So, here’s the tea. Being a debater in Arkansas is quite challenging on its own. Unfortunately, being a queer/gay debater makes my accomplishments even harder to achieve. For the first couple of years being a debater, I was quite scared to accept my feminine self in such a masculine setting, wreaking of toxic masculinity through a simple cross-examination. With many new arguments that my partner (Anna Dean) and I were innovating, I thought it was finally time to reclaim myself as not only a debater, but a queer individual as well attempting to harness the confidence I had lost through fear. Through my last year of debate, I made the conscious decision to ignore perpetual stereotypes and break the norm in such a conservative state, wearing high heels to tournaments in place of what a “typical male debater” would wear. I wanted to add high heels to my attire ever since I could try my mom’s pair on. It felt like they activated a part of me that had been switched off by conservatism coupled with christianity. Truly feeling like my true self, I ended up getting a ton of praise for my “bravery”.
What I never realized was the true extent of being “different” in a community such as speech & debate was and how it creates a certain viewpoint for a person. There were many negatives, such as the weird looks, and common slang like “fag, fairy, bitch, or pixie”, and how many believed I “asked” for that kind of discrimination going out dressed how I did. Which is another topic I believe is made unfair for people like me. We need to strive towards a community that doesn’t question those who choose what to wear without having to “prepare” for the discrimination that follows. But to put us back on track, names and run-ins with homophobic people is a typical confrontation in places like Arkansas. The advice that I have is to ignore those comments until we finally find true liberation, but there will always be those few individuals who can’t be bothered. I would tell you to try and make a teaching moment out of exploitation, but in my experiences, it’s ended in many different ways from threats to actual physical altercations. And although I believe everyone can take care of themselves, fighting just can’t be the only solution, and concluding to that isn’t really what Marsha P. Johnson strived for, in my opinion. When I walk through the school in competition, I cope by keeping a count of people who continually look me up and down in weird ways, one of the tournaments added up to a full 143 different people (most of them being students). Even then, I felt an improvement in my confidence and I could even say my performance as a result of this revelation.
And the next part of my post is really what this article is about, because many people in the speech & debate community are VERY unaware of what goes on through a mind of someone like me. I actually realized this walking through the state capital in my dark blue, 4-inch stilettos. When my school goes to tournaments and enters that specific area for the first time, it’s not a surprise that people’s eyes hone in on what I’m wearing, because it’s not really something they’ve seen in my area before. Contrary to popular opinion though, it’s really the positive-seeming attention that I get at tournaments. You know, (but not limited to) “yes mama werk, I love those shoes, fierce, keep strutting queen, etc.. And obviously it’s nice, and a great milestone in queer liberation. But what we don’t realize is the meanings behind such positive terms in an institution like school. I’d ask you (the reader) to look beyond the words and the idea that it’s to hold you on a higher pedestal than your surrounding counterparts. Don’t these compliments seem a little weird to you? And that’s exactly my point, they’ve all been about what I wear, specific to something “different”. Basically, if you haven’t got it yet, what I’m trying to get at is the idea that compliments on my appearance only further an isolationist idea, forming an “out-group” consisting only of me. Seeming nice, these comments only reinforce the idea that I’m a distinct person from everyone else because of my “unnatural dress”. What we can do about this is desire to create a safe space where all of us feel comfortable. It’s hard for many to realize such a complex topic of complimentary isolation (a term I came up with) to highlight the continued exploitation of queer bodies. I even mention these types of ideals in debate rounds, which reinforces the need for a platform in order to educate those who are unaware of gay experiences and mindsets. Through this, I’m not asking for no interaction, but with this blog post, I’d like to bring to attention the underlying meaning of the words that you say, even those that you believe to be helpful. Sometimes no attention is the best attention. And that’s on period.
But that’s just the tea sis,
Trey Roark (he/him or she/her)
Wake Forest University Freshmen