Interview conducted and transcribed by Justice von Maur (’17) on October 24, 2015 in ZSR Library.
Transcript of Interview:
So, your name, please?
Shane Harris. S H A N E.
And your date of birth?
July 30th, 1976.
Aw, you’re a cancer!
Uh, Leo actually.
Oh, ok. I’m July 15th.
Portland, Oregon. Are you — where I was born do you mean? Or where I live now?
Uh, your, where you were born.
And where do you live now?
Okay, your years at Wake?
1994 to 1998.
And your current occupation?
Gender identity and pronouns you use for yourself?
He/him/his. Which is interesting… this is not something I’m used to answering.
Yeah, it’s catching on. What is your racial identity?
And your religious identity?
Cool. And throughout the interview I might be jotting some things down here that stick out to me.
Okay, so we’ll just jump right in here. So, when we were thinking about interview questions as as class, especially coming from being at the conference yesterday and today, we were thinking that perhaps there would be some sort of burning story that maybe you’d like to tell, that maybe we wouldn’t get to in our questions. So, do you have anything that you want to lead off with?
In terms of my experiences as a gay person at Wake or…?
Well, it’s interesting. I mean I wasn’t out when I was in college. And, but, one of the first people who I met, it may have been in my very first class I ever took at Wake, as in like the first semester and the first day of classes. It was an Intro to Theatre class, and there was a student in the class named James Busher. And James was a Presidential Scholar in the Theatre Department, and was out and like, very out and flamboyant and wickedly smart and funny and just, you know, a true troublemaker. So, you know, it was somebody I really wanted to get to know. We ended up actually becoming really close and best friends. But, it was interesting that I, kind of looking back on my experience at Wake, you know, I wasn’t out to myself until probably two years out of college. But the idea of being friends with a gay person was even novel. I mean, there were no openly gay people in my high school — there were maybe a couple of people who people suspected were gay. But James was just so out there. And not just with his sexuality, just with everything, his humor… his… oh, I don’t even know what you would call it… his exuberance, you know? And it was, I suppose in a way, one of the most memorable parts of my entire time here was both my friendship with him, and then you know, people I also met in the theatre. But it was interesting in that, when I finally came out, going back and talking to him — he never suspected that I was gay, and it was like, one of the most disappointing things ever! [Laughter] Because I was like, how could you have not seen this? I expected you to see this! All my other friends saw it. But you know, it was just a different time then, and it was, you know, people have been talking a lot about the feeling of being ostracized or opportunities being closed to you if you were gay and I think that a lot of people saw gay people as people who were like James, who were just strange and odd, and were not interested in integrating into campus life at all. James wanted to stick out. And you know, there’s probably a lack of maturity to some degree in that, but he was just also not interested in conformity. And so, it was neat for me to have my first experience getting to know a gay person as also being somebody who was an artist, and who was funny and who was always into the things that I wanted to do to, and I sort of wanted to emulate. And I’m just really glad that that was the first person, the first gay person I really knew and became an intimate friend with. And you know, this place is great for those kinds of relationships because it’s a small school. And you either have to bond with people really quickly, when you meet, when you first get here, or you don’t make friends. There’s not, it’s not so big that you can just sort of, you know, afford to, you know, sort of swipe past lots of people. You want to make a friend group fast. And yeah, it was great, he became one of my best friends actually, so it was good.
So, this isn’t on the list, but I am also a Presidential in Theatre, so I have to know — can you speak a little bit about ways in which the theatre and being involved in that community also impacted you in any facet of your identity?
Yeah. I did a lot of theatre in high school, so when I got here, I was interested in theatre. It’s funny — it took me about a semester to get involved and I was thinking about this today — I don’t know what I was exactly doing in my very first semester, but I don’t think I auditioned for a show, or maybe I auditioned for a show and wasn’t cast. And, I had a miserable time here my first semester, I wasn’t fitting in with anybody. And I had actually, stupidly, not visited Wake Forest before I agreed to come here. I just knew it was a good school and that was important to me. And I had this sort of very shallow appreciation of what a university experience was about. So, once I, really more my second semester, fell into the theatre crowd, everything here clicked. And it really just became a center of gravity for me, and a home. And I wasn’t a Theatre major, because I actually wanted to major in Politics, I wanted more of a, well not to say that Theatre wasn’t an academic major, but I wanted to have a more sort of purely academic as opposed to artistic major. And the theatre is, of course, as you know, you don’t have to major to be involved in it. And it was completely formative for me. I mean, I met all of my friends there. I got involved in shows, and then I fell in with Anthony Aston. I directed a show my Sophomore year, which was awesome.
