Interview conducted and transcribed by Charles-Anthony Athanasopoulos (’18) on October 24,2015 in ZSR Library.
Transcript of Interview:
First, I just want to start off by introducing myself. So, I’m Charles Athanasopoulos. I’m a sophomore here – first-semester sophomore – I major in religion with a double minor in Writing/Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies, specifically on Black Queer Sexuality. Awesome. So my preferred pronouns are here/him. So, I just want to first ask you how you found the conference/how did you enjoy being on a panel?
So, the conference has been absolutely amazing. Sort of beyond anything that I could have expected when I remember, when Angela first got to Wake Forest, this was sort of the pie in the sky, “maybe one day we’ll do this” and to actually see it happening, and you know, able to be a part of it. I think it’s really surreal almost but really really awesome and it’s been a fantastic experience this far.
That’s great! So, I sense that you understand how historically important this is, so in that vein, you know that this is going to be a public oral history in the archives of Wake Forest. Right, Right. So, I just want to let you know that if you want me to omit anything from what we have recorded, if you want me to take out names…
If you ever feel pressured any you want um,
Shouldn’t be that bad, we’ll see.
[Laughter] and if any time you want to stop, then it’s all, definitely your right to do so. Awesome. So let me give you this sheet.
Am I waiving my rights? I’m kidding…
Oh yea, we did this. I also did this during her first class. It’s the 24th of October, 2015….
And just harkening back to the uses of name and pronoun.
I just want to get to know you more.
So, first off, with your full name and your pronouns:
I’m Tre Easton. My real name is Allen R. Easton III, and my preferred pronouns are he/him and his.
Ok, so, where are you from?
I’m from Barnesville Georgia. It’s a very small, very rural town in Central Georgia. It’s about an hour south Atlanta. So I’m not, you know, an Atlantan, I am formally Georgia, and I like to say that because people you know confuse the two and think that Atlanta is Georgia and outside of it’s this whole different world and growing up there was really an interesting experience.
So could you talk a little bit more about what you see is the difference between an Atlanta person, and a Barnesville person?
So I think – um, and that is not to say I’m a stereotypical Barnesville person by any means, because I’m definitely not, and you know I have several friends who are still there, and who very much still have that southern drawl, and they didn’t you know get to far from high school. The difference, I think primarily, is that Atlantans really have that cultural space where they are bale to experience different communities and have just access to things like you know like malls or like those places where cultures intersect. Whereas in Barnesville you know there weren’t people of color. I mean there are people of color, that’s a mistake, there are people of color, there weren’t people who were LGBTQ, at least not openly and to not really interact with them and not see that as a lifestyle that’s even possible for me I think is the biggest difference, its people don’t really think about you know their lives outside of the what they see In their community of Barnesville and its very interesting because the people are wonderful, the people are loving people are very concerned about their neighbor but the second you turn to oh, your neighbor happens to be gay then they want to quote scripture and verse at you. So I think that’s the biggest difference, you know I don’t want to say Atlantans are more cultured than other people from the state of Georgia…
But it’s a different vibe?
It’s a different, right, it’s a different vibe, and it’s a different sort of mindset I would say.
So just for historical context, what is your date of birth, what is the era you’re growing up in?
September 30th, 1990 is my birthday. So, all through 90’s, you know sort of really came of age, and really started paying attention to things during Bush Administration so that what colored my lens and my focus and how I see the world and how I grew up very very republican stronghold Barnesville, Georgia. Like I remember the 2004 Election, you know we had on our road it was like: Bush/Cheney, Bush/Cheney, Bush/Cheney, Bush/Cheney and our yard was the only Kerry/Edwards yard, and I was the one who planted the sign there, and I was very proud to do that.
That’s amazing, so does that differ from where you reside now?
Absolutely [Laughter]. I live in Washington D.C. now and to say night and day is an understatement I think. Washington D.C. is you know obviously the nation’s capital, its one of the most passion career driven places In the world and everything is there. You know earlier in the conference Shane Harris sort of said that the norm is to assume that a person is gay, so gay until proven otherwise and the notion of being in the closest is not you know why would you be in the closet? The city is basically run by people and it’s this really just powerful and passionate and awesome place that’s really expensive, but still a great place to live.
So I see this clear distinction your kind making between the where you grew up and where you currently reside, and I was wondering about the intermediate there of Wake forest and Winston-Salem. Is Winston-Salem different from Barnesville in terms of the culture? Is it suburban? Is it more like a city to you?
