social media [is] a place where I can express my ideas and philosophies and show people my life,” explained Brooks, who identifies as non-binary, gay, and genderfluid

Brooks’ daily TikToks garner hundreds of thousands of views and offer a glimpse into their label-defying personality. Boasting a brand of affirmational positivity, tongue-in-cheek confidence, and fiercely independent expression, they’re a digital flagbearer for Gen Z’s queer community.

While Brooks’ public persona appears effortless and easy-going, their stature as a young, queer public figure often invites challenging private conversations.

“My DMs are full of people saying ‘you helped me figure out that I’m non-binary, you helped me figure out that I’m gay or that I’m this, that I’m that, or just helped me be more comfortable in my own body,’” they said.

“Does that weigh on you?” I asked.

“A little bit. I think that the part of it that’s a compliment seriously outweighs the worry.”

“What’s the worry?”

“The worry [is] that I’m steering people wrong, but I’ve never felt like I’m steering people wrong. The notion that I’m steering people wrong only ever comes out of the mouths of people whose perspective on queer people may be not the most politically correct,” they responded.

Brooks expanded their persona beyond the internet in the summer of 2021, launching into queer nightlife and quickly becoming a regular at Manhattan parties thrown by the legendary event producer Susanne Bartsch.

A view from inside the Bartschland event venue.

“[When] the summer hit, TikTok started to merge with real life because people were going outside again,” Brooks said. But once the vaccine came out, “it dawned on me that I did have fans, that it wasn’t just a number of faceless people on the internet commenting. I’d go out to parties, and nightclubs, or just to Washington Square Park and people would be like ‘You’re the kid from TikTok.’”

“I think a lot of people think [Princeton] is the world,” they continued. “I don’t. It gets suffocating, when you treat it like the world … so I leave.”

‘Confidence is just a made up word’

Typically “escaping” to Manhattan as often as three nights a week, Brooks has lived the overwhelming majority of their life in suburban New Jersey. They grew up just an hour north of Princeton in sleepy Berkeley Heights, a community Brooks calls “semi-conservative.” At home, they often faced rampant homophobia. 

“Senior year, me and Griffin and all of the other queer people sat together, literally separated from the rest of our classmates,” explained Monica Martinez, Brooks’ friend and high school classmate. “I saw firsthand how Griffin was ostracized. They were bullied by people, often left out of things, and just the dynamic of the school [was that] people didn’t really talk about it, they didn’t really recognize it as ‘Oh, you’re being homophobic.’”

Years removed from the days of high school bullying, Brooks now derives strength and value from their queer identity. They identified changes in their mentality as a key reason for their radical shift.

“A lot of my mindset is very ‘fake it till you make it,’” they explained. “Confidence is just a made up word for you to use to describe when you stop caring what people think. So just stop. Just go out and do your thing and don’t look at the eyes of people who look at you. That’s how I want to be so that’s how I am.”

And while Princeton is a wholesale improvement upon Berkeley Heights, Brooks noted, the school is often a difficult place for queer students.

On Dec. 13, 2021, they made a TikTok stating just that. “My name is Griffin Maxwell Brooks,” they said, “and as a queer, and gender nonconforming person, I often feel unvalued, unwelcome, and sometimes unsafe here at Princeton University. Have a good night.”

In an interview, they elaborated on the substantial disconnect between Princeton and New York, specifically with regard to queer spaces and culture.

“Queer is an identity that encapsulates a culture,” they said, “and there is not a lot of that culture at Princeton. We’re very different. When I meet somebody in New York and they hear about [Princeton], they make a face. They’re like ‘You’re a what now? You go to Princeton?’ or they’re like ‘What is that?’” 

I mentioned to Brooks that the University has a considerable gay population, with over 25 percent of first-year undergraduates identifying as LGBTQ+. They didn’t quite buy it. 

“There’s a difference between being gay and being queer,” they said. “Princeton might be gay but it isn’t very queer.”

Brooks’ claim isn’t hard to verify. The revealing white crop top and hot pink sunglasses they wore to our interview are easy to spot amidst a sea of sweatpants and loose hoodies.

“People [at Princeton] look at me and think ‘What the hell?’” they explained. “But any press is good press. I like the way I look. There’s nothing offensive about the way I look or dress or act. So I know that when people are taken aback by it, it either comes from ignorance, surprise, or admiration.”

‘Some might say camp’

“How would you describe the way you dress?” I asked.

Eclectic, flashy, over the top,” they responded. “Some might say camp.”

Juan Hermo ’23, Brooks’ roommate, sees the way Brooks dresses and speaks as a necessary form of representation. 

“I don’t wanna say ‘walk around and be a stereotype,’ but that’s what we do,” Hermo said. “We walk around, we use the gay words, we dress the gay way, and if you don’t, then they forget you exist and it’s all the easier to erase you.”

Brooks’ attire may be too outlandish to erase. Their TikTok account features countless videos of them getting dressed in the morning, styling tight-fitting corsets and towering high-heel boots alongside cropped knit sweaters and shoulder-length earrings.

Their unconventional mix of sheer and skin is par for the course in Midtown. Nobody notices jewelry featuring a pair of miniature swords next to a man covered head-to-toe in intricately painted cheetah spots wearing only gold briefs and a lady toting five pounds of denim on her head.