Oh wow! That’s incredible!
Yeah, and in high school, I was very active in theatre there. I had actually written a one-act play, and then a full length play, which we actually produced at my high school, so like, I came in with this real full head of steam and a lot of confidence. And the great thing about the theatre here was that it would kind of take everybody from the introverts to the extroverts. And just, really, just let you run with whatever it was you were willing to commit to. And you know, it gives you a lot of outlets. You can do Mainstage shows, you can to Ring shows. There’s a way to channel all that energy. And there’s really nobody trying to talk you out of anything. Even when, at the end of my Sophomore year, you know, we were planning for the Junior year Anthony Aston productions, I proposed doing Angels in America.
And you know, this was before the university actually did do Angels, and there was a lot of protest around that. And JERF — you know, John Friedenberg for the purposes of the interview, who is now the Theatre Director, as he’s pointed out to me in subsequent conversations, he’s like “It’s not that we thought you guys were crazy to do it, we weren’t confident that you were ready to do it, but nobody tried to stop you either.” And that really says a lot about that experience in the theatre and I ended up doing a different show my Junior year instead of Angels in America. And then — I think it was my Sophomore or Junior year — they actually let James and I write a play and produce it in the Ring. So, it was called Patience/Patients (?) of the Saints, and so we were like writing original stuff and staging productions and directing things, and I was in the comedy troupe and, you know, I auditioned for a show that Jim Doding directed and didn’t get it, so he said “do you want to be my assistant?” and I was like ‘great!” It was just incredible that you could have so many different creative experiences. And then the bonds that I formed with those people, that was my social network. So, I mean really, it was, that was my home. I mean, the number of late nights sitting in the lobby — you could smoke in the lobby in those days which was—
Yeah, it was very fancy. So we could sit there smoking until three in the morning, and we did, we were here to study, but we lived in the theatre. And that was really where there were, and in addition to James, there were a couple other people who were out, and there were others who were pretty obviously gay and not ready to come out yet. But you know, it’s the arts. There’s no hostility towards different sexualities. And even though it wasn’t something that defined our lives, and we didn’t talk a lot about it, it was just a safe space to be gay, straight, a freak, funny, tacky — it didn’t matter. And that was great, because that felt so different from so many other parts of life on campus that felt like they were about conformity. And about sort of going about to get along, and checking all the right boxes. This was a place where people could just explore and be whoever they were, and change who they were from year to year. It’s just such a great environment and a terrific faculty and I hope that it always is that for students here.
It is. [Laughter].
I’m glad to hear that, I’m glad that it hasn’t changed!
Ok, so we’ll start sticking to the list now. We may have already answered this, but how did you identify at Wake and how did people identify you?
Right. I identified as straight. I secretly wondered about having sex with men and what that would be like. I never imaged the word gay as applied to myself. And then my Sophomore year, I began having, I don’t know if you would call it a sexual relationship with a friend of mine, who wasn’t actually in my peer group, he was in a totally different one. And, it was all just very like, on the down low. Totally. It was even, that lasted for three years, including two years of which he was exclusively dating a woman. Which is interesting. Which I think who he may have married at some point. And very few people — actually nobody knew about that. That was actually one secret I held completely exclusively, even from my friends in the theatre. Not because I was concerned about, you know, protecting him — which I’m sure on some level I was — but that I was convinced that if I came out as gay, I would be seen as somehow, and this gets to the question of how you think people saw you and identified you. I think people saw me and identified me as a leader. And as somebody who was willing to take on a lot of responsibility and who was good at that, who would manage that. JERF actually said something once, which was sort of a backhanded compliment, and it’s actually stuck with me. We were talking about the need, it was a Theatre Management class, and how when you’re producing a show, you’ve got to be willing to, you know, but everything into it, and then you have to promote it to people, and then you have to really, get it out to the people, and make it want to come see it, and how that people didn’t come natural to a lot of people. And he said “because most of us aren’t really good at self-promotion, except for Shane.” And he meant it in a loving way! But also JERF, it was his way of, “eh, you got a great head on your shoulders.” And it was good, and I needed to hear that. But that’s also very much how I saw myself, as being this person people could count on, and like, give me the ball, I can take it. And in my mind, if I had come out as gay, they would have seen me as, um, weak, or as flawed. Not that I was worried that they would see me like James, because James was the opposite of dependable. Like, everyone loved James and wanted them in their show, but you didn’t count on James for a damn thing! [Laughter] And he would even tell you that. But, I saw it as being deficient, and that’s why I would never even entertain the thought of being a gay person even when I was having sex with men. It just was, these were two separate things. One was just an activity, and the other was an identity. And so, come to find out, many years later, many of my friends just thought I was gay. And clearly didn’t think anything less of me because of it, so yeah, had I done things over again, I would have totally come out in college. And I think I would have had a different and probably much better time.