You know, you have to understand where people in my hometown when they found out I was going to school in north Carolina started asking me why do you want to go to a Yankee state, like its north Carolina, I’m like seriously calm down people. But Winston, and you know it’s, Winston is a small city and I wouldn’t say it’s predominately conservative I think having wake forest as an institution really make it an interesting mish mosh of places, and to you know, I separate living in WS from going to Wake Forest, because they are very different places. And I was fortunate to have a close friend of mine who was from Winston, he’s a townie and So from, right from the start, from freshman year we made sort of made it a point to get off campus and you know go to restaurants that you know weren’t usual haunts for wake forest students. So uh in comparison to Barnesville you know really anything is going to be larger and more culturally minded and focused than where I grew up. I think the similarities between, specifically Wake Forest, and where I grew up uh wake forest is a smallsy-conservative school and you know not politically, but like there just a certain mentality to the students that come here and I think that has to do with the majority of students who come here from conservative predominantly white households.
So when you say that yea I just want to once again have some historical context here, so what years were you here at Wake Forest?
I was here from 2009 to 2013.
Ok and how….you say there is a smallsy-conservative feel here how did that differ what you described as at home where it’s like these people that are interested in each other in terms of a community until they realize, thee differences are there?
Right and I mean that’s what I was going to say is the similarity between Wake forest and where I grew up. Right, I suppose the major difference is that people at Wake Forest are here to pursue and educations and people in Barnesville, Georgia are just they’re living their lives. I think there is this overarching sense at wake forest at least when I was here that um people really didn’t make active efforts to know people outside of their circles I think freshman year is really interesting because like we all get here right and we have to make friends we have you have to you know figure stuff out then people go Greek or people go and do their own, you know their own little circles and you don’t really see people anymore. So its very sim-, the two are very similar in that you know you have a community its small people you know you sort of relate to each other because you’re in the same community, but there’s not a lot of cross-section not a lot of actual interaction between groups.
So since you just came from the panel, I was wondering if you wanted to share anything, any anecdotes that sort of crystallizes what you’re talking about?
Yea so really funny, Dr. Girardi, who when I was a senior I worked very closely with her you know she the question was asked what we would like, what the panelists would like to see Wake Forest become In the future. And Dr. Girardi and I would always have these little conversations and she would say you know she would like to see a student just dye their hair blue one day and you know we look out into the audience and there’s this student and they’ve dyed their hair blue and it’s this wonderful I think statement about where wake has come and where wake is going and I think it really encapsulates the theme of the conference itself you know there are so many alumni who I have spoken with and the said they could not have ever imagined one a LGBTQ Center but even more a conference for alumni where we’re celebrating this part of our history and this part of our experience at Wake Forest. So that’s, the dying of the hair blue I think is the nice sticking point.
So when you say that it was the dying of the hair blue that sort of marked that person outside of that culture…No…is that what you’re saying? Or are you saying it’s a willingness to be yourself?
I think it’s definitely more the latter because you know in theory no one should give a shit how someone dyes their hair, and I think that’s what that is trying to capture right we really want to be a community where, I think we are moving in that direction, where people don’t think twice about your sexual orientation and how you identify but they just appreciate you as a person that you are and I think what’s happening on campus right now with the LGBTW center and the other initiatives that are going on we’re beginning to create that space. Where previously the need was clearly there but the steps to actually address the need weren’t being taken. I think now we are actively taking steps and we are seeing students take ownership of the campus and their campus experience.
So how did you identify at Wake?
Very vehemently gay. Actually take that back, I was literally bi for two weeks. I was raised, we were religious and it but it wasn’t…
Oh like what specific denomination?
So it was non-denominational it was you know one of the raise your hand and pray in tongues churches and that you know it colored my experience to the point where you know gay was not ok but my mom who I love and I’m very close with she was never the kind of person who was like you know I’m not going to love my children because they happen to identify. She would never say that but I like I always felt her unconditional love and I know I’m very fortunate in that regard. So I came to Wake having just sort of begun to shed that religious conservative you know Jesus-y thing and I got to campus and went to an open house at scales and met up with a friend that I had been talking to on Facebook who I was also pretty sure was gay and on the way back to Collins we stopped at the pit and he looks me in the eye and goes so um do your parents know? And I was like do they know what? And its’ just like ….that you’re gay? And you know I didn’t know at that point and so that sort of kicked off the major ah well let me actually think about these issues which led to me being bi for two weeks which then I was like who are we kidding here? Your gay Tre and just own it and you know I was out for all four years.
How did people identify you?
Uh so I think I have a lot of personality so there are a lot of things that get accentuated dependent upon who I’m around. I don’t think anyone ever thought of me as just that gay guy, I think people thought of me as Tre, which is beautiful right? You know it’s Tre who happens to be gay and he’s cool and let’s take some shots with him. And people knew that about me, I didn’t try to hide it, and you know through freshman and sophomore year after shortly coming out I was very flamboyant about it. You know I threw a lady gage party and I dressed up in a paparazzi uniform so it was very fun. But that is to say, no one really latched on to it, they just knew I was that, and were, I never to my face got anyone saying oh I’m not going to talk to you because you’re a faggot. To my face that never happened uh well we can touch on this later but I know there was some things that happened later on in my college career. People, people talk.