“The way you fit in at a Susanne Bartsch event is by standing out,” Brooks told me in Manhattan, gesturing to a woman coated in green paint sporting gold panties, star-shaped pasties, and thigh-high black rubber boots. “People dress like [it’s Halloween] literally whenever we want.”

Bartschland” is a world unto itself. Born in Switzerland, Bartsch rose to prominence as a tastemaker after moving to New York City in 1981. She helped expand followings for now-prominent designers like Vivienne Westwood and Marc Jacobs; launched the career of drag megastar RuPaul; and hosted parties at the legendary Copacabana

The event I attended alongside Brooks — one in a series of Bartschland spectacles — was a practicum in garish absurdity. Located at Sony Hall in the basement of the Paramount Hotel, the event featured outrageous costumes and began with a burlesque show which included, among other things:

Lola von Rox stripping naked and covering herself in spray paint before pulling a chain out of her vagina;

Pissy Pussy parading around on stage in a sparkling red skin-tight bodysuit and makeup ala Jim Carrey’s “The Mask” to the tune of “Mr. Saxobeat;”

Julie Atlas Muz appearing seemingly out of nowhere in a black thong and copious amounts of body glitter before encapsulating herself in a large, clear silicone bubble;

And László Major twirling around a precariously mounted silver firehouse pole, displaying bedazzled nipples through an overwhelming display of strobe lights.

According to Brooks, this is all more or less standard for a Bartsch party. Her regular crowd ranges from queer royalty to nervous students, but the events are open to anybody with $45 and the desire to buy a ticket

Seeking to expand her digital presence, last year Bartsch hired Brooks to run her TikTok account. The influencer was tasked with utilizing their extensive savvy to further build the Bartsch brand.

Griffin Maxwell Brooks ’23 and Susanne Bartsch.


‘My space to be me’

For those who know Brooks, Bartsch’s interest was of little surprise. At once charming and charismatic, Brooks’ magnetic personality affords them an ever-present and constantly-growing harem as we weave through the dance floor. They’re a modern socialite and a consummate people person — everybody seems to want to speak to them and they seem to want to speak to everybody.

“The way that Griffin can read a room and make every single person in that room feel as though they belong there is such a gift,” said Topaz Winters ’23, Brooks’ close friend. “I can, and routinely do, talk to them for hours about love and sex and life and gender. They’re such a delight.”

Gender is little more than a foreign, far-off idea in Bartschland. The space’s abundant queerness and unrelenting dress both embraces the extremities of gender expression and eradicates the concept completely. 

“How do you think about gender in a space like this?” I asked Brooks after watching a drag queen adorned in lace shred a rock ballad. 

“I don’t,” they replied. “It’s all either non-existent or super exaggerated.”

Murray Hill, a drag king comedian who hosted the event, put it best. 

“You’re wondering,” Hill said to a seemingly perplexed audience member, “is that a man or a woman? The answer, sir, is ‘no!’ And in case you were wondering, my pronouns are yabba/dabba/doo!”

With regard to gender, Brooks lives simply as they please: dressing and behaving without so much as a passing consideration for assigned norms. Exemplified by the dramatic eyeliner and pearl jewelry in which they chose to be photographed for their Princeton Athletics profile, it’s difficult to overstate Brooks’ fervent rejection of norms. 

Diving, and the abundant responsibilities that accompany Division I varsity athletics, is also a notable component of Brooks’ life — and a sizable time commitment in and of itself. When their team was not holding workouts during the summer of 2021, they continued training regularly on their own, going to great lengths to stay in form.

“I dove for the summer, like four days out of the week,” they said. “It was a two-hour long practice but I had to get on my electric longboard and go from [Lower Manhattan] up to Grand Central, the safety of which I will not comment on … and then I’d get on the train and take it to Greenwich, Connecticut. It was the closest pool that would have me.”

“You would take the train an hour to Greenwich just to dive?” I asked.

“When things were shut down, there weren’t indoor pools that were open to the public,” they explained. “The places in New Jersey where I could practice were Princeton and potentially Rutgers. Rutgers, they said no, and Princeton said no unless you were in the testing protocol. And NYU said no. The only place I could find was the YMCA in Greenwich, Connecticut.”

“Do you ever get tired?”

“Sometimes. When I do, I have some coffee, or a Red Bull. But typically, I run on straight fumes.”

Luckily, supplementing the fumes, Brooks feels supported by their teammates and even somewhat at home among athletes on campus. 

“Diving is much more queer than swimming and lots of other competitive sports,” Brooks said. “I fit in with the divers. The dive team has other queer presences.” 

Nevertheless, the nature of varsity athletics is one which can often be inhospitable to LGBTQ+ students, even in ostensibly liberal and accepting spaces. 

“I’m the most presentationally queer on my team,” Brooks continued. “It’s difficult … [people] stray away from me because of it. I think that being remotely feminine is an instant no-no for homosocial fraternal spaces like a men’s athletic team.”

Similarly detached from Brooks’ Manhattan presence is their love of engineering — a drive they’ve honed since they matriculated, alongside Martinez, at Union County Magnet High School, a small application-based public school for STEM students.

“Everybody was insanely smart,” said Martinez, referencing the institution’s engineering magnet status.

For Brooks, that aptitude continued right through college. 

