Every Saturday, when I am home in Oakland for the summer, my parents and I go to our local farmers’ market. In addition to the fresh local food, one of my favorite things about it is the fact that I can see the diversity of people who live in the neighborhoods around me. I get to see the little kids that squirm with impatience as their parents look at vegetables, the most useless of all foods when you’re six, the adorable older couples shopping together, the young guys on the side peddling their music and the families whose children’s faces reflect but do not always reveal the heritage of their interracial parents.
The people that I love most of all, though, are the lesbian couples. They often stroll through the market, hand in hand, buying food together and making sure their kids don’t get stepped on by the other busy shoppers. Oakland is to lesbians what San Francisco is to gays. It’s not as nationally renowned, but it’s been a hotbed of lesbian community and activism for decades. It’s a place that I’m proud to come from and I love living in a community where people don’t have to hide who they are or whom they love.
I think of Stanford as also having that quality, but last fall when I got to campus I began to realize that I don’t know very many women here who are very open about being lesbians. At best, I’ve only been aware of three or four female undergrads in my time here that identify as something other than straight, but I know many gay men. So I started to wonder why that is.
Are there really no lesbians at this school? Does the Office of Undergraduate Admissions have an unconscious bias against them? Stanford is well known for being an accepting place; it was ranked second on the Princeton Review’s list of the nation’s most LGBT-friendly colleges in 2011. It just seems to me that the number of gay men and women should be about equal here, and the fact that this doesn’t appear to be true worries me. That might be a faulty assumption, but I can’t help but wonder: where are all of Stanford’s lesbians (and bisexual and questioning women)? I have some theories, but I have no way to tell if any of these are actually true. It’s hard to track down a hidden or missing population.
Maybe the lesbians who go to private universities for college mostly end up at women’s colleges. Women’s colleges are widely joked about as being bastions of lesbianism. Gay men don’t really have an equivalent option; maybe Stanford only gets the male half of the high-achieving LGBT students.
It could be that I’m just better at spotting gay men. If a guy acts flamboyant here or flirts with everyone regardless of gender, I’m likely to ask about his sexuality. If a girl does this, I think nothing of it. I know who’s gay because I ask; I don’t know who’s a lesbian because I much more rarely make assumptions about women’s sexuality.
Are lesbians actually just as prevalent as gay men, but just not as loud about it? Do I have lots of lesbian friends I just don’t know are lesbians? If this is the case, then I feel like Stanford students are missing a chance to hear the stories and experiences of lesbians. The diversity at Stanford is wonderful, but it is only really valuable if people share their opinions and backgrounds with one another.
On the other hand, maybe this whole column is silly and the reason that I don’t know any lesbians is because I don’t hang out with lesbians. They could be hiding in places I don’t frequent. I just happen to know all the gay performers because I do theater and love a cappella.
The worst option is that maybe, even though this is a great place to be gay, Stanford’s not a safe space for a lesbian to be out and loud and proud. I have no idea if this is true, but if it is, this is an important thing for us to work on as a school and figure out how to fix.
So what’s the reason? If this was an academic paper, I would suggest we launch a survey or do more research to find the answer. But this is just a lowly opinions article, so the most I can really say is: think about it. Talk about it. And don’t just let me know what you find; let our whole school know.
Continue the discussion with Jamie by emailing her at jamiesol(at)stanford.edu.