LUGs, BUGs and Chuck Palahniuk: An exploration of identity

09 Dec 2010 4:29 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Posted: Thursday, October 28th, 2010

By Zuha Shaikh '13
      Contributing Writer, The Mount Holyoke News

As the debate between social constructionist and queer history theories continues, the Mount Holyoke community stands aloof from the mess created by homophobic prejudices. With open arms, the college welcomes an assortment of women from around the globe. This diversity has fostered an acceptance of difference. In the absence of prejudice, students are free to explore different possibilities of what they can be. While people do experiment, they do so for different reasons.

I set myself to the task of understanding the role freedom plays in defining one’s sexuality. When I came to this country from Pakistan, I could not have imagined sexuality as fluid. Since then, I have met people who identify themselves at various points on the Kinsey scale, from point zero, “pure heterosexual,” to point six, “pure homosexual.”

As the French philosopher Michel Foucault once said, “Freedom of conscience entails more dangers than authority and despotism.” This spirit for exploration is what liberal arts colleges, more than any other university setting, seek to encourage. At places like Mount Holyoke, where learning is a product of one’s experiences, working through trial and error becomes a must.

In the words of Albert Camus, another French philosopher, “You cannot acquire experience by making experiments. You cannot create experience. You must undergo it.” However, when it comes to carrying out tests upon one’s sexuality, this is not always the case.

To identify yourself with one sexual orientationundefinedor none at allundefinedis not like choosing a topping for your waffle. The pick is not always divided along distinct lines of taste, but is often a temporary or a permanent result of a mix of luck and opportunity.

After interviewing (in person and via e-mail) students who classify themselves as straight, lesbian and bisexual, I have established that this yearning to probe one’s sexual identity is driven by many factors. The societies that conform to more heteronormative ideals often discourage non-heterosexuals from expressing themselves. This pushes people with homonormative tendencies to either ignore their attraction towards the same sex or come to understand it, but not express it.

Some students who leave college for less accepting environments have to present themselves as straight once they are outside of Mount Holyoke. “It’s extremely sad when a woman cannot tell her parents that she is in love with a woman,” one student relates in an e-mail. “Trust me I know from my own life experiences as of this day.”

When such students walk into Mount Holyoke, the warm welcome opens avenues for new expressions and realizations of their own inclinations. Some recognize these before they come to college, while othersundefinedtriggered by various factorsundefinedrealize it here. Some find it through experimentation, and others through pure luck.

One student said she only realized she was bisexual after she came to Mount Holyokeundefinedbut she was clear to point out that she was “NOT a BUG,” or “Bisexual Until Graduation,” a slang word used to describe students who return to heterosexuality after college.

“I have always ignored my attraction to women because of personal reasons and experiences with both gay men and lesbians,” she explained. “Those experiences made me homophobic. I had issues with gays and lesbians as a whole because of a few bad seeds. But when I got to MHC I found the most beautiful woman on this campus and I fell in love with her. I haven’t been in any other relationships like this and it’s real. I couldn’t ignore the feelings and thoughts any longer so I asked her to be my girlfriend and we’ve been together for a year. So I’ve always had the attraction to women and men.”

As these same sex relationships develop, it becomes more convenient for the general student population to experiment. By and large, the choice previously considered taboo is now looked upon positively. This lures people who have always questioned their sexuality to further explore their identity.

Meng Yan

Some straight-identified students might hook up with members of their own sex for any number of reasons. Some, such as the student above, fall in love. Others who may be drunk, bored, depressed or just simply curious, may like the idea of joining what appears to be the greater concentration of the community. When asked whether they had personally known someone who had experimented with her sexuality at Mount Holyoke, the majority of students answered in the affirmative. Thus, while the Mount Holyoke community does not encourage sexual experimentation as a “fad” per se, it certainly makes the approach to embrace change easier and less taboo.

That said, there are still questions that remain unanswered. How many of us change our sexual behavior just until graduation? The terms BUG and LUG are subject to controversy. The idea of “Until Graduation” underscores the lack of commitment to an identity or identity group. This makes sexual experimentation itself taboo.

“Majority of them will not ever date another woman again in their life,” a student who chose to remain anonymous commented. “Some will even tell you that they know they are getting married to a man.” However, while the concept of BUGs or LUGs definitely exists, there is no single BUG or LUG identity.

After talking to students on this subject, I have come to the conclusion that some students who are labeled this way, do not feel free to express themselves outside of Mount Holyoke. They might come from families hostile to the idea of homosexuality. Others might fall under Dr. Sari Locker’s definition of “Bi-Curious”undefineda “one” on the Kinsey scaleundefinedor “Dance Floor Lesbian”undefineda woman who only sometimes hooks up with other women, usually in public.

These initially “Until Graduation” experiments don’t always end upon graduation. As Chuck Palahniuk wrote in Fight Club, “If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?” There are students who say that they have rarely met people who, after experimenting and ending up in a serious same-sex relationship, leave that identity behind completely after graduation.
Although experimentation exists in some form or another at most colleges in the United States, a valid question is, “If you know your sexual orientation, what is the point of such experimentation with sexuality?” This cogitation makes non-heterosexuals and heterosexuals, mostly look down upon such terms. For some non-heterosexuals, it might be that someone who is not seriously committed to their identity is not “gay enough” to be an insider. For the general public, sexual experimentation might seem like a waste of time, especially when other issues demand attentionundefinedand especially when the individual claims to know they are straight or gay.

While this argument seems perfectly logical, there still lingers the reality that even some people who claim to be strictly heterosexual, do end up in same-sex relationships temporarily. As Emily Borden ‘11 says, “It’s not necessarily experimentation ‘for fun’ here, but it’s a much more relaxed environment in relation to gender expression and same-sex relations. Sexuality, in my honest opinion, is something fluid that cannot really be defined by a label, but rather that everyone is attracted to whom they are attracted for some reason or another, which makes experimenting with sexuality for fun just another dimension of attraction.”

Together, all these factors make Mount Holyoke a great attraction for more LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender) applicants. As Borden says, “We’re not any gayer than other people, we just happen to have a large concentration here.” Many who walk in as heterosexuals, despite all the freedom, strictly choose to remain that way. In a women’s college, they find dating prospects off-campus. No strict judgment can be passed on either how many students exactly become bi or lesbian-identified because of Mount Holyoke, or how many choose to remain that way only until graduation.

Dianne Laguerta ’13, who works in the Admissions office says, “While it seems that there is a large number of LGBT students here just because the environment is so accepting we won’t know for sure because we don’t know how many report it accurately before coming to college.”

What I could effortlessly establish is that conducting these “tests” is prevalent in the MHC community. Most individuals in the Mount Holyoke community tend to oscillate between being 100 percent straight and 100 percent lesbian. The self-identified “pure heterosexuals” I interviewed for this article said that lesbianism and bisexuality at Mount Holyoke is mostly “a fad.” The queer-identified students told me they were mainly annoyed with their “temporary” counterparts.

At a women’s college, one can move across the Kinsey’s scale as one wills. “Mount Holyoke is Utopia,” as one junior said. “Of course such experimentation exists!”

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