“They are wildly smart,” said Winters. “That kid knows numbers and engineering like nobody else … I make fun of Griffin because I think they work too much and if you know me, people think I work too much. They worry so much about stuff like grades, stuff like classes and, not a lot of people know that about them.”

Topaz Winters ’23 and Griffin Maxwell Brooks ’23.

“My brain is very STEM-oriented,” Brooks said, “so my mind is kind of like a bulleted list. I’m going to do this, then I’m going to go here, then I’m going to do that and then I’m going to go to bed. And then I’m going to wake up, sometimes two hours later, and do it all again.”

Brooks’ STEM work often surprises their Manhattan acquaintances.

“[People] usually ask me ‘What do you do?’” Brooks said.

“‘I’m a student.’

‘Oh, where do you go to school?’

‘Oh, Princeton.’

‘Oh, that’s far.’

‘Yeah, I have a car.’

‘Oh, okay.’

And then, ‘what do you major in?’

And then I usually say ‘you’ll never guess.’

And they’re like ‘I don’t know. Philosophy? Psychology?’

And I’m like ‘mechanical engineering.’

And they’re like ‘You’re right, I would not have guessed that.’”

At first glance, Brooks’ pursuits may appear confoundingly disparate. Yet, as with most things in their life, Brooks exudes a sense of cool control about the chaos — to them, honing a smorgasbord of passions comes naturally. 

“They all work together in a non-tangible way,” they said of their various interests. “They all play together, in a really weird way. I think the way my brain works is conducive to all of these things, it just so happens that all of them are wildly unrelated.”

It’s unclear which of Brooks’ many talents will continue with them after school. But, despite the excitement about life beyond University classrooms, they remain committed to their engineering aspirations.

“I [may] never become an engineer; that’s very possible,” they said. “I definitely think it’s likely that I do [though]. I think it’ll be in an interesting capacity. I might do, you know, 10 years of being a socialite and then I’m like ‘okay, time to be an engineer.’” 

At 3:30 a.m., Bartsch’s crowd is left weary and depleted. Though Brooks hasn’t sat down since we arrived over seven hours ago, the rest of the venue had tired, shrinking to no more than 150 people.

Brooks told me they didn’t want to leave. But they had assignments and practice and a whole host of other obligations, likely due to begin in a matter of hours. So we piled into “Karen the Stallion,” their white 2014 BMW X3, and headed home. We arrived on campus at 5:20 a.m.

“How do you do it?” I asked them. “How do you stay up all night two or three times a week and not absolutely die?”

“I love it. You have to love it. I lived a whole second day in that space,” they replied. “I do it because I have to — it’s my space to be me.”

Sam Kagan is the Head Data Editor and a senior writer with experience reporting on University finances, alum in government, University COVID-19 policy, and more. His projects, including the Frosh Survey, focus on numerical storytelling and data journalism. He previously served as a news editor. Sam can be reached at skagan@princeton.edu or on Twitter @thesamkagan.

how whole

By Anonymous

i asked her:
what if our gods were not gods

and not men? then, would you let me
place your hands on my breasts, so that they could feel

the throbbing beat? what if we could pray
to demons, and over the balcony

hang up our dripping sins to dry
in the morning sun, as soft and laundered

as bedsheets? what if you could
bruise my neck beneath a bruise-colored

sky, or any sky, and not feel your bones
folding into themselves like

paper crumpling beneath a great palm.
what if we could have lived, alive, sucking our

air through shared lungs. and in the morgue, when
they peeled our body open

the sheet might remain on the floor, our skin burning
beneath fearless fluorescent lights, and

they could have taken
three-dimensional photographs

of our skeleton, so that the world could know

how whole we are, how holy.

By Omar Jason Farah

By Omar Jason Farah

Raw Fish

By Elliott Hyon

Look past dried sheets of salty seaweed

and you will find me tucked underneath

crunchy flakes of tempura and

smoky orange roe. My skin bruises as

you brush me with soy sauce and

wasabi, a brown-green paste mixture

that reminds me of the grains of sand

you scrubbed off my body. You sliced me

open with care, pink flesh gently yielding

under the knife you made sure

to sharpen, the same one you wielded

to rip me away from the bone when

you fileted me. Maybe I am to blame

when I bent over for you, rolled

and compressed deep into pickled radish

and minty perilla leaves. Did I taste good

on your tongue, did my bare flesh

remind you of the sea that you conquered?

But I am no ocean spirit, just raw fish

pressed onto rice and made tender

against my will.

against my will.

against my will.

against my will.

against my will.

against my will.

against my will.

against my will.


Remembrance of gay things past: My local gay bar

By Jeff Nunokawa

Content Warning: The following piece contains references to drug use and gun violence.

I wrote this several days after the slaughter at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Fla. June 12, 2016, where a gunman killed 49 people before killing himself, on June 12, 2016.


I got all my sisters with me (Sister Sledge)

Courtesy of Lambda Archives

I don’t think that poppers are probably very good for you. They’re probably bad for your heart. Also, they may not be as much fun as they used to be. My best friend tells me that the formula for them has changed, and that what’s available now is a pale substitute for what we used back in the day. I don’t get out much anymore, so for all I know, the same may be true about the place where I was introduced to them: my local gay bar. For all I know, the formula for that bar has been so diluted and displaced by all the apps, that the local gay bar I knew doesn’t even exist anymore.