So, just to confirm, you were still identifying as heterosexual, even though you were being sexual intimate with men?
Correct. Yes, with this one person and then with a couple of other people, including for two years after I graduated.
Was there a significant DL culture at Wake at the time?
I don’t know. I’ve always wondered it, and I would be interested to hear from people like David Styres, and other who were here even years earlier than me. You always heard about it, but I always wondered if that was just people sort of hooking up with a roommate, or somebody in their dorm, or a frat brother. I don’t, I never really detected that there was one, or that people met up. And, you know, if there were, I don’t know whether I would have reached out to them or not. But as far as I know, nobody was aware that I was having this relationship with you know, this individual for the better part of three years.
Okay. What was your relationship to the LGBTQ community during your time at Wake?
Were you aware of the GSSA? Or the GLBA?
Yeah, I think it was called GLBA then. They were going through the nomenclatures in the earlier panel, but I think it was GLBA. I was aware that it was there. I had no reason no reason to think that I should go there of course, because I wasn’t gay. But you know, there were probably four people who I knew for sure who were out. Three of whom were very involved in theatre. One of the was like tangentially in theatre. But those three people, as far as I understood, kind of constituted the LGBT community, and it had such a big nexus in the theatre that I was just getting to know all of them. So, really the sort of gay community on campus, they were my friends. We did shows together. And I think it sort of made us in the theatre actually feel even more sophisticated. Like, well of course this is where people come — we’re the theatre crowd. It’s the arts. But I don’t recall it having a presence as a self-contained group with a big identity. I know it was obviously, as I’m learning more about the history. But I just didn’t interact with it that much. It was much more through the theatre.
When you were at Wake Forest, what was the general attitude on campus toward the LGBTQ community?
Probably regarded as freakish. You know, again, you had James who showed up on the first day with his hair dyed orange. There was another guy, and I cannot remember his name, but he would walked around campus with a boa. There was my friend Brian, who was not flamboyant, but he was clearly gay, he was out. And there was a woman, and I’m blanking on her name… she was a… oh, I remember, because she came out her senior year I think in her sorority. And I want to say that she was in one of the sort of, you know, tonier sororities, like you know… this would have been the stereotype of all of the rich blonde girls. God, which one was it? I can’t remember what it was. But it did not go well. It really did not go well. So, I think people’s perception was that being gay was very strange. And you have to remember too that for those of us who were coming in in 1994, when we were 18, we grew up in our teenage years, even before that at a time when AIDS was a death sentence. And being gay was very much associated with activity that got you killed. It was this very kind of dark chapter. So we didn’t even really have gay role models. It wasn’t until I graduated and met men who were at the time in their forties, and has been through that, and were more like the age that my brother would be that I really had anyone to look up to. So, I think to some degree we were kind of winging it. I don’t have to put myself as putting in the community, because I wasn’t out, but I think that a lot of gay people were kind of having to make up their identity on their own because our role models were dead or just not here. I think it was seen as being somehow political or militant, you know? Especially people like James who would dye their hair orange, people would look at him and “you’re just trying to get attention.” You know? Or, “you’re just being…” And really doubting whether they really were gay, or if you’re just doing this to be different. Nobody took it seriously and could really sort of appreciate that this was actually sincerely how somebody was. At the same time, there was something kind of renegade about it, you know? Which in a way, I kind of miss. I mean, living in Washington now, being gay, it’s just so common. Everybody’s gay. Like, I joke now with friends and I say “I can’t tell if people are gay or just in their twenties.” It’s like, I don’t know. Who knows? Everybody’s gay! [Laughter]. But it’s like, when I finally came out… because I was not a rebellious teenage kid. Like, I was just a total straight and narrow, no pun intended. And there was something really fabulous about now identifying with this group of people who were seen as somehow, you know, underground, or separate from society. And who, you know, weren’t accountable to sexual morays in the same way. We didn’t have to follow those rules. I suspect there was probably some of that going on as well with openly gay people at Wake. I mean, obviously having to deal with the pressures of being one of a handful of people on the campus, but it did make you different. And there was something really kind of hot about that… Is this that way for kids nows? [Laughs] “You kids.”