So you talked a little bit about this in saying you know when you first got here you were trying to shed this religious conserv-, like conserva-tivism, conservatism, New York accent sorry.
Mhm it’s forgiven. Your Yankee-ness is forgiven today.
…and you know having that moment of realization and then kind of going through that process of two weeks bi and then you know what Tre you’re gay um…how did your identification with the LGBTQ community of Wake Forest help that? Did it help that? Did it hurt that?
So, you know you assume that there was a prominent LGBTQ community, and this has really just begun to change. You know, my classmates and I like to remark that with every successive year Wake just got gayer and gayer. When I was a freshman you know between my friend I mentioned earlier we knew of a collection of maybe five gay guys not to think of lesbians or anyone else on the spectrum. And I didn’t really, and I guess this is sort of why I interacted with Wake the way I did , I didn’t really feel you know a sense of community in that specific space. I went to a meeting with GSSA and you know I’d just basically come out and I did not feel as if I belonged. That’s not to say that the people who were there you know were weird or anything, it just like it felt like a clique and I did not click with the clique and I just felt like I didn’t want to sort of box off that piece of my identity in relation to my Wake Forest experience like I really I really wanted you know being gay for me is just a piece of who I am and I really wanted to just immerse myself in being a Wake Forest student who happened to be gay who happens to be black and when I went to that GSSA meeting just the one, I didn’t, I didn’t get that. And the thing that I have learned you know especially around the work that Angela has done is that that has definitely changed the motivations behind that group have definitely changed, but I just, I didn’t get that sense of belonging strangely enough right, the group that’s built to be an outlet is, was not really affirming for me.
Did you feel the same way about black…the black community here? Or like the BSA?
You know I was not active in BSA, I, again I’m black, but being black is just a piece of who I am and I’ll say you know it sort of got me in trouble you know in some instances because I wasn’t black enough in some regards or I’m too gay in some regards and It’s like…
I’m light skin [laughter]
I just…right you know, but dependent on who you’re dealing with, no one really, no one can fully appreciate you know what it’s like to be a person, a gay person of color and whatever you know you’re happening to deal with or whatever person you’re happening to talk to you have to sort of either play down or play up a piece of your identity and I just was not about that game you know. I’m going talk, I don’t want to be a respective persons, I’m going talk to you as Tre every single time, and if we’re bringing up black issues great, if we’re bringing up gay issues great but I don’t want to be pigeon holed because of someone’s very rigid definitions of what it means to be all the things that encompass me.
So it’s interesting for you to talk about how there are other parts of you, the way you identified or were scripted I could say…
…that shaped your experience a little bit here.
Were their moments where they converged?
Absolutely. I was very active in Theatre and Theatre was a safe haven, and found so many awesome friends and really you know really sensed that community. That said, you know, many of the main stage productions that happened, the majority of the productions that happened, while I was a student at Wake did not really have roles for people who look like me. And it was just very frustrating because here I am in this affirming environment with professors who really understand you know who get it in a sense but at the same time you know we’re picking these plays where, what am I going to play a tree? Like it’s, that was very frustrating and seeing you know being a) accepted you know for being who I am but on a second level being rejected because of a piece of who I am and it was very interesting to have those two worlds collide like that.
So I see how that can collide at Wake Forest. So, I see there is this young man who’s evolving during his time…
…with these other people he’s coming into contact with. How do your parents play a role in this?
So, my parents divorced when I was five. So I was raised by my mothers. My father still, in the scene, but not an active component in my life. We recently sort got back to the place where we are actively involved in each other lives. So you know being raised by a single mother that shapes me right, so when I came out I came out first to my friend on the stairs and then to a high school friend and her response was no you’re not, and it was like yes I am, and then to my sister and then, so that was probably October of 2009, and then I waited until June 2010 to tell my mother because I was petrified. I remember the night before I decided I was going to tell her, I wrote this 5 page note. I had a defense of you know being gay and still calling myself a Christian. All of this you know I should turn it into a play because that’s how melodramatic it was. I had written it and I was about to, getting ready to print it out and I look and I say I can’t come out to my mother with a letter. Like this woman who raised me, I can’t do this. And so I didn’t print it, saved it, didn’t print it and the next day I just you know went into her bed and I was like what do you think about me? And she knew something was up and she knew obviously, I have a theory that all mothers know when their children are doing something.
I sure hope not. [Laughter].