In my youth, your local gay bar was a place you could go if you were gay or lesbian of any size or shape and wanted to feel safe from the various kinds of sticks and stones that came for you then. (The shapes and size of those sticks and stones have changed some in shape and size since I felt them, but they haven’t lost any of their power to draw blood, real and metaphorical.)

That local gay bar was a big and noisy tent. There was room there for anyone who was “Queer,” though we didn’t use that word back then. And it welcomed everyone else too, including the boys who said they were there because they “just liked to dance” — though I have to tell you, we often thought of the boys who were there because they “just liked to dance” the same way we did the ones who told us they were bisexual: guys who just hadn’t gotten around to coming out yet. (There’s another formula that’s changed, I think.)

I don’t remember when exactly in the fall of 1976, my freshman year, that I got up the nerve to go to my local gay bar, a place close to campus called Partners. And I can’t remember all the friendships I started there –(a fair number of them lasted for longer than a night; a couple of them look like they’ll be around for last call).

I’ll tell you something I do remember though: a group of young lesbians who hung around the dance floor with tambourines, poppers, and whistles. I knew them a little from the local Wawa where they worked. I’m not exactly sure why they were so friendly to me. Maybe they could see I was a nerdy kid from far away just trying to fit in. Maybe they thought I was funny. Maybe they were just friendly. One thing’s for sure, though. They (along with anyone else who happened to be looking) could sure see I wasn’t there because I “just liked to dance”. I didn’t like to dance. And I was terrible at it. There was nothing cool about my moves. They were a hyper-kinetic cry for help rather than anything that belonged under a disco ball.

Later on, a clued-up lesbian classmate gave me the best dancing lesson I’ve ever gotten: Jeff, just make sure that everything you do goes to the beat of the music and you’ll be fine. And mostly I have been. Of course, in recent years, I’ve mostly been fine by mostly staying as far away from the dance floor as possible. Back then though, there was no staying away from the dance floor. You had to get on it to get anywhere, and at the rate I was going, I was going nowhere fast. Then one night, one of those girls who worked at the Wa pulled me over to where she and her friends hung out, gave me a hit of poppers and pushed me back on to the dance floor. I felt like Fred Astaire. Also Ginger Rogers. Also Gene Kelly. Also, other dancers of more or less historical interest — but never mind all the footnotes now. You shouldn’t talk too much when you’re dancing or look at your feet, not to mention your footnotes. (People were always telling me that.)

I don’t think it was so much the poppers that made me feel good about my moves. I think it was those girls from the Wa, with their tambourines and their whistles, cheering me into believing that however much I might feel otherwise, I had the music in me.



1. Mom mom mom mom! (Norman Casiano, a patron at Pulse, on the phone with his mother during the attack.)

On the phone a couple of days after the attack, my mother, in the state of confusion that she got into sometimes toward the end of her life, mentioned that when she hadn’t heard from me, she got worried because of what happened at that bar in Orlando the night before. I wasn’t there that night, but I wanted to remember the ones who were there and didn’t get to talk to their mother the next day, or the day after that. It helps to remember that when I was young, I used to go to a bar like that, myself.

2. “It may be possible to do without dancing entirely. Instances have been known of young people passing many, many months successively, without being at any ball of any description, and no material injury accrue either to body or mind,; — but when a beginning is made — when the felicities of rapid motion have once been, though slightly, felt — it must be a very heavy set that does not ask for more” (Jane Austen, Emma).

Jeff Nunokawa is a professor of English at Princeton University.

Self essays at The Prospect give our writers and guest contributors the opportunity to share their perspectives. This essay reflects the views and lived experiences of the author. If you would like to submit a Self essay, contact us at prospect@dailyprincetonian.com.


The power of coming out — and of not having to

By Katherine Dailey

I built up the moment in my head for so long. With almost every person I’ve ever come out to, I have labored over the thought of having to actually go through with it.

I’ll never forget the very first time I came out to someone. It was to my best friend from home. We were sitting on the couch in my basement — my whole family was out at an end-of-season celebration for my little brother’s robotics team — and I said to her, “I don’t think I’m straight.” She gave me a hug. That was June 14, 2019, the very end of my junior year of high school. It’s been almost three years, and I’ll never forget that day.

I had no idea what kind of journey was in store for me. At the time, I identified as bisexual, and now I’m a lesbian. But before I could even find the words or the strength to say that out loud, I knew I wasn’t straight. I knew that something about my experience wasn’t like what the people around me were feeling.

It took a long time to put a word to those feelings. The COVID-19 pandemic gave me a lot of time alone with my thoughts for self-reflection, and starting college gave me a brand new chance to start over with whatever labels — or lack thereof — that I wanted. It let me build an identity where I was openly and visibly gay, all the time, and I stopped having to come out to people.

Maybe not everyone I pass on the way to class knows that I’m a lesbian, but looking at me, it’s pretty easy to figure out that I’m queer.

That was liberating. I didn’t have to work up the courage to tell everyone I was getting to know that I had some big secret to tell them — that I was gay. I could make jokes about my sexuality, especially with my other queer friends. We bonded over shared experiences, both good and bad, and it was never awkward to bring it up in conversation. I just existed, as a lesbian.