[Laughs] You kids!
I know I’m not supposed to ask you questions, I’m sure, but like, is it seen that way, or is it just seen as sort of…?
I think… I do think that it’s sort of the millennial thing… [rambling on about a Saturday Night Live sketch about millennials and gender identity/fluidity]. So you talked about a man who walked around with a boa, and James who had dyed his hair orange. Were there any other observations that you made about people, and the way in which they deviated from traditional gender expectations?
You mean gay people?
I think that James was certainly effeminate, but he also used to try to butch it up a lot. So, James actually sort of liked to — cause’ he was a character, right, he was just an actor — he would always try to like, play with these different roles and try them on. So, he drove a pick-up truck, and he was big too. He was tall, and a very like, big person. So like, on some days, he would be very you know, queeny. And we lived together for a couple years. And I remember one day him sort of yelling at the other gay people in the theatre “butch it up, queen!” You know, he was like that. So he would loved to play with these sort of roles. And I think at one point, he even talked about wanting to have sex with a woman almost as an anthropological thing. But no, there was, at the time most of the men that I knew, and again, there were few… they were effeminate. And they were definitely, you would feel like they were in that sort of mold. And it’s interesting, I mean today, you meet so many people — well let me back up. When I was coming out, there was the whole thing about whether you were a straight-acting gay person. Were you like a masculine gay person, or were you a queeny-fem gay person? And that was a big deal. I don’t know if it’s as much of a big deal now, but for a lot of men, being effeminate and somehow queeny was seen as weak and unattractive. Whereas a much more masculine, typical image of a male was somehow seen as more desirable, which is all nonsense and subjectivity. But yeah, I think the neat thing about knowing James was that I didn’t realize this at the time, but he was just trying on all kinds of different stereotypes and identities with that. And just didn’t give a damn who he offended either. He he was a deeply offensive person. [Laughter]. I’m speaking about him in the past tense because he’s died. Yeah, about three or four years ago. But he, you know, he just, he would be the kind of person where, if you were talking to him today, we’re talking about identity politics, he would have a lot to say about that. Me, I just always sort of felt like I knew who I was and how I behaved. But when I ultimately came out, and even when I was around gay people in the theatre, to me there’s actually something very liberating from queening out. I remember when I first started really hanging around gay people when I got out of college, and people would, men would adopt the feminine pronoun with each other. And I thought it was just hilarious and sassy and reverent. And it was also a way of being inclusive somehow. Like, “no, we’re just gonna call her she. Why not?” There was something just really fun about that, and some people considered that campy, and I know that some people were sensitive to it. But, you know, to me, it was just very liberating to do that. And even the times when I would play around with that, with other gay friends of mine in college, I remember once I was cast in a play as the gay guy and James and another gay student at the time were giving me lessons on how to be gay. And it was just great. It was just fabulous.
Was that really enjoyable?
Oh yeah! And I reeaally wanted that part too. I really really wanted it. And I’m sure at the time, what I was doing was experimenting with having permission to behave like a gay person through trying on that skin or that coat. And they were great. They were like, “hold yourself this way. And you should say it this way, not this way.” What did we know? [Laughs]. [Inaudible comment about stereotypes]. But you know, there was something really liberating about that. And again, it was the theatre that was safe. And I am sure that knowing those guys, you know, it was mostly men, helped for when I eventually had to come out, and having known and been close to and loved real gay people. It wasn’t like I was sort of stepping into a void experience where I’m like “well, now I’m gay, what does that mean?” I had all of this other stuff to pull from.