They know, they always know. They ALWAYS know. They might not say anything, they might let you come to them like I did but you know and she knew exactly why I was coming to her, she knew I was trying to tell her this part of myself. She you know still, she was then, much more religious than she is now, and so the first thing she said was what about the bible and this sin and I was like blah blah blah. I am telling you about this part of myself and I need you to be here for that. And you know told me she told me she loved me and then you know natural progression, hearts change and people change and minds develop and now, you know it was never bad it was just always a sort of a friction. So that’s the mom. I didn’t really feel the need to come out to to my dad just because he wasn’t there. I came out to him officially summer of 2012. So fairly recently, um, he was getting re-married. [Snickers] and I was going to get my suit fitted, try on the suit for the wedding, I was in the wedding, and it just turned into we’re driving and I was like you know I’m gay right? And he was like I had my thoughts I still love you and that was the end of that. [Laughter]. So you know I am fortunate that both of my parents responded very positively in varying degrees but it’s a very boring, sort of there is no drama, there is not some gnashing of the teeth.
So you mentioned the need feeling the need to let somebody know, right. So for your mother, it’s like I’m scared, but I have this need for her to know, and that wasn’t there for your father. How did that play out in terms of other people?
So I guess I just sort of tiered the people who, with varying degree of importance. The top tier was my mother and my sister. Everyone else was not secondary, but that fear was not there and you know and I’ve been like this for a LOOONG time so people really you know I would say I’m gay and everyone was like shocker! We knew in high school why did you just come out now, and all this stuff which was great in one sense but you know my response to that is we were raised in Barnesville Georgia. The one gay kid we knew everyone picked on him including me. This is why I was not able to share the identity. I felt empowered really because I was at Wake and I felt an immediate sense of community around from my immediate friend group and the University itself honestly and so everyone else was sort of like hey, this is this part of me I’m choosing to share with you. Either you’re here for it or you’re not, and if you’re not I don’t need to speak to you anymore. To my knowledge I haven’t lost any friends because of it. You know maybe somebody deleted me on Facebook, I don’t know, but it’s, it’s been a positive experience and I almost feel you know a little guilty about it. I do, I know for so many people that’s not the case. People don’t feel empowered to do that.
So you didn’t feel safe at home, coming out?
No, so, well little back story. Right after I graduated my mom moved to Stone Mountain, so there wasn’t, you know, where I grew up, and where I would go home for like breaks were different. So that happened and that dynamic really created this, you know, like the stakes weren’t as high. It’s not that I didn’t feel safe at home. You know I didn’t feel like I needed to share this part of myself to specific people and I just didn’t. I did it on my own time. It’s not necessarily a safety thing,
So I meant more like when you were in school, like that other person being picked on was part of the reason…
Oh, you mean in high school, absolutely. Partly that, but also the religion this plated into. But also partly I didn’t really know. I, my mom had gay friends growing up, one in particular who was around me, who’s still. I wrote a status about coming out to my mom, he was boop the first person to message me and he was doing it for malicious reasons and I had been around gay people like it wasn’t this foreign concept to me and I can remember distinctly having conversations with my mom as a young kid about gay people and knowing she wasn’t a homophobe. You know she obviously surrounded herself around gay men. Going into high school those feelings those urges were really beginning to develop themselves. I didn’t know what to do with it, all I know is I’m supposed to marry a woman and have kids and that was going to be the end of it. Not because anyone was beating this into my head, but just because that’s what people did. And to really think about up-ending that dynamic was really was sort of a stretch for me. It wasn’t until the summer before my junior year of high school I governors honor programs and I was surrounded by smart people, and so many gay people. And I was like why am I drawn to these people. Why do I want to just be around them all the time, oh, I am. That was sort of the first moment where I was like, I am definitely not straight. For the next two years it just sort of, I let that linger, didn’t feel the need to tell anybody. I just sort of didn’t deal with it, definitely wasn’t interested in girls, and I sort of let it live and didn’t fill the space to do it until I got to Wake
So you felt empowered here, um, and that it was safe-r than in high school? But did you feel completely safe on this campus?
Yes. The answer is yes. You know I, the thing about me, this is probably kind of stupid of me looking back, is that I didn’t really withhold anything as a freshman after I came out I just sort of went all in. My alarm clock was lady gage and doing all of this I am gay get used it be fine or don’t and my roommate was a DKE brother. So to say polar opposites is an understatement but even in the year of living with him like he again to my face never said anything uh awful or offensive you know who knows what he said to his frat brothers, I could give a shit what he said to his frat brothers and I have friends you know and I remember actually when some high school friends visited me a wake forest friend by in passing, mentioned to them that I was gay and I was preparing to come out to them and I hadn’t yet and she didn’t know that so we actually cooked up this whole thing, we cooked up this whole thing. She felts so embarrassed she started crying a little bit, it was kind of bad. But you know what I found at wake was just a sense of community from day one you know didn’t necessarily have to do with my sexuality it has to do with I knew I was here I had gotten into this school so I was going to make the most of it regardless of what new parts of my identity were emerging.
[Laughter] That is just great. I’m just wondering what was the strategy?
