Picture this: It is September 6, 2018. Following a whirlwind of events, I’ve just landed in Los Angeles to attend a weekend conference with fellow scholarship recipients. I’m sitting in a room with over a dozen other LGBTQ+ community college students who have begun hurriedly getting to know each other and laughing. I am among the largest group of queer people I’ve ever been in, and I’ve never felt more uncomfortable in my life.
I spent my adolescence as an out, queer, cisgender woman who took all necessary steps to blend in to the heteronormativity of the environments around me. My experience with transgender and nonbinary folks was limited to my friendship with a single soul in my high school who showed everyone what bravery truly looked like. My social motive was just to assimilate, not rock the boat. I was the token queer in a group of straight people; I accepted that role and kept most aspects of my personal life private, because that’s what you do when you’re a queer kid in suburbia trying to keep it together.
My non-traditional college journey led me to Berkeley City College ten years after graduating high school. One afternoon, while jogging down the stairs after class, I spotted a flyer advertising the Point Foundation Community College Scholarship on one of the bulletin boards. I fit the requirements, applied, and after completing all the steps in the process, I was selected as a 2018 Point Foundation Community College Scholar, allowing me to finally transfer to a university — a goal I’d chased for a decade.
One of the wonderful experiences of being part of the Point Community College Program is the opportunity to attend the Transfer Symposium, which brings the new class of scholarship recipients together from all over the country to attend sessions tailored to the LGBTQ+ transfer experience, prepare for college applications, and get to know each other. The workshops and sessions during our symposium left me feeling inspired and eager to continue working hard to get into a good school.
Socially, however, something wasn’t right. It quickly became clear to me that I was struggling to connect with most of the other students. I didn’t recognize cultural references when they’d drop them in conversation; I grappled internally to find anecdotes to add to conversations, and came up empty-handed. My jokes were not funny, I was not interesting, and I was suddenly and totally disoriented. Here I was, surrounded by a group of incredible, accomplished LGBTQ+ scholars — something that I thought would make me feel a sense of unprecedented liberation — and instead, I felt disconnected and unsettled.
I left the symposium and stepped back into my normal life feeling academically recharged and focused, but maligned in spirit. I marinated in that feeling, dissected it, talked to my Sociology professor about it, and spent a good amount of time staring at ceilings and out of windows to try to understand why I’d felt so alone among a group in which I thought I had so much in common.
That’s when I realized: I’m queer, but I know nothing about what that truly means other than in the context of my own experiences. I’m queer, and I know nothing at all.
Following the symposium (and reality check/gut-punch of a lifetime), I sought to begin my queer education and leaned on my new community to help. Over the course of the year to follow, I dove head-first into this exploration because I needed to understand the community that I had been a part of but kept private for so long.
I kept in contact with my fellow Community College Scholarship recipients, asked them questions, and listened to their answers. I made necessary, sometimes painful, but genuine apologies to recipients of my own ignorance. I prioritized the consumption of queer-and-trans-created literature, music, film, and television. I embraced that feeling of discomfort, because I learned what it meant: you are not inadequate, you just have some work to do.
Point gave me a community that was ready to accept me no matter how much or how little I knew about them. They gave me a family that loves my journey, but reminds me to check my privileges and preconceptions. They did not give up on me when I lost myself in the expanse of my unknowing. Instead, Point gave me my long-overdue queer lenses, and a safe space in which to put them on and look at the world. My new sight.
Almost one year later, I found myself in Los Angeles once more, preparing for Selections Weekend, in hopes of becoming a Point Foundation 2019 Scholar. This time, when interacting with others, I made connections with more ease. I knew what kinds of things to say because they came naturally to me; they lived in me now. I had new skills to articulate my experiences, rather than grappling with them inside of my head. My jokes still were not funny, but I had a renewed confidence that comes with a little bit of knowledge. I felt completely different — I’d done a bit of the work.
I vow to continue learning from my LGBTQ+ peers, to continue to ask questions, and truly listen to the answers. I’ll never know everything. But it’s the process of learning, of seeking to understand, that feels good.
This post was written by Point Scholar Tayler Hammond.
Tayler is currently a student at California State University, Long Beach studying Criminology. Tayler hopes to seek answers to questions about crime as a social and behavioral phenomenon while creating space for queer professionals in the FBI. Read more about Tayler here.