Katherine Dailey / The Daily Princetonian

I have a girlfriend now. I never thought I would get to say that. In concept, sure, I thought someday I would find someone who makes me happy, but it always felt out of reach in reality. The first few times I went on dates with girls, early on in my Princeton experience, I would have ridiculous bouts of incapacitating anxiety for days before, and I would struggle to even verbalize what I was feeling. It was all so new.

It felt just like staring at myself in the mirror of my childhood bedroom, pleading with myself to just be able to form the words: “I am gay.”

But as I became more comfortable in my own skin, settling into this label that I had chosen for myself, I began to feel like I had found a home in the word “lesbian.”

That’s not to say it’s all roses and sunshine. On Valentine’s Day this past year, I took my girlfriend out to dinner on Nassau Street. It was a moment that brought me so much joy — skipping multiple meetings to take my girlfriend out for a moment that could just be ours. But I went home that night and scrolled through Instagram story after Instagram story of friends from Princeton and from home with their significant others, largely those in heterosexual relationships, and I cried, wishing that I could be so open about this person who I care so much about. But at the time, my parents didn’t know I was gay, and I wasn’t ready to tell them quite yet, so that wasn’t an option.

Even still, I think about how much better it is here, where I am openly and unapologetically queer. I brought my girlfriend to the sophomore “redemption prom,” something I never would have dreamed of in high school. We hold hands as we walk around campus, and we make fun of the few times we’ve been mistaken for friends or roommates by some oblivious acquaintance.

The concept of “coming out” is certainly not flawless, even beyond the obvious flaw that only queer people have to do it. And it’s liberating to be in a space where I don’t have to “come out” to everyone I’m talking to — I can just mention my girlfriend to my coworker at my campus job or crack a joke about being gay and no one bats an eye.

But I’ll never forget the first times I was able to say those words to someone else, or even to myself. After months and years of trying to reach a point of self-acceptance, even though I certainly hadn’t reached that self-acceptance yet, I was able to speak it into existence. I’m a lesbian, and there’s power in those words.

Katherine Dailey is a Co-Head News Editor who often covers breaking news, politics, and University affairs. She can be reached at kdailey@princeton.edu or on Twitter @kmdailey7.

PODCAST | An Interview with Pride Alliance

For the Daily Princetonian’s Queerness Issue, Associate Podcast Editor Eden Teshome sat down with the leaders of Pride Alliance to discuss its history as well as advocacy on campus. This episode was written by Kerrie Liang and Hope Perry, sound engineered and produced by Kerrie Liang, with additional production assistance by Hope Perry and Eden Teshome.


There’s no ‘moving on’ from queer marginalization

By Hannah Reynolds

Content Warning: The following piece references sexual assault. If you or a friend have experienced sexual misconduct and are in need of assistance, Princeton has a number of resources that may be of use. You can also reach SHARE, Princeton’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources and Education service at 609-258-3310.

Photo Courtesy of the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center website.

“Moving on…” — these words used to swiftly change the subject make me wince every time I hear them. I feel shame, embarrassment and discomfort, as if I had said something I clearly should not have; as if I lacked the self-awareness to realize how uncomfortable my words made others. It is striking to me how just two simple words can convey so much meaning, how something that simple can send the message so clearly that my identity and experiences are not worth dwelling upon. That we ought to just “move on” with the conversation.

These words have been said to me time and time again, in one form or another, since I first openly identified as queer. Sometimes, it’s “anyways…” or “anywho…” or just a total lack of regard for what I just said. These phrases are often used when I mention my sexual orientation in passing around people who are not part of the LGBTQ+ community and don’t know how to respond to my queerness. They are used in times when I am undeniably queer, making those around me uncomfortable. They are used to move the conversation past the queerness and to get back to something less “taboo” and “uncomfortable.”

These words seem like a natural way to deal with the awkward silence that follows the mention of the part of my identity seen by many as unnatural, deviant, or sinful. And yet somehow, those two simple words, ‘moving on,’ sting so much worse than any of the blatant homophobia I have experienced for much of my life.

To get to the root of the problem with the term ‘moving on’ and other similar phrases that seek to move past queerness, it is important to consider how differently heterosexuality is treated in the same context. As someone who is bisexual, I constantly experience double standards in response to the way I express my sexual orientation. After mentioning my same-gender attraction and past relationships, I have repeatedly experienced quick changes of the subject and awkward silences followed by something as inconsequential as a joke about being “in love” with a famous actress.

On the other hand, when speaking about my experiences dating and being attracted to men, I have not once experienced this kind of tension and change of subject. In fact, many of the same people who expressed discomfort by harmless references to queer love and identity found no such uneasiness when discussing my experiences of sexual assault by a man — in far more detail than I have ever shared about any female partner.

It becomes clear to me, then, that the discomfort around conversations about queer sexualities stem not from a resistance to discussions about sexuality, but rather from a discomfort when diverging from heteronormative standards. For instance, one wouldn’t typically express discomfort in hearing about the plot of a typical, heterosexual romantic comedy, or in listening to a song by an up-and-coming straight artist. Nevertheless, sharing media by and for queer people is sometimes considered too “in your face” about queerness, in a world where LGBTQ+ people seldom get any representation. Similarly, hearing a funny story about a friend’s partner of the opposite sex wouldn’t be a cause to tense up and utter “Moving on…,” but the same is not necessarily true when the partner is of the same sex.