Wait ok so this is really good. So we were going out to dinner later, and when we came back we had arranged for the two of them to go into the lounge before me and look really pissed and just walk all the way to my room and just get their crap and leave. She was sitting in the lounge so they did that and I came in all sad as if I had just lost my best friend and I sat next to her, Kathy, I told them I was gay and they are cutting their trip short their going home and she was like oh my god I’m so sorry. So I kind of felt bad, and I kind of didn’t, turned out she’s actually a lesbian now, so I feel even less less bad so all that is to say I definitely had friends and I definitely felt a oneness with wake forest
Had operations going…
Right had things to do, had to keep it interesting.
So where there any openly supportive faculty/staff members?
So I had said the Theatre department was. So early in my Wake forest career I was I didn’t really accentuate it in my other classes outside of Theatre like you know I wasn’t necessarily hiding it but I wouldn’t say like YAAAS in a poli-sci class and I don’t know if that was intentional or if it just sort of happened but you know Sandy, Brooke, Dirf, Sharon, like Sharon was I was taking Sharon Andrews taking her freshman seminar and one of the capstone projects was that we had to sort of a mini monologue and I definitely put that part in my monologues and it turned out to be pretty good. You know that’s one set. And as I got older and I was at Wake Forest longer, it just sort of, word spread. People kinda knew, I wasn’t hiding it like Dr. Girardi was always there, Katie Harriger was very supportive, Kathy Smith, I was a poli-sci major if you couldn’t tell, Kathy Smith, all the professors who I interacted with , oh god my freshman English professor Julia Fyse she’s not here anymore she was visiting from Harvard I think she had this wonderful German accent I would write about you know gay undertones in books and she was of course pick it up and say Tre is there something you are struggling with are you trying to tell me something. Oh Julia, Just talk to me for days. But yea it’s a, I definitely found support from faculty.
Any negative experiences?
Um, I don’t, not openly. I’m pretty sure you know there is a professor in poli-sci, and this person will remain nameless, but I was taking a class and this particular professor, don’t think the professor was a homophobe I just think that as many professors do they thought their opinions were right and I was very expressive and when gay things in this specific context would come up I would articulate my point of view I don’t think the professor took kindly to it just because it sort of diverted from how they wanted the class to go and that sort of I think lowered my grade in the class but it wasn’t to the point where I was like this guy is singling me out because he’s a homophobe it wasn’t like that.
Just wondering, um, would you say YAASS now?
Yea, in a
I said it in the conference earlier, it depends on who I’m around. I’m very open t work which is awesome and actually in my job interview I articulated being first gay student body president at wake as part of you know that, no but, you know, I think it’s important to have that and to know and to own that right like yea I did this and I want people to know that they can do this too, they can be
Told me about all the things you did with you friends, but I feel like you’ve done some things for this community to?
It’s not like I shy away from it, I just don’t want to be an asshole who’s like hey by the way this is what I do. I’m not ashamed of it and I will talk about in context and I think the biggest thing I tried to do for the community was just to be myself and really not give a shit if anyone didn’t want me to be myself like interacting with administrators there were some who just did not know what to do with me and that’s fine you know you don’t have to have the fullness of experiences to understand how everyone works and how everyone lives their lives but they had to see me and they had to meet me for who I was and who I am and I think that is what I draw from and what I like to articulate like I was who I was you know unabashedly and if people had problems with that then we would have a problem I think that’s a fair proposition.
There it is!
Do you think, I want you to maybe, if you could, say….what do you think being yourself meant in the context of making that something that could happen in this community? Cause you saying to me, well I didn’t, I didn’t come here with this intention of hey I’m going to do these things. Right. And I’m the person you should always thank for these things Right but you just wanted to be you and have tis pace but what do you think that meant?
For me? For wake?
Let’s start “for you” and then what that means for somebody like me?
I think for me personally, Wake Forest, I am incredibly thankful to Wake Forest for many of the things I see myself doing now. I like to say, Wake Forest taught me how to be. How to think how to interact with people how to understand how other people think, and I think those are really important things and so that I was able to have a space where I felt empowered and where I felt like I could do and be active with things on campus and still be elevated to this status uh I think is, it sticks with me today. You know it sticks with me, and the fact that my mindset sets, you know quite frankly, there is this student body of 4800 people that knew the truth of you and vested you with this authority, you got this. Wake up get your day going, lets, we can do that.
I think in terms of thinking about what students can pull from that, and what I would like to think is my legacy, it’s really simple I think, it’s a really simple proposition that you can come here and be who you are. Like it, you know, I keep saying this, we all get here in August of our freshman year, and we all start with a blank slate and I, I don’t think that you know anyone’s socioeconomic background, sexual orientation, any of the stuff that existed before you got here, that doesn’t matter. You got in, you belong here just like everyone else does. That’s you know, I want people to, to feel that and think that and breathe that and know that. Like yes there are going to be idiots who say faggot and nigger. Like there are idiots who do that in Washington D.C. like the heart of inter-cultural activity, so idiots are going to be everywhere, my point is everyone got here so that means you belong here and you can really understand the fullness of you are here but this is the place to do that.
