To open up,
I’d like to acknowledge that queer is not a term usually seen in publications. I personally have had to describe my identity further than I desired as a result. For those who are discomforted by seeing the word in this article, I ask you to reflect on the newly expanding meaning of ‘queer’ as an umbrella term and allow those who wish to be less restricted by labels to do so in an act of reclamation.
I’m deeply proud of my identity and community. I’m not ashamed of any of its names, whichever may be used.
I’ve been out since I was 12 years old. Being queer isn’t easy, but it is joyful.
Queer joy is a complex topic to write about, as those two words nearly encapsulate a majority of my human experience. Existing loudly in a way not taught to you by society is something that seems to exist outside of words. We all know being queer is hard, but I think we miss out on the fact that some of us live in a space where nearly everything we do is tied to our identity in some way — even the good parts. Especially the good parts.
Sharing a meal with my dearest friends is queer joy. A group dinner accommodating your dietary restriction without you needing to say anything is queer joy. Watching your loved ones succeed is queer joy.
Seeing one of my best friends elected as the first openly LGBTQ+ Senate president is queer joy. Meeting my openly queer students and seeing them grow is queer joy. Encouraging other LGBTQ+ individuals to take up space as their authentic selves is queer joy.
Returning to my high school years later and seeing the former freshman who had just barely come out when I cast him in the show I was directing become a proudly out junior playing the lead in the mainstage musical with nearly a year on testosterone is queer joy. Complimenting your friend whose voice has changed due to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is queer joy.
I spent a lot of time reflecting on having the privilege of being out of the closet throughout my formative years this past Coming Out Day. It reminded me of the impact having access to a queer role model can have. The vibrant community we share is something not all of us have access to, and it’s important that those of us with the capacity open the doors for anyone who wants to engage more with it.
I think one my favorite parts of being queer is the instant connection between anyone visibly queer and anyone invisibly queer — specifically when straight or cis-passing individuals will naturally gravitate towards me in predominantly cishet spaces. There is always a silent understanding that we’ll look out for each other. To me, this is what being queer is about.
Since a lot of students in college might be experiencing being out for the first time or experimenting with being visibly queer, this unspoken solidarity is extremely important to me. If you’re newer to the community and haven’t experienced it yet, I promise you will, and I cannot wait for you to. It’s wonderful to operate as a mobile safe space in a similar way to women protecting one another.
As a femme person assigned female at birth, I get the honor of experiencing both, and I couldn’t be happier. I'll eternally be grateful for my communities' constant vigilance for every individual sharing space with us.
Living in a space where nearly everything I do is tied to my identity has been helpful in grounding myself. I get to rest easy knowing that my closest friends have a general understanding of my worldview and will approve of who I may fall in love with.
I'm able to sob and have my best friend hold my hand with the understanding of the additional pressure we face everyday simply existing as ourselves. I don't need to muster up a definition as I describe what's hurting me, and we can sit in silence knowing we've both felt the same way at one point.
Queer joy is feeling safe within our shared experience. I know my friends will be there through anything, and a large part of that is due to queerness.
To any newly-out students reading this: you are safe, and you are seen.
To anyone visibly queer at UF and in Gainesville: our community will persist, and it’s because of you.
Cassie Urbenz is a first-year 'MxD' student pursuing a Masters' in Design & Visual Communications at the University of Florida.