It seems that the discomfort which comes with discussions of queer identity emerges from a hyper-sexualization of queerness that entirely disregards the reality of queer experience. Queer love becomes something taboo and inappropriate in a world where heterosexuality is expected and institutionalized in every facet of our existence.

To be queer is to live in a world of perpetual precariousness and uncertainty. Of course, there are accepting members of the LGBTQ+ community and supportive allies on this campus, but there is also a non-negligible population on campus that believes queer people like myself do not deserve basic human rights. I have experienced such homophobia firsthand.

In order to safely navigate life at Princeton, it becomes necessary to be selective about how, and with whom, one shares their queerness. One instance of poor judgment could result in social exclusion, experiences of homophobic and transphobic rhetoric, or other forms of rejection by peers. Conversations with peers who might not be so accepting in many cases become carefully calculated so that every sign of queerness is censored: the pronouns in funny stories about ex-partners, passing references to queer culture, and any divergence from the expected heteronormative culture.

Therefore, when one shares their experiences with queerness at Princeton, even in a passing joke or reference, it is a display of trust in another person. Expressions of queerness mark us as different, leaving queer people open to the rejection and ridicule that could, but hopefully won’t, come. To hear the likes of “moving on” as a way to overwrite such a vulnerable expression of self, no matter how seemingly trivial, can be incredibly invalidating. It indicates a desire to gloss over the difference and demonstrates a certain amount of discomfort with queerness — a fundamental part of the identities of many LGBTQ+ students on campus.

While seemingly harmless, phrases like ‘moving on’ and ‘anyways’ in response to expressions of queerness are indicative of a far larger problem on Princeton’s campus: the unwillingness to hear and validate the experiences of queer people who are open enough to share them. The solution is to just listen, even if you disagree or feel uneasy. Sit with the discomfort and be grateful that you have been trusted with such an integral and personal aspect of someone’s identity.

Queerness is about more than attraction, who you love, or even sexual orientation. Queerness is living through the precariousness and coming out the other side stronger. It is watching elected officials debate how to regulate your body, your love, and your very existence. It is finding community and strength in those with shared identities and the prior generations that fought for queer rights. It is learning to love yourself for the very reasons that many people might hate and ridicule you. Queerness is about strength and survival and resilience, and I, for once, am not willing to move on from such an integral part of my life, whether it causes others discomfort or not.

Hannah Reynolds is a senior in the Anthropology Department from the Finger Lakes in Upstate N.Y. She can be reached at hannahr@princeton.edu


On the politics of identity

By Jill Dolan

LGBTQ+ communities inhabit the continually shifting terrain of “identity politics” — the notion that affiliating with an identity group provides an adequate political and social agenda — which, at the moment, is historically under scrutiny from both the left and the right. To align your politics and values with an aspect of your identity — be it gender, sexuality, race, class or ability — seems to some narrow and exclusive. To others, it’s a necessary affirmation of marginalized people in the face of hegemonic power, a portal into a broader social analysis.

LGBTQ+ identity remains a high-stakes topic in an increasingly bitter and divided American public sphere. On the right, some politicians turn to gender and sexuality to inspire moral panics convenient for stacking elections. On the left, some activists close ranks around identity, drawing strict boundaries around, for example, who has the right and authority to teach or speak to certain subjects. In my field of theater and performance studies, for example, artists and critics debate who can embody or write about certain life experiences and stories.

Both positions harden identity into a knowable, singular essence, and obstruct the curiosity, respect, and dialogue necessary for any minoritarian subject to achieve full equality. Our goal as critical thinkers and citizens should be to complicate this impasse and consider the politics of identity from more nuanced, fluid, and generative perspectives.

In 1977, I came out as a lesbian feminist. Publicly asserting my sexuality (along with, for me, a politic that framed it), was cataclysmic then, as it meant being something of an outlaw, even for a white, middle-class, college-educated young woman like me. This was before assimilation was even a choice — decades before same-sex marriage was legalized, before queer people could more easily become parents, and before anti-discrimination housing laws were passed.

American culture has changed dramatically in the years since. I was in college when I came out; now, kids in high school and younger declare their gender and sexual identities, and find possibility in stating them, publicly and privately, more fluidly. This opportunity, though, may now depend on the state in which they live. For instance, recently passed Florida legislation, colloquially known as “Don’t Say Gay,” prohibits teachers in grades K-3 from talking to students about gender identity or sexuality. Legislation pending or passed in other states refuses medical care to transgender young people and criminalizes parents and doctors who would support their gender transitions or explorations.

“Coming out,” in fact, is never an endpoint, even now. For me, this declaration requires perpetual reiteration: at appointments with a new doctor, at meetings with new colleagues or friends, and certainly every time someone inquires after my “husband.” These moments require me to assert my difference from the heterosexual norm, so that this aspect of my identity can, when it’s relevant, be fully present.

“When it’s relevant,” of course, becomes the question. How central is a minoritarian identity to your life? For people whose gender, sexuality, and other identity vectors center them in political and cultural representation, it can be difficult to imagine how it feels to be marginalized. How do we shape ourselves and our choices without stories and images that let us see and imagine multiple ways of being in the world? The presumption of heterosexuality (or that my sexual identity aligns with the majority) erases the specifics of my life and my values as a lesbian, just as the presumption of Christianity erases my difference as a Jew.