So, I want to ask, what was the diversity like
When you were here, in the classrooms?
In terms of race & gender?
So as I said like very early on, we kept a running list of people we knew were confirmed as out. So I think it swelled to like 10 by my sophomore year and as far as diversity, like Wake has been doing a concerted effort behind this, I think better is always possible, I many times was the only person of color in class, I many times was the only person who I knew of that identified as LGBT, and so again you know I didn’t really let that color my experience cause just like I said, I’m in the class just like all these white people. So I’m going to get from this class what I need to get and like y’all can do what you want. So, thinking about diversity, and thinking about relating to people you know I just remember so many times I would overhear conversations of people not just not getting it you know. Like oh I didn’t know XYZ got this new car? Oh I didn’t know just stuff people had never had to think about being off putting or in any way offensive to other groups on campus and Wake inherently has started to make those conversations happen. Like, I know the last couple of years there’s been a lot of student activism on campus, which is wonderful I think it’s a signifier of where Wake’s going, like keep it up, more of it. It comes down to a question of what the University wants to look like, and I think you know you see these efforts around diversity and inclusion but my experience is you know its diversity and inclusion up until a point. Its diverse and inclusion by XYZ prescribed you know definitions, so me, you know, especially my capacity going in and talking to administrators who didn’t think I was black enough, who thought that I relied too heavily on you know the G part of my identity. I was just like are you kidding me? Number one I’m a students, and it’s ridiculous for anyone to try to place this expectation on a student, I’m a particular kind of students I get that, but what are your expectations you know? I would never try and define you based off of what I think your life should be, how can an administrator?! Like, I won’t name names, but an administrator who’s still here really cornered me and really tried to strong arm a decision around a decision that had been made, that I did not change and that to me just really pumped the breaks. I was like yes we are moving toward diversity and inclusion but you need to check your mentality too because that kind of mindset, you as in the administrator, you are playing the administrator
That kind of mindset [Laughter] is so off putting and it’s going to defeat the purpose. You can’t be diversity and inclusion for inclusion sake, you want to be diversity and inclusion because we’re building a better population of students.
Interesting, so you’re not black enough and you’re too gay?
I’m not black enough for the black people, I’m not, you know I’m too gay for some black people, I’m too gay for the white people, I’m you know too white for the black people and it’s just like my god, my god guys, calm down.
So were you frequently in all male classes or was it fairly…?
I don’t know, gender diversity I think was definitely widespread I think gender identity obviously you know was not even a thing like the fact that we are talking about gender identity now, is a sign of how far we’ve come even in the two years since I graduated like we would not have had conversations around trans issues, and queer issues, and intersex issues and all of these things that are now you know firmly being discussed.
So you didn’t participate in nay sex education programs at Wake? Were there any discussion of sex?
I mean you know around shots, informally around sex. I’m thinking back, the only time we discussed ay of this in a space was like when I took Angela’s class or Theatre class, or my sociology classes so it was discussed but not like it is now. There’s definitely new thought around it.
So you kind of mentioned this, but just to be clear, were there any of these programs that included LGBTQ issues?
So separate from, I’ll put Angela’s class and Theatre classes that definitely had consistent themes about, around these kind of things. It wasn’t something that at least in my curriculum I experienced. And maybe that’s as a result of the classes I took, but I didn’t, I don’t, I’m not remembering a firm presence of this kind of material.
So what was it about those two classes, Theatre and Dr. Mazaris’ class?
You know, I’ll call her Dr. Mazaris [laughter]
Angela’s class, obviously…
I’m just a lowly undergrad [Laughter]
I know [laughter]
Actually it was really awkward because you know I had met her when she was interviewing for this position so I referred to her as Angela in the meeting. And then when we were in class I was like Dr. Maz-, Angela like…
I’m on the debate team so I call my coaches Jarrod and Justin.
Right, oh they’re still here
[Laughter] yea, they’re still here.
So her class obviously has a very specific, you know it was the Queer Public Histories class, so clearly that has a pronounced thing. And then with respect to Theatre you know that’s just a space where you’re going to be discussing the diversity of the human existence, like you have to as a performer as a person who studies theatre history, like you have to be able to appreciate that fullness to give any kind of meaning to roles. I think on the other side, like my poli-sci classes, and you know my psychology class, obviously was a different place because you have to think about….
Freud and all…
Freud and all, and all the different concepts of who we are and how we think. I think outside of those, you had to seek out the specific places. Right, you know it wasn’t just this thing that wove into the broader curriculum, at least from the majority of classes I took.
So, were there any extra-curricular organizations that were either for LGBTQ purposes or inadvertently became so?