The gay character, that’s awesome. So, can you talk a little bit about other aspects of your identity that shaped your experience when you were at Wake?
Being an overachiever and a good student. I was a straight A student in high school, I think I got like two Bs. I was one of those [laughter]… I know right. I was one of those. I was one of those who had like a 4.2 GPA. It’s like so embarrassing now. I mean, I think of all of the weight that I put on, not just academics, but in getting high marks. That’s what I was. I was the kid who wanted to be perfect, wanted to be the golden child, wanted to excel at everything. The day were handed out senior superlative reports, like it was very important that I got one, you know? I think that that pressure was self imposed, but also largely came from my mother too, who had extremely high expectations of me. So I saw myself as being someone who needed to succeed in whatever I did. You give me the set the criteria that needs to be met to be considered superlative and excellent, I will meet all of them. And I was one of those kids who also purposefully avoided those things that I wasn’t good at, so I was never good at sports, don’t do sports. I was really good at theatre, so go full on into theatre. But you know, when I got here, the academics actually started becoming less important. I actually started getting bad grades my first couple of years, which looking back on it now was great, because I was starting to think less about the importance of the grade and more about the quality of the experience and the education. You get more out of it than what it says on the report card. And I was just growing up too, becoming an adult. So, there was that. I think that being from a middle to upper-middle class, largely white background, particularly where I lived in suburban Atlanta, which was this, it’s actually Newt Gingrich’s Congressional district. And I a graduated from high school in ’94, which was the Republican revolution year. So, it was sort of ground zero for that. But why I mention that, is that was completely separate from everything I believed. It while it was so important to me and my identity to be this sort of straight arrow, top of the class kind of thing, I was also coming from an environment that felt just, you know, repulsive. And when I got to Wake, what was upsetting to me was that I didn’t see a lot of difference in terms of the ethnography and the kinds of people that I went to high school with. And again, in theatre in high school, I was friends with more of the freaks-and-geeks kind of crowd, and I got here, and I’m like “it’s still a ton of white people from really conservative areas.” There just wasn’t a lot of obvious diversity. So, I think that the need to get away from that also formed my identity. And also as a writer, and a performer. And I took that really really seriously. And I always wanted to be a writer, and I came here wanting to write. I had done it in high school, I continued doing it here. Basically, I started taking the academically less seriously, and started taking my art much more seriously. And spending the time in the theatre, and Mary Dalton’s screen writing class, and performing whenever I could and getting involved in the comedy troupe — which is still going, which is amazing to me.
The Lilting Banshees?
Yeah. I was in with the founders. I wasn’t a founder, but they were Seniors when I was a Sophomore. So we were there in the beginning. Yeah, that became much more important to me, because my identity I think was — I wouldn’t have said as an artist at the time, because that would have felt really pretentious, but now I feel much more confident saying that. Or as a writer. And I remember at one point, it was a summer that I was living in L.A. and James was living with me for like a month, where I forget how the conversation came up, but he said “well, you just have to recognize that you’re a writer, and that’s what you really are.” And it was one of those moments where I was really like, “yeah!” And I identified that way, and that was just a really powerful thing to be young, and in an environment like this place where there were opportunities to realize that ambition. That was huge. And a big, big part of who I was and who I still am. I didn’t imagine going into journalism, but it feels every much a part of the writer I wanted to be as when I was writing fiction.
Absolutely. Shifting gears a little bit here, did you feel safe on campus? And connecting to that, can you talk about your experience living in a residence hall?
