Mother So Queer

A Queer History of Wake Forest University


Amanda Miller

Interview conducted and transcribed by Tatianna Nelson (’17) on October 24, 2015 in ZSR Library.

Transcript of Interview:

Tatianna Nelson: Could we start off with your name?

Amanda Miller: Amanda Miller.

TN: That’s spelled correctly, right?

AM: Yes.

TN: Ok. Birthday?

AM: It’s July 10, 1982

TN: Hometown?

AM: Cary, North Carolina. C-A-R-Y.

TN: Current Residence?

AM: Columbia, South Carolina.

TN: Years at Wake?

AM: I was there from–well here–from 2000 to 2003.

TN: Occupation?

AM: So I’m a soldier in the US Army but my military occupational specialty is medical laboratory technician.

TN: Sexual Orientation?

AM: Lesbian.

TN: Gender Identity slash pronoun preference?

AM: Let’s see. This is new to me so she/her/hers. I identify as female.

TN: Racial Identity?

AM: Caucasian.

TN: Religious identity?

AM: Hmmm spiritual. [Laughter]

TN: Same. And did you have any–. Well this is like also part of notes for me, but since we just came from the oral history panel, one of the first things I’ll be asking is if you have anything specific that maybe you want to talk about because we’re–we have twenty-six questions total and we’re probably not going to make it through the whole thing.

AM: Oh that’s fine.

TN: So if you have anything you want to talk about–

AM: Nope. Whatever you’re interested in is fine with me.

TN: Ok. [Laughter]. So we went over the gender pronouns and gender/sexual orientation and then when we were thinking of the interview questions, we also discussed that we’d be coming right after the history panel, so like I said, if you ever have any time at all during the interview where you just want to like–

AM: Go off on a tangent?

TN: Yeah. I love tangents, they’re my favorite.

AM: Yeah the most interesting information is always in the tangents.

TN: Yes, yes that’s very true. So how did you identify at Wake and how did people identify you?

AM: I came out, to myself–. My sexuality occurred to me as an epiphany three days after I graduated high school. In retrospect, I should’ve known and many people in my life knew, but they were waiting for me to arrive at it myself. But as of my arrival at Wake Forest, I knew that I was a lesbian. I slowly came out to–I came out to a few friends from my hometown that I’d known for years and I did not intend to come out at Wake Forest but very quickly that changed. And so I was out throughout campus pretty much from the beginning of my first year. And then I came out to my parents the Easter of my first year.

TN: So–I guess you kind of already touched on this already but just to be clear, I guess, people all over the campus knew that you were gay. They didn’t like–

AM: Yes.

TN: Assume that you were straight.

AM: No.

TN: Ok.

AM: For the most part, if they did assume, it probably, was usually corrected very, very quickly. I was pretty much the lesbian poster child for my time here. [Laughter].

TN: Ok. So how was your–what was your relationship to the LGBTQ community while you were here?

AM: I was active in GSA–GSSA–all three years that I was here. The first year I was just an active member, the second year in 2000–it would’ve been 2001 to 2002 I was the secretary, and then I was actually elected, at the end of that year, I was elected as President for 2002 to 2003 and I was the first lesbian president of that organization.

TN: ( ) So while you were here, what was the general attitude on campus towards the LGBTQ community?

AM: I found the faculty to be very supportive. We had a lot of allies in–. I was a sociology major and Women’s Studies minor, or at least that’s what I was pursuing at the time, so there was–there were many allies. You heard Dr. Ken Zick–you heard his name mentioned several times. I’m not sure if he’s still here but he was–he was awesome. He was a very strong ally. Dr. Mary Gerardy, she was like a mother to me. My mother did not take it very well when I came out, you know, so she [Mary Gerardy] sort of filled that position and really was nurturing and took care of me and was that caring individual in my life during that tumultuous period. The administration however [chuckling] was really the thing because I was here like right on the heels of the union in Wait so there was–things were changing. Things were starting to evolve and change but for the most part, the student body was very conservative. And the administration as well. But we were lucky to have a very progressive, open-minded faculty.

TN: ( ) So what were your observations about the ways people either performed or deviated from gender roles here–while you were here?

