The experiences of queer students at Bates are multifaceted, diverse, and vibrant. They work in every field of study and organization on campus. Our community dresses from high couture queens to thrift shop sissies. Queer students express their sexualities and identities in a myriad of ways through differing layers of privilege. My experience as a bisexual, upper-class, cis, white man is much different than LGBT+ individuals of more marginalized identities. But there is one thing that we all have in common: we’re a small minority on this campus.
LGBT+ identities are in the margins of populations everywhere, but at Bates, it’s very hard to miss. Our diverse community easily gets overpowered by heterosexual and cisgender cultures. I, personally, have found my own friend circles to be accepting and accommodating, but for many others, I know this to not be the case. While events like Coming Out Week and Sex Week give us opportunities to make ourselves more known, the queer community is rarely the center of discussion for the campus as a whole. But on an infamous dance night, that (supposedly) changes.
Lick-It is arguably the biggest event of the year that puts our identities up front and center. The night before Gala, Bates’ illustrious student-faculty prom, the college at-large congregates within a smaller venue for an explicitly sexual and wild dance experience. It’s fair to say that Lick-It is second only to the 80s Dance in terms of infamy for raunchiness. The night is awash with costumes, lingerie, toys, and half-naked twenty-something year-olds in general. But rarely amidst this sexually explorative environment do I see drag, leather, grunge, or rainbows. Rarely do I see my fellow queer people. More and more I find that our communities are being erased from this event, and that queer students are just another group of attendees rather than the protagonists of the evening.
Lick-It has been appropriated and overtaken by heterosexual, cisgender Batesies (to say nothing of the realities of race and nationality at the event). Much of this partying excess is rooted in the caricaturization of queer expression and the harmful notion that affirming a sexual/gender identity means being excessively carnal. Since my first year at the dance, I can remember seeing queer couples and groups isolated in niches of the dance floor in Benjamin Mays. I have seen so many pregamers and party goers simply use this dance as another opportunity to get smashed rather actually acknowledge the LGBT+ community at this school. People whom I have personally heard yell f****t in their dorms and shamelessly mock transgender folx show up to this festivity jumping in jubilation.
This dance is a staple Bates event, but it’s become divorced from its original mission. Queer sexualities, genders, and cultures have been drowned out at this dance, much like on the rest of campus, by an overwhelmingly hetero and cis-normative environment. It’s no longer the “queer party” at Bates, but rather a party that happens to be put on by the queer identity group, Outfront.
In a way, this may have been bound to happen; loud music and heavy drinking are, admittedly, not exactly conducive to thoughtful dialogue on exchanges of culture and identity. Perhaps Outfront should make such events more private and small-scale. And yes, while sex-positive events are always worth promoting, every dance at Bates is sex-positive for straight people. The LGBT+ community does not have equal representation and access to spaces.
Do not get me wrong: Lick-It is fun. Really fun. I love the pregames, the music, and the opportunities for me and my friends to express ourselves vivaciously. But it simply is not the queer-focused event it was intended to be. The solutions to this problem are simple and have long been in the works. We need more campus-wide attendance at activities and Chase Hall programs that invite all students to come, but which center around the queer experience at Bates.
What I want, ultimately, is not to call-out cis-het Bates students, but rather ask them to reconsider Lick-It. Reconsider your conduct at the party (like for the love of Miss Vanjie respect consent). Reconsider how you choose at act in queer spaces. Reconsider your preconceived notions of what being queer can mean. But most of all, reconsider how little room us LGBT+ students at Bates have to act and dance as ourselves. We need our Lick-It back.