Identity politics are tied to political and cultural representation. Which identities does political representation enfranchise? Which communities and ways of life does cultural representation — theater, film, television, media — engage or erase? My own cultural criticism argues for the importance and world-remaking vitality of representation of women, LGBTQ+ artists, and artists of color in a cultural mainstream that, when I started as a critic in the late 70s, rarely acknowledged their existence. My scholarship aligned with what was then a plank of lesbian and gay identity politics. The artists about whom I wrote — Holly Hughes, Peggy Shaw, Tim Miller, Carmelita Tropicana — performed from bodies deeply and productively marked by their own exclusion from dominant culture.

Writing about these artists, I urged spectators to witness the pleasure and power of deviating from a white, male, heterosexual cultural norm. I argued that they exemplified how to be socially different while claiming the right to be politically equal. But over the years, as LGBTQ+ artists and people in the U.S. gained cultural and political ground, I began to loosen my own fierce personal and professional commitments to identity politics. The “calling cards” of identity, in which people introduced a thought or an idea by saying, “As a [fill in the blank: white, woman, lesbian, Jewish person, etc.], I . . .” now seemed parsed, and the presumption of knowingness these cards laid out too limiting and finite.

Those calling cards also didn’t work when my identities intersected. Decades ago, I traveled with several colleagues to an area of the country in which as a Jew and a lesbian, I didn’t quite feel safe. One of my colleagues was Jewish and straight; one was a lesbian and not Jewish. As we boarded a city bus one day, my friends sat one behind the other, each with a space beside them for me. I was frozen with indecision and responsibility; in a social context in which they were both vulnerable because of their visible otherness, should I sit with the lesbian or the Jew? Where we put our bodies matters, as we literally and metaphorically form and reform necessarily shifting alliances.

Identity politics debates persist and repeat. For instance, once lesbian, gay, queer, bisexual, and transgender characters began appearing regularly in plays, on television, and in film, critics and activists discussed which actors could best portray them. Could a straight actor play a gay character? Some activists insisted gay people could more authentically portray gay characters. More recently, debates about whether only transgender people should play trans characters repeat similar themes or, for that matter, whether only Jewish actors should play Jewish characters.

In historical moments when a minority is politically and culturally invisible, representation means putting bodies on view that are intimately carved with the particulars of experience. At these times, the politics of identity require that minority subjects tell their own stories.

But eventually, as cultural and political representation proliferates, an artistic practice of imagination and creativity for artists and audiences might be just the scene on which to expand our identity claims. Actors train to think and feel their way into the experience of another, of a character who is not themselves, of a life about which they might educate themselves and with which they might empathize, but which is not their own. Isn’t this the hopeful power of the arts, to encourage us to think, feel, and see differently, with love and curiosity, respect and regard?

The history of LGBTQ+ political representation reminds us that for every step forward, two steps beckon on which to slide back toward homogeneous hegemony. Progress toward equality is never linear but always requires new strategies, new arguments, and new claims to public and cultural visibility.

Perhaps what we need most is simply more: to produce more representations of complexity, variety, and nuance across our multiple, ever morphing identities. We need representations that encourage surprising and important allegiances and multiple belongings, cultural and political representations that can’t wholly be owned but that many can try to engage, by which they can hope to be moved and touched. We need to learn complicated ways of speaking about identity and experience — in the arts, in politics, in life — and how they push us forward into a more equitable future.

Jill Dolan is Dean of the College at Princeton University, Annan Professor in English, and a professor of theater studies in the Lewis Center for the Arts.


Josh Babu ’22 researches the effects of gender-affirming care on transgender youth’s long-term health

By Sejal Goud

This article is the first installment in a series that explores one of Princeton’s most distinct academic traditions: the requirement of junior and senior independent work for nearly all undergraduate students. As thousands of students conduct and present unique research every year, these Features articles shed light on the inspiration, the outcomes, and everything in between.

For Josh Babu ’22, a pre-med concentrator in the Department of Molecular Biology and Rhodes Scholar, a certificate in Gender and Sexuality Studies (GSS) might not seem like the most obvious choice. Far from it, his studies in the GSS department actually led him to the topic of his senior thesis.

“When I started to focus on GSS a little bit more and look into queer and trans health specifically, that’s when I found a real true passion and felt driven,” Babu explained. “So I would say the GSS certificate program was actually pretty instrumental in my career aspirations.”

Princeton’s GSS Department enables undergraduate students seeking a certificate in the department to explore the intersection of GSS with interests in their home department, ultimately creating a diverse array of research avenues for student independent work.

Babu is certainly taking advantage of this opportunity. His experience in the GSS department, he says, guided him to research on gender-affirming healthcare, now the subject of his senior thesis.

This passion led Babu to pursue research on transgender healthcare with clinical support from Princeton and the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. He studies biological markers of stress in transitioning youth, contributing to the literature on the psychological effects of gender-affirming care.

Gender-affirming care, according to the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry, is a model of healthcare that validates patients’ diverse gender identities.

Babu’s research looks at the effect of gender-affirming care on the degradation of telomeres, or protective regions of repetitive sequences at the ends of chromosomes. As telomeres degrade and shorten, they limit the ability of the chromosome to replicate without losing critical DNA, essentially counting down the life of a cell.