AM: That’s a hard question because the student body was so white. It was very Greek. Other–anything that couldn’t easily be categorized or was left-of-center was such a rarity. We–the few of us who were in GSSA–we were really odd-balls on campus for the most part. So I don’t–I don’t actually–. We did have the first–my first year we had a president named Martin Price. He was the president of the GSSA at the time and he liked to wear these fluffy, fuzzy slippers and he liked to wear this pink feather boa and he also had this jacket that was like leopard print, so he was one of the only people who was really pushing the envelope as far as making–challenging people’s notions about gender or sexual orientation or what not. So–. There was also two females who shaved their heads one year, so that–. That stood out. I mean it was very–it was very quote on quote “other”. Those were things that everyone discussed or talked about or people would turn their heads because it was just not–. I mean it wasn’t normal to see anyone who wasn’t status quo that were not–. There weren’t a plethora of different ethnicities or even different religions and–what was the other thing–. Also size. Body type. We had a big joke, you know–I’m not sure if you have to submit a picture of yourself anymore? When you apply to Wake? You don’t? That’s something that’s very–I’m serious–that’s something that’s very interesting to me and I’m glad they stopped doing it, but that was the big joke–is you had to submit a picture of yourself with your application, so we would always joke that that’s how they weeded out the people of color or the people who are overweight because no one–no one was overweight! It was, you know–there was a very homogeneous population here. And so you should look into that. When they stopped. When and why they stopped doing that and how long they did it for. I think that’s very interesting. Because no other school–I applied to several schools and no one had ever heard of a school asking them to submit a photograph of themself.

TN: I did not–I did not know that! Whoa!

AM: Yes! [Laughter] That was a huge joke! [Laughter] So–.

TN: Oh my gosh. So would you say that you did anything in particular that you can remember where you kind of also deviated from the gender roles–I mean besides just existing I guess?

AM: Well, at that time, I did–I did–. I didn’t start dressing in a feminine manner or really–. I wasn’t ever comfortable with my femininity and I didn’t really embrace it until after–. Actually I joined the Army, and I think because I spent so much time in uniform and everyone’s the same and so unisex uniform and you never feel like you’re a female, it makes you want to really embrace that when you have the opportunity not to be in uniform. But prior to that–and especially during college–I wore, you know, I wore clothes that were intended for men, I cut my hair short. I remember I was dating a girl at the time, at one time, who was very masculine in appearance and we would [chuckling] we would see the little tours of prospective students coming around the quad. One time we were walking back from Benson and going to Huffman and back then you just–there was no public display of affection in the South unless you were asking for trouble or you wanted to cause trouble. One day it just struck me and I grabbed her hand and she’s like ‘What are you doing?’ and so there we are, strolling across the quad, in front of all these prospective students and parents and they just all turned around and just stopped and looked and watched us all the way back to Huffman. But you know as far as like, anything else of, you know, gender identity, that’s pretty much the extent of it. But all the–the female students [pause] they would really dress up, you know–especially on certain days where we had games and stuff like that, so it very much stood out that I didn’t dress the way they dressed and didn’t have a lot of pink in my closet and that kind of thing. So it felt, at the time, that I was really challenging what the status quo was and what normal, quote on quote “normal”, was on campus. It didn’t take much for you to be [chuckling] to be classified as different. It really didn’t. I mean it didn’t take anything at all.

TN: Some things don’t change. [Laughter]. So I know that you said that you came out Easter of your freshman year–but I guess–to your parents–but were you also open with them about not just your sexual orientation and identity but your involvement with the LGBTQ community here? Because I feel like sometimes those can be different things.