Yeah, safe in the walking around being who I was sense? Yeah. And I had friends who weren’t in the theatre. And being the comedy troupe kind of made you like a celebrity on campus to some degree, like people would walk up to me on campus and be like “you’re in the Lilting Banshees, you do the Jon Christman impression!” On the sexual side of it though, no, not at all. You know, it was very much a clandestine relationship I had with this person, and I could not have imagined what would have happened if it had become exposed. Not that I felt like I would be physically threatened for it, but that I would have just been mortified. Absolutely. So in that sense, there was always a piece of me that was cloistered off. And I just don’t expose that. And I supposed that’s also why I like, you know, if I had found out about some kind of other on the down low kind of community, I guess I wouldn’t have reached out to them because it would have just increased the chances of being exposed. And being able to control how people saw me, at that time, was really important. Really important. When I finally let go of that is when I finally came out, and just became a much happier person. But that part, in that sense, I didn’t feel safe at all. But I don’t think that was just because of Wake, that was me. I never saw aggressive homophobia towards my gay friends who were out. In fact, a couple years after I left, after I graduated, I guess the theatre did Angels in America, and I think there were like student protests or something where students were putting up signs. And I just remember that shocking me. And I knew that this wasn’t the most welcoming place for gay people, but it never felt hostile. And that was really upsetting. And even hearing about the issue with what was going on in the church from the late 1990s, and the question of whether they could have the marriage ceremony. I’m just like wow, like, I’m kind of ashamed of that. It was never a place where it felt like it was unsafe to be gay, it’s just that, you know, I personally wasn’t ready to do it.
And did your residence hall have any impact whatsoever? Roommates?
I mean, the guy who I had the relationship with was in my residence hall the first time I met him in the freshman year. I think that for somebody who was closeted, and again, not identifying but clearly having overwhelming physical attraction to men, you know, putting me in a residence hall with two-hundred eighteen year old was probably just fueling that ambition [laughter], and you know, Wake is a very attractive campus [laughers]. So, that probably helped feed my desire to finally act on that sort of sexual instinct. But you know, I’m sure that if, on my freshman hall, if I had come out, that would have been totally weird for my roommates. Because that’s just the way guys are at that age. My Sophomore year I moved into a dorm where I was around much more of my friends, and then Junior and Senior year I lived in what was then called the Fine Arts House, s0 145 Polo Rd. I forget what it is now.
It’s the Anthony Aston, 109 Rosedale.
Yeah! So, I’m sure there were probably three or four gay people living out there with me. I mean, I lived there with James. We were roommates. So that would have been a completely different experience, doing it there, but I’m sure that coming out in Kitchin Hall in my Freshman year, with my roommate from Lexington, who may have had a Confederate flag in the room, I can’t remember, would have been maybe, you know, a little awkward [laughter].
Did you participate in any sex education programs while you were at Wake? And did they include information about LGBTQ individuals specially?
Yeah. To the second part, no they didn’t. But for the first one, I remember during orientation, everyone had to go, I think mine was actually in the lobby of Huffman, and I remember somebody actually showing how to put a condom on a banana.
I was afraid you were going to say that.
Yeah, it was that. We actually did a skit about in the Banshees, because it was just so ridiculous. I mean, even the people who were teaching the class were like, “oh god.” It was one of the mandated things, like “you have to do this.” I don’t think there was anything — I don’t think there was any news conveyed to anyone who was there. At that point too, late 90s, and the importance of safe sex, and safe sex ed and STD prevention was something we already knew, and we learned in high school. We grew up in that environment, straight and gay.
Were the curricular opportunities to learn about LGBTQ topics while you were at Wake? And we were interested in asking this because we’re in a class now called Queer Public Histories.
I do not remember any. Which is not to say that they weren’t there. There was the Women’s Studies program — there may have been some classes in that, but by and large, no. I mean, it might have been more like, you might have picked up threads of it in like a film history class, and you watched Midnight Cowboy or something. There was, though, a class, I didn’t take it, but it was the Human Deviance psychology class. What the hell was it called? Deviant Human Behavior, or something like that, and everybody wanted to take it. Because I think it was like the class where you learn about like serial killers and all these kinds of things. And I heard tale, I don’t know if it’s true, that homosexuality was studied in it. I don’t think at that point it would have been endorsed as a deviant behavior, it would have been more like, “you know, there was a time where this was considered…” But queer studies, any of those things? No. But in theatre, I mean, half of it may as well have been a gay studies class. I mean, half the playwrights we read were gay. We were producing theatre for god’s sake. We had visiting directors who were openly gay. I think I learned much more about what we would call queer theory now from just the practice of being involved in the theatre and being exposed to you know, modern playwriting than in a class. And even in my politics courses, you know, nothing that like that I remember. And I’m sure now, there probably are and should be classes like that in the Politics Department.
Did you subscribe to a certain religious practice when you were on campus, and did that somehow effect your sexual identity?