So, you know, I think I touched upon the evolution of the GSSA which in all four years I was not active in GGSSA. I think there were other advocacy programs like PREPARE, like these organizations that spring up around issues that touched on the LGBTQ space. I remember the, haha, this is sort of a negative thing, the most active I’ve seen this student body around a specific political issue outside of the 2012 election, was when amendment 1 was on the ballot. I don’t know if you are familiar with it, it was the amendment to the North Carolina constitution that double, triple banned same-sex marriage.
Double, triple banned?
Well, cause it was already banned, and it was already banned as a matter of the state constitution, it was banned by a matter of you know a judge directive, so this was double triple banned in that it defined as the only union that shall be recognizes as that of one man and one woman and the amount of just you know vitriol that we saw from this, from students it was I think probably the singular sort of space was, since I had been at wake, where I did not feel welcome by many of my classmates where I got emails, I was in Student Government, you know, got emails of people just going off on me and fellow members of student government because we actually were trying to have a piece of legislation passed that you know opposed amendment 1 officially as the university and that oh god, I remember you know we had Angela, she was lined up to speak to General Assembly and there was this really stupid parliamentary procedure because the speaker of the house at the time was very, he was a coward, I’ll call him a coward, just let it be tabled. So we had Angela ready to give this whole nice interview on amendment 1 what it does and why it was wholly unnecessary and then it’s just didn’t happen right and I had never seen the student body so active in people putting signs up in their windows around an issue that you know was just so offensive to me and I, understand, this was just a month after I had been elected, 60% of the vote. So we went from that very beautiful high, for me personally, to seeing eventually I think something like 50% of the state vote for amendment 1 , and seeing that, seeing what Wake Forest had become, I was just like this is not my school, this is not what we do here. I had administrators come in and say this is not what we do, we are not this, and you know one of the first things I did after I had been sworn it, me and the rest of the executives, we penned a letter to the OGB and just said the student government newly elected executives oppose amendment 1 because its crap and we got some flak from students, from you know the old outgoing embers of the executive board, and I was just like, we were all united, we don’t do this, you know, and now we’re in charge of this organization.
So how did Greek Life play into this?
For me or for that?
For you and for amendment 1? What was their relation to the LGBTQ community or the lack of?
So Greek life on Wake Forest campus is the most peculiar thing. I think I have a very specific experience. I was not Greek, but several of my very close friends were and that meant of course that because I knew them I go to go to parties, Theta Chi’s, I would go there you know the brothers would know me. Like you know it was I think the least fratty of the frats so I felt comfortable.
It’s the same.
Ha, it’s the same [laughter] Those Theta Chi boys, those Theta Chi boys are wonderful. And I felt comfortable there. So that’s one experience, right but thinking about the for the broader culture, I can distinctly remember a couple of my friends coming to me and saying they were told to not rush to specific fraternities because they didn’t want gays there like someone found out they were gay and they had to excuse themselves from rush. In terms of, you know that’s another thing, in terms of amendment 1, you know it was sort of blurred. The lines were blurred. Like, you just had this broad swath of campus that was very active and it didn’t cross fraternities and sororities. I think that wasn’t really one of the delineations for it and then on the flip side of that, I think about the movement to get the LGBTQ center established. It was spearheaded by a guy named, the student effort was spearheaded by guy named Jim O’Connell who is a glorious glorious human being. Just an amazing amazing guy. Also, I remember In my class, he was student trustee my senior year and he was Greek he was a Sigma Chi, is a Sigma chi I don’t think he disaffiliated and he led the petition that led to all of the frats and all sorority presidents signing their names saying we want this center and we want it to be a part of this community.
What about the black Greek community?
As far as engaging the LGBT effort?
You know, I’m actually not sure, I imagine because of the work Barbie Oakes does, sort of the level of engagement with that community, it was definitely part of the conversation. As I said I did not have the pulls on the black scene.
The Divine 9 never crossed your mind?
I just didn’t want to be Greek. That was not one of the things that really spoke to me
Not even one of the male AKAs?
Nah. [Laughter] I was also told there is only one AKA now on campus which is very sad, because they do, do wonderful things. But no, never…
So, what was the off campus bar culture like?
Winston-Salem is such a weird cit-, town, and we didn’t, its I think sort of you know it’s not an accurate representation because when we would go to bars we would just go as a group of Wake students, like we would go over to um….oh my god….oh what’s the thing on Trade Street….oh….it’ll come back to me, we’d go there and you know it’d be just us transplanted from a different place and like we were too busy throwing shots back to even you know feel rejected because of our sexuality.
So, um, did you date anyone while you were here? And were they, would you characterize them as long-term relationships or a more casual experience?
So I did not date anyone. You asked the intersections of my identity, I did not date anyone at all in Wake at Wake Forest while I was at Wake Forest, and that was sort of a function of…
Didn’t date anyone in Wake Forest?