AM: I think [pause] Well, my–. First of all my parents are two different scenarios. My–. One of the reasons I had such problems when I came to Wake is my parents got divorced almost immediately after I left from school, so that really shook me and my foundation to the core, on top of everything else I was going through, my parents split up. But it actually ended up being good because I found out, that–. I was more afraid to tell my dad that I was gay than my mom, but as it turned out, my dad was very, very supportive and because my–they were separated and my mom didn’t want me to gravitate towards spending more time with my father–it really pulled her on board. But it was just–. It was so difficult just to come out to them and–that I didn’t really push them at the time. You know what I mean? I didn’t–. I gave them time to digest. I didn’t go on and on about “Yeah, I’m the”–. I don’t think, to this day, that they know I was ever the president of GSSA or was involved in that because I don’t think I ever got around to discussing that with them. My dad–and looking back I should’ve seen these things, but when I came out to my dad, he said “I’ve known. For many years”. My mom tried to put me in cheerleading when I was younger and my dad said “No she doesn’t want to do cheerleading” and he signed me up for softball. [Laughter]. She would try to buy me things that were like frilly and pink and my dad bought me my first pair of Birkenstocks. He bought me a Melissa Etheridge CD. One time–just little things. I think he was really trying hard to let me know that it would be ok. He took me to the Lilith Fair. Do you know? Do you even know what that is? It was this music festival headed up by Sarah McLachlan that had all these female artists. I mean it was just lesbian central. Every lesbian in America went to the Lilith Fair and it ran for about, I’d say four or five years, but–. So he did those things for me, trying to [pause] trying to allow me to trust him and I just didn’t pick up on it until much later. My mom was completely different. My mom actually tried to take me from school and send me to this program called Love One Out that is actually no longer in existence, but it was basically a counseling center to transform people or bring them out of homosexuality using the foundation of Christian beliefs. So I–. I think now I’m to the point where we’re talking. It’s been fifteen years—fourteen, fifteen years since I’ve come out to them and I talk to my dad–. My dad is very–he very much wants me to find someone and settle down and be happy. He wants to see me in a supportive relationship and what not. And he’ll even make jokes; he’s like “I just want to know you’re happy before I die”. He’s not going to die anytime soon but–. So he initiates conversations about that. But my mom, she just–. I don’t think she’s ever–. I just don’t see her ever getting there. We sort of have a don’t ask don’t tell kind of thing. I mean, she’s met girls that I’ve dated and she’s been respectful and she accepts it to a certain extent, but I’m so grateful for that, I think, because she really has come such a long way from where we started that I don’t push her because I just don’t think that she can be pushed past that. And I’ve come to learn that I have to respect her just like I want her to respect me. I may never be able to change her mind, but she’s come to a place where she can love me and be proud of me as her daughter and we may never really achieve that place where she believes that I’m not going to hell or she believes in her heart that this is really the way I was born. I don’t–I’m not sure she’ll ever get there but I know, like if I got married, that she would be there, she would be supportive. If I ever had children, she would be there and she would be supportive and that’s really enough for me. I’ve gotten to the point where that will be enough.

TN: Were there other aspects of your identity that shaped your experience while you were here?

AM: Absolutely. I’m almost as passionate, or more passionate, about socioeconomic issues as I am about GLBT issues because I did grow up–I grew up with parents who barely graduated high school, I’m a first generation college graduate, my parents both grew up–. They didn’t even have plumbing indoors when they were younger children. So they feel like they did tremendously better for us than their parents did for them and they did. They did. They really made education a priority for my brothers and I and they sacrificed and did everything they could to try to give us as many opportunities as they possibly could.

But being lower middle class and being a quote on quote “blue collar family” especially in a very affluent area–. I think if I would’ve grown up in an area where there were more children from backgrounds like mine, it would’ve been easier for me, but my parents wanted to send me to magnet schools. They wanted me to have all those opportunities and that meant going to school, oftentimes, with children who were very–their parents were very wealthy. They all had pools in their backyard, they went to Disneyland every year, they had name-brand clothes and mine were from Goodwill. And so that–that really–. From a very early age I was bullied because of those things. I mean, there were other issues too. I wore glasses, braces–. I was sort of nerdy. But that was a big thing that I had–I definitely had a complex about. I grew up with–we didn’t have medical insurance for most of my childhood, so that really impacted me because it taught me to be–. I was careful. Even to this day, I’m extremely careful about not getting hurt, if that makes any sense. I’m very cautious, even though I’ve had health insurance for quite some time now. But those are–. Those are big things. That really shapes–. I think if you grow up feeling, or being made to feel, like you’re less than, it can really shape how you interact with others and your confidence and your self-esteem and what you truly feel that you’re capable of. And it–. Having that compounded by identifying as lesbian also–a lot of times I did feel less than or I felt like I had to justify my existence here. So that was–. That was almost as hard to deal with as being a lesbian.