Chronic stress in individuals has been shown to increase the rate of telomere degradation, so telomeres can serve as a biological marker of stress. According to the American Psychological Association, “a number of studies have linked stress with shorter telomeres, a chromosome component that's been associated with cellular aging and risk for heart disease, diabetes and cancer.”

Stress is a particularly important element of transgender medicine, as numerous studies have documented that transgender and nonbinary teenagers experience anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation at much higher rates than their cisgender counterparts.

Though the research group has not completed their data analysis, Babu explained that he expects “to find an increase in the activity of the protein that regulates telomere extension” among patients who received gender-affirming care. In other words, Babu anticipates results that indicate gender-affirming care prevents accelerated rate of telomere degradation due to stress in trans youth.

“If gender-affirming care can help with that and make [telomere degradation] less severe,” Babu said, “then that’s also really important to know and will help healthcare providers and policymakers make more informed decisions about gender-affirming care for kids specifically.”

His research goes beyond telomere analysis. With this senior thesis and beyond, he hopes to pave the way for future studies of trans health and to provide a framework for navigating some of the challenges he has faced along the way.

“My goal is to build a methodology and infrastructure for studying trans health in general. And that means establishing a roadmap for future researchers so that they know how to deal with big institutions and how to apply for grant funding in a way that will make them successful and how to establish credibility as a researcher in the trans community,” Babu said.

Babu noted that this kind of medical research has not always prioritized the well-being of transgender individuals.

“There’s an extremely unfortunate history of trans people being tested on and treated like lab rats,” Babu said. “And it’s important we combat that.”

Babu’s research is informed by first-hand experience.

“I’m gay myself, and I have had experiences in healthcare that were subpar at best. And I understand that, especially in the place I grew up, there weren’t a lot of doctors who understood the needs of queer patients,” Babu explained.

“While that’s less common now, and less common across the United States, it is far more common for physicians not to be familiar with issues dealing with trans patients. So that’s something that I really felt pushed to help improve,” he continued.

While conducting his research, Babu grappled with his role in the queer community as a cis researcher in the context of historical tensions between gay and trans members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“There’s something to be said about leaving intellectual work about a community of people to the community itself. With that being said, I do think my experience in the LGBTQ+ community is relevant, but not necessarily parallel at all,” Babu said.

“In fact, I think the experiences are wildly different in most scenarios,” he continued. “But being a part of the LGBTQ+ community has made me appreciate and understand how important it is to have an alliance across the full spectrum of the queer and trans community.”

Babu emphasized the importance of direct involvement with the trans kids in his study, so as not to assume he knows what is best for an entire community.

“I sat down with [a transgender youth] and their family and asked them, ‘What kind of research do you want to see? What kind of research do you think will be helpful to you?’ And this was at the very early stages of the study, before we had established a research design or even applied for grants,” he said.

Applying for these grants eventually became one of Babu’s greatest challenges. Babu recognized that many of the obstacles to his research have come in the form of systemic institutional barriers as opposed to outright rejection of advancing trans health. In particular, he noted the complexity of navigating funding from small nonprofits aimed at LGBTQ+ research versus larger organizations who may consider it less urgent than other biomedical research.

“If you approach individuals at these [large] institutions and propose a study like mine, their initial response might be ‘Oh, that sounds great. That’s very important socially, yes, we support.’ But then when you get down to it, and you actually want to apply for money at the institutional level, they generally don’t put their money where their mouth is,” Babu said.

“That’s just been a general trend in the field of trans health research, but it’s not true across the board. We were able to get funding pretty easily from the NIH [National Institutes of Health], but I think that was a unique case,” he continued.

The support he has received over the course of his thesis work isn’t only financial.

His advisor Dan Notterman, Professor of the Practice in Molecular Biology and one of few practicing physicians among Princeton’s faculty, has guided him through this process, even though the field of transgender healthcare is largely new to him. Notterman noted that his medical training did not adequately cover gender diversity.

“Physicians my age didn’t have training in gender and sexuality aside from training in disorders of sexual differentiation,” Notterman said.

Notterman stressed the importance of continual learning about gender diversity by reading and allowing other professors at Princeton to shape his biology lectures on these topics.

“I have to say, though, that it has been mainly my students who teach me this,” Notterman noted, in reference to students like Babu.

As Babu prepares to continue his education in medicine and healthcare policy at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, Gillian Hilscher ’23 will build on Babu’s research with Notterman’s guidance in the coming year. Hilscher is also a pre-med concentrator in the Department of Molecular Biology, pursuing certificates in GSS and Neuroscience.

Hilscher did not originally intend to study GSS. She was first introduced to the field through her first-year Writing Seminar, The Politics of Intimacy, taught by Professor Alexander Davis. Then, in her junior year, Babu presented his senior thesis research to one of Hilscher’s classes, piquing her interest as a way to combine the study of gender and sexuality with her biology focus.

To date, she has outlined her research proposal in her Junior Paper and will work to extend previous research in the field by examining the blood samples of trans youth for changes in gene expression as a result of outside influences, a branch of biology known as epigenetics. Specifically, Hilscher will study DNA methylation and epigenetic age as further biological markers in relation to gender-affirming care.

“I couldn’t imagine not having this aspect of education [in GSS]. Especially as a pre-med [student], I think that it’s very important to have these perspectives,” Hilscher said. “These are the people you’ll be serving.”

Sejal Goud is a Features staff writer. She can be reached at sejalgoud@princeton.edu.

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