I didn’t date anyone. I had no relationships during my college…no long-term, committed relationships during my college experience. I think it was a function of 1) the population was literally quite small and 2) I think racism. There’s definitely an aspect of this community that did not see themselves dating a gay…a black guy. Which is fine, it sort of…
They’re missing out…
[Laughter] They are, you know, I could change your life, but it’s like, it’s you know, but it was definitely present, never, you would never, no one would ever say it overtly, but I felt it. You know I felt it, I didn’t stop feeling it until honestly senior year and I think maybe this is kind of twisted of me, but I think the reason I stopped feeling it is because I was who I was on campus senior year so people you know, you know, whatever his race is…he’s student body president. I definitely think that played a role into it which is sad.
So, what made you feel that way?
That, the racist piece?
Yea, like you said there was this sort of like feeling there, that you couldn’t quite like, you know it’s almost like….
Well there’s getting turned down for guys I would hit it on, and that’s not to say I think I’m hot shit or anything…
Being modest again…
I don’t, it’s like you know, I see you turned me down but you go straight to him, and it’s all so basic and so just really really petty I sort of shutter to share it but I felt it and you gotta go with what you feel right, I did not feel like there was a wide enough community that saw me as a vital option for a man. Like I think I’m awesome and since graduation that is definitely changed. Like, you know I date more and rendezvous more, keep it PG….that part PG anyways. Especially now that I’m in D.C. like there’s really no place like it.
So, what did you do after you left wake forest?
I went home for a couple of weeks and went to sleep, I was very tired. Very busy year
It was a deep slumper….
It was a deep slumber and then you know I realized, wait a minute I’m at home and I don’t want to be so then I started looking at where I wanted to be and I pretty much chose D.C. it was like I need to focus my efforts and energy around one place and moved to D.C. didn’t have any jobs, didn’t have any living prospects for a job, I crashed on my friends couch for, ended up being like three months and just did the D.C. dance. My first job that I had was at a small now defunct start up P.R. firm and I actually got that through a Wake Forest connection, worked there for six month, you know really realized that I did not like P.R. , P.R., I have a whole diatribe about why public relations is completely and totally bullshit, but I then you know that ended because the owner tried to cut my salary and I was like no. Like, no, no. I don’t like the job and I especially don’t like the job for less money so goodbye. So that was February 2014, I did the networking dance and sort of got in contact with a Wake Forest connection who worked, works actually at the white house and had conversations with him and uh my current job came open at the department of energy and sort of got into that process.
So, what is your like title?
So actually it’s about to change, I was a special assistant
Thank you, [laughter] this is actually breaking news. This just came in this past week. I was a special assistant in the Office of Congressional and Government Affairs, and now I’m a special advisor for the same office and it…
I bet those guys wish they didn’t turn you down now…. [Laughter]
I mean you know Charles it’s just like I don’t even want to think about the people at wake who were like “oh I just see you as a friend” well screw you too! No, but it’s great. I love it. I love my job, I love being in D.C. but I say that because I think my experiences at Wake and the things that I went through and the relationships that I developed and the skills that I really came out with enabled me to be who I am in D.C., open and confident, you know really just able to dive in and see what I can come up with.
So, why did you choose to come to the LGBTQ Alumni Conference, and what did you expect to happen and what did you hope to attain?
I chose because I love Wake Forest. I will always always always love Wake Forest. I want all of my children to come here, maybe just one of them…..and because I believe in what Angela is doing. You know, like I said I was able to speak with her when she was in the interview process and you know you just talk to her and she got this amazing mind and done some really interesting stuff and I fell in love with her vision for it and you know one regret I have from my years at you know at Wake, I didn’t figure out ways to work more closely with her mainly because I was figuring out who I was at that capacity and I didn’t necessarily lean in as much as I could have and that’s a mistake.
I think you worked with her more than you think you did….
I mean, [laughter] I was just there as a soundboard and I tried to be a resource and I think that was definitely a two way street, but you know like I said the idea of this conference was something she pitched in her interview and that was in 2011 and to see it, this beautiful thing that has the support of the University, and to see the president speaking at our opening reception and to see all these alumni you know from like back in the 70s who thought they would never come back on campus because they didn’t feel a safe space, to see them here and affirmed and like it’s, I’m getting Goosebumps and it is amazing, and it’s like how the hell could I miss this? I would have moved hell and earth to get back down here.
So, how do you think it will affect the current students here?
I think it’ll impact campus life as much as people can communicate the story of what’s going on here. One of the things that Wake is notorious about is really having these awesome events, awesome dialogue, and then not really seeing it go past that. You know, I’m guilty of throwing those kind of events. Its’ like how do we make sure that you know we’re doing the homework after we come to these wonderful things where we feel all affirmed and all together. So it’s up to us. I think it’s up to the participants at the panel, it’s up to people like Angela who I know will work the hell out of whatever comes from this, and it’s up to folks like, students like you who are taking this class, and doing this kind of work and telling the story of alums that you know had varying degrees of experiences on Wake’s campus.