None of–none of my classmates–. Well, the only other friend that I had who was from a similar socioeconomic background–he was a full scholarship student. I only had partial scholarships. So he–. He didn’t work. His parents–he was an only child and his parents had enough money to help him with living expenses. Especially after my parents got divorced, there was nothing. I was on my own for that part. So I had student loans, grants–you know that kind of thing–in addition to my scholarships and I had to work [pause] a lot. So I had a work-study job at all times and then, sometimes, two other jobs. At one point I just had the work-study and I worked at Starbucks, but I was pulling almost full time hours. I was–. Actually my last–my last year at Wake, I was a shift manager [chuckling], working fulltime hours and trying to balance school. And that’s very, very stressful–so I could have a car and pay living expenses. There were–. And I was very, very fortunate that I had friends who sometimes would feed me [chuckling] because, I mean–it really came down to that. Many times it came down to–. Or I would end up going over to Mary [Gerardy]’s house for dinner and stuff. She was very good about taking care of me in that respect. But yeah. It got down to that kind of struggle. And it’s really hard to focus on school and other things when you have all this going on in the background.

TN: Did you feel safe while you were on campus–while you were here on campus?

AM: I don’t think I ever felt physically in danger. I don’t think I ever felt like anyone was going to hurt me. Or physically harm me because I identified as lesbian. [Pause]. No. I don’t think–in fact, I think I might have had an inflated sense of safety because I–. I think I probably figured that I was less vulnerable to things like sexual assault or what not because I was–. I didn’t perceive myself to be someone that a predator would target. I think I probably felt like that part of my identity kept me safer. I don’t think that’s necessarily true, but that’s how I felt at the time. No one ever threatened me. For the most part it was just I–. I felt like an outsider. I felt excluded. I had anxiety before going into class praying that the professor or the instructor would not assign group work and I would have to go through that humiliation of no one wanting to work with me and I–that type of thing. More so than anything. But not physical security–I wasn’t concerned about. No.

TN: What were your experiences living in a residence hall?

AM: Oh lord. Well you heard about–you heard about my freshman roommate.1 She took it really well. I have to hand it to her. She did well. I think her response was as good as could be expected. And she stopped changing in the closet after that one occurrence. It was [pause] it was ok in Bostwick. The other females stayed away from me. They would timidly smile at me in the hallway if I smiled at them or whatever. But they definitely felt uncomfortable. I remember we had this Secret Santa Christmas party one year and I really did not want to go but they–. Everyone else was doing it and so I didn’t want to seem like I was trying to be a separatist. And it was just–. It was just extremely uncomfortable the whole thing because we were all in the same room and I didn’t really know many of them well. And almost all of them were Greek. Almost every person on my hall pledged. There was one other female on my hall who became a very close friend and hanging out with me is actually what helped her realize that she herself [chuckling] identified as lesbian. So we–we’ve been–. We moved to Huffman the next year; we were roommates the next year together. It was much more comfortable in Huffman. In Bostwick, I remember, there were two bathrooms on the hall. There was one bathroom that had like four stalls and like three shower stalls and I never went into that bathroom. There was another one that had one shower stall and a toilet in there and I always used that one. And that was just because–not because anyone told me that I couldn’t use the other one, it just was easier for me. I had fear that I would walk into the other bathroom and people would scurry out and it would be like uncomfortable and I never wanted to make anyone else uncomfortable. I still feel that way to this day. You know, when we change in locker rooms or whatever–in the army that happens a lot–you end up changing around other female soldiers and when they don’t know that I’m a lesbian and they’re pulling off their clothes and changing in front of me I always turn and like face the wall because I don’t want them to find out later and feel like ‘wow she may have been looking at me’. I never want to make anyone feel uncomfortable in that manner. So I–. I try to have, you know–. Even people who, I feel, are uneducated on the issues or they’re–they may be, you know, bigoted [chuckling], I try to have respect for their feelings and their privacy, you know what I mean? So–. So I would always use that other bathroom. Now in Huffman, we had co-ed bathrooms. All the bathrooms were co-ed except for–I think like the second floor. They had bathrooms that were designated by gender. But the third and first floor were co-ed. So I would be going in and a male would be coming out or whatever. It’s just–. We wore bath robes and stuff like that. But that was pretty progressive for that period of time. But that’s Huffman. It was much more enjoyable. Much more enjoyable of a living situation there because I didn’t have to worry about stuff like that. And there were the–all the odd balls, all the weirdos, quote on quote, were in there [chuckling] so that was a much better environment to be in for sure.