No, not at all. I think I flirted with Buddhism, but you know. I mean, in the sense that I took a class and I was reading J.B. Slazenger. But I wasn’t like meditating. But I mean, other than to be aware that it seemed like many many Christians I knew thought that being gay was an abomination. But no, I didn’t practice religion. I still don’t.
Were you affiliated with any Greek organizations and also, what was your stance on Greek life?
No, I was not affiliated, but my first semester freshman year, I did rush DKE. And this is the really funny thing, is I came like really close to getting a bid. So my first semester, I was a very lost and confused young boy, and like, there were like tow or three brother who I became really good friends with, and when it came time for them to do bids, I like, didn’t get one and they were like, devastated and they came to my room that night to tell me. And they said that they blame themselves because they said that “we were having such a good time with you,” and we went on a ski trip, all brothers on a bus, and I was like, drinking beer and Jager shots. “This is fucking freshman year, this is great!” And they were like “we liked you so much, and we were just having such a good time with you that we didn’t make a point of introducing you to everyone else.” Like when the time came to do the bids, half the group didn’t know who I was. Because these dudes had like, made me like their little brother. Which was funny because, like now, I think like, “god, what if I had gotten in?” And like, how fucked up that would have been. I mean, because I’m sure I would have ended up falling in love with one of them, because they were really hot too. And they were such like, they were so deviant. They had the reputation of being the bad fraternity because they were off-campus… and the more I got to know them, I was like, these guys are just cool and don’t give a shit. And are really smart and funny.
It seems like you were drawn to that type of person.
Oh yeah! Definitely! Yeah, yeah, yeah, there was a lot of that. And people who were like, giving me permission to be, to express others parts of my personality that I probably would have stifled because, “well, no, good students don’t do that type of thing, no that’s bad.” I was also the kind of kid, like when I was in high school like go out and get drunk and my parents never knew. I was just very good at covering things up. So there was a little but of rambunctiousness waiting to get out. But, yeah, I didn’t get a bid, and then I moved on, and my second semester, I was getting involved in plays and theatre, and I was happy, and it was over. But, nothing against Greek life. I think it’s too dominant on Wake’s campus, I understand that it’s still dominant, which bothers me. I guess I think that it — not that I think there’s anything wrong with fraternity life — but I worry that It crowds out other options. And when I got here, most guys who I knew were all in the same boat, like “I don’t really want to rush a fraternity, but I kind of feel like I have to, because how else am I gonna make friends?” And that’s now great. People felt really pressured into rushing. But you know, it all worked out.
Why did you choose to come to the LGBTQ Alumni Conference? And what have you thought about it?
I think it’s freaking great, I love it. I’m just trying to not cry half the day. It’s been very affirming. I’m just impressed that there is a conference like this. As we’ve been talking about in our conversation, I just couldn’t imagine coming out. And it just, and I guess in that sense, it wasn’t really a safe place, now that I think about it. Again, not that I felt that people would be physically threatened for coming out, but you wouldn’t be sort of welcomed into a larger community if you came out when I was here. And to see that there is this community, and it is a part of the larger Wake Forest community, it’s just hugely gratifying and terrific, it makes me proud to have been a student here, it makes me wish I was out when I were. But it’s really really important. And also the Wake Forest D.C. Alumni network has formed a kind of subgroup of just LGBTQ alum in D.C. and so, I got to know Angela through that, and through Jennifer Richwine who runs the overall D.C. efforts. And it’s just very clear to me as I’ve gotten older, the important of staying in touch with your alma mater, and continuing, and continuing your experience as a student here evolve to whatever it means to be an alumn. And also, to have connections back to the students here. So, it’s really important to me that I can be available as a resource for students here, whether that’s as a gay person, as a journalist, as someone who live in Washington, and like, somebody needs a place to crash when they have a job interview. It’s just really really important. I believe very strongly in giving back to younger people, because I got where I am in my profession, and also when I was here, because older people gave me shot, and saw something, and didn’t stand in my way ad tried to support me. So, when I heard this conference was happening, a bit part of that was wanting to come back and meeting students and hear from them and be an example and be a resource.
Well, thank you for this interview. I had so much fun, I wish we could go on forever.
I know, I’m so glad you guys are doing this.