LGBT+ History Month: Being queer at Cam

Sophie Zhang 8 February 2018

Over a year ago, I arrived at my college for my interview expecting beautiful lawns and quaint architecture, but was surprised by what caught my eye: the two toilets near the junior parlour, which contained the words “+ non-binary”. This was a sign of progressiveness and tolerance that I didn’t expect from a place associated with tradition and privilege, but it was a happy surprise that signalled what was to come.

Before coming to Cambridge, I had only come out to two people in the 18 years of my life. Being queer was something internal, something I clutched secretly to my chest. Even some of my closest friends knew nothing about it and I would brush it off if they asked if I liked girls. Perhaps the only person who guessed anything about my gender identity was my English teacher, considering that she’d let me do my coursework on breaking free from gender conventions, even though it wasn’t on the curriculum.

It was only after coming to Cambridge that I started to live my life more fully and openly as a queer individual, trying to experience life in all its colours. I have come out to more people at Cambridge and met more LGBTQ+ individuals than ever before.

At Cambridge, I feel like I am part of a vibrant and extensive LGBTQ+ community, with so many wonderful events and socials organised by groups such as CUSU LGBT+, my college JCR and FUSE. Of course, it’s not perfect here, and I’m unsure whether I can come out to all my friends, but what makes me feel safe is that I know there are spaces where I can be who I am, and where I will be accepted, not judged or questioned.

LGBTQ+ issues aren’t treated like a side-issue that’s brought up once or twice a year like it was at school. Instead, LGBTQ+ discussions and politics feature prominently in student journalism and conversations. Before coming to Cambridge, ‘non-binary’ was a word that I had only seen as an accepted and widespread term on certain Internet sites. But once I became part of Cambridge Facebook groups, I saw the word everywhere. Although it might seem to many like a small thing, for me the inclusivity this promotes cannot be understated. I felt for once that my existence and my gender identity were being acknowledged and included. I also felt a real sense of respect and recognition as I was often asked about my pronouns at discussion groups and by one of my supervisors. I was surprised at first, but now that it has sunk in, I’m glad that there are many open-minded and supportive people at this university.

Although I’ve been able to express and explore my sexuality and gender identity more at Cambridge than anywhere else, I am also aware that the university has a long way to go before it can be said to be fully supportive and inclusive of all LGBTQ+ students and that there is still room for improvement regarding social attitudes in Cambridge. Therefore I hope to see much progress in the coming years at Cambridge for LGBTQ+ students.