TN: Ok. Could you talk more about the faculty and staff while you were here? Because you mentioned Mary Gerardy and Ken Zick, so could you talk more about them or if there were anymore–any other faculty and staff that you can remember that were really supportive?

AM: I think I named–. There were–. All the faculty in the Women’s Studies Department–the names escape me. Their individual names escape me but all of them were extremely supportive. Were definitely allies. But the main ones that really stick out in my head are Dr. Angie [Angela] Hattery, Mary Gerardy, Mary DeShazer, Perry Patterson, and Ken Zick. And I thought–that was very impressive to me that Dr. Zick–. Because I–especially with all the backlash from the wedding in Wait–I was very leery of the administration and he was a very compassionate person. And he just didn’t seem to care if there would be any fallout for him for his support of us. He was a very, very compassionate and good ally to have in the administration. But those are really–. It’s been a while and my memory’s not as good as it used to be. [Laughter]. But the whole–the entire Sociology department really as well. So I was surrounded by faculty members that–. I think it was Dr. [Sarah] Watts–she was a History professor–she also was someone who was very good. Yeah. [Laughter].

TN: Was there diversity in the classroom in terms of racial and gender identities?

AM: No. [Laughter]. No. [Pause]. There was one girl, one female, in my dorm, who was Indian. She was not in any of my classes. There were a few African-American students in a few of my classes, but it was again–. It was–I mean seriously if you were a black student at Wake Forest during that time–and I’m sure it’s still happens. So you’re–even one of the panelists from very recently, you know, everyone wanted to know what sport they played so there just was not a lot of diversity at all.2 And now I remember one Hispanic student and I would’ve–I had taken eight years of Spanish up to that point and I was really close to being fluent at that time and there was, you know, there was no one. There just–. I mean it was a sea of white [chuckling]. And I am not joking. It was very–. Not only was it a sea of white, but I mean it was a bunch of sheep! They wore the exact same–it was J. Crew–what are the other things? Abercrombie and Fitch–. It was just like they just came out of the same manufacturing plant like wearing the same outfit. It was really just nuts. [Laughter].

TN: Did you participate in any sex education programs? And did these programs include any information for LGBTQ individuals?

AM: I remember my freshman year there was a peer, like a peer health education like little team that came around and that showed us how to put a condom on a banana. But no. Yeah I don’t–. I don’t remember receiving any like LGBT specific health information at all actually. So–. I mean the student health department here at the time was very, very good. Especially when I was going through a period of depression. They were very supportive; the counseling center was very supportive. It was excellent. I really felt comfortable being up front about those things. I remember actually like being sick and them asking me if I was sexually active and I said “Well, I’m a lesbian” and she didn’t even bat, you know, the nurse practitioner or whatever, she didn’t even bat an eye or make a big deal about it or anything like that. So it was a really good staff down there but there was no specific education. They didn’t–. They didn’t really put out to come get tested for STDs or HIV or anything like that so–. Not that I can recall.

TN: Were there curricular opportunities to learn about LGBTQ topics while you were here?

AM: There was–there was a course entitled ‘Social Stratification’ taught by Dr. Angie Hattery and in that course, she touched on–I mean race, religion–very heavily. She was very passionate about socioeconomic and gender issues and LGBT issues. She’s the one, I told you, we would go in and do the panels for.3 So that course was one of the most progressive, controversial courses offered at Wake. My freshman year there was a class–and I audited the class. I did not actually take it because I was afraid to have it on my transcripts because I knew my parents would see it. But it was a gay and lesbian–or queer studies course and I think–I want to say it may have been the first of its kind, but there was a professor from Salem College who came over and taught it with Dr. Mary DeShazer and I was exposed to Audre Lorde for the first time and poetry and stories and media and films and stuff like that for the first time in that course. And then by the time–someone who was actually in my–would’ve been my graduating year—I think the year after I left, someone actually had a queer studies minor or queer theory courses because I remember him telling me that he had taken those courses. So I think that first one was sort of a test run and it was quite popular. There were students in there who were simply just curious or allies who took it and just were interested, and so it took off. But those were the only ones that I can recall.

TN: Thank you. Did you have a community that supported you or were there any organizations that provided support, I guess obviously–not obviously but–. It was advertised that they supported the LGBTQ community? And were there any organizations that–or spaces that inadvertently became like community centers?

AM: Well–. Oddly enough, my good friend Dylan Morris, who was the one I just told you about–who took courses, after I left, in Queer Studies or Queer Theory–he was–is it a Poteat scholar? It’s a Baptist based scholarship, but he was very active in the Baptist Student Union and there were actually a lot of supportive people in that organization and it was a shocker to me. But there were, there were several. The Divinity school was very, very supportive. Not just Susan [Parker] but there were other faculty that–. I remember I wrote a paper in my Intro to Christian Tradition course on–I wanted to learn more about what the Bible had to say about homosexuality or what not, and he–the professor whom–I cannot remember his name now–but he was very respective and helped me and he was knowledgeable about the subject himself so–. So I always thought that was very strange–that the Divinity students, that the Divinity school was wildly supportive of the GSSA. And oddly enough the Baptist Student Union. There were times that I–I did not see it myself–but as you heard Susan Parker say the Black Student Union came out, the Jewish Student Union came out on certain things.4 I didn’t witness that in my time at Wake, but those are the few that I can think of. Other than that I can’t–. It really felt, at the time, like we were sort of–like people didn’t want to associate with us. It was one of–. It was a time where people wouldn’t even want to be seen talking to you, I think, because they were so afraid that people would assume that they were gay if they socialized with you. There was still a lot of that fear. So you know–. Yeah. And it was one of those times where other organizations didn’t want to be perceived as being in support of homosexuality or whatever. So–. Yeah. That–there was a few.

TN: Thank you. That’s actually–. Well we can do one more question–

AM: Ok.

TN: We just have to be upstairs by 4:30 is all.

AM: Ok that’s fine.

TN: So–.

AM: Pick a good one.

TN: I don’t know! They’re all good to me! [Laughter]. Do you want to pick the question?

AM: No, it doesn’t matter, just pick one. Whichever one you want.

TN: Ok. So this one kind of combines multiple questions but it’s mostly–it’s about the social scene for LGBTQ identified people while you were here so–

AM: Nonexistent.

TN: Nonexistent?

AM: Nonexistent. Other than–. There was Club Odyssey and that was sad. [Laughter]. We didn’t really go that often. That was like a special occasion. [Laughter]. We mostly just would do stuff by ourselves. Like entertain ourselves by ourselves or sometimes we would go to a concert if there was like the Indigo Girls playing somewhere or a band somewhere or–. But the social scene in Winston-Salem, just in general, is poor [Laughter] so you ask for a specialized social scene that caters to any one group of people and you’re really asking for too much. But no, there was–. It was not a lot. Yeah no.

TN: So kind of going along with that, because I–right now Greek life is very–it’s still very big, and that’s where a lot of the social stuff happens, so what was your stance on Greek life while you were here?

AM: I could not stand it! [Laughter]. I couldn’t stand it because it was almost–. I–before Rush and the pledge and stuff freshman year–I thought–I thought things were going to go better, you know? I started to win people over on my hall and as soon as that process happened things just got very cliquish, you know what I mean? You know, it was any friends that you had who were in those organizations, they were always preoccupied with those organizations. And when over half of the student body belongs to those organizations the administration, you know, tends to favor them and their issues and the rest of us, we were just all different walks of life but we didn’t–. We weren’t cohesive at all so, it just made a hard situation like that much harder, the whole Greek thing, and I really didn’t care for it at all. I know–some people that’s their thing but when you’re on the outside of it and you don’t really want to be a part of that, you know, eh [uninterested tone of expression]. I understand why people like that kind of thing, to have a sense of belonging and what not, so–. But my only sense of belonging was really GSSA. So yeah.

TN: Thank you!

AM: You’re welcome!

TN: Thank you for your time.

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