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Being Queer At King's - An Interview With King's Queer Community

Left to right: Amy Metson, Daniel Birtles, KA Harris

Most of us chose King’s not only because of its good reputation but also because it seemed to pride itself on inclusivity, acceptance and a liberal worldview. I wanted to find out how true that is, and if King’s are really doing enough to promote pride and keep queer students safe, living up to the rhetoric that King’s spams our emails with.

I myself am a member of the LGBTQ+ community, identifying as a pansexual cis-woman, and for this interview I engaged with what being queer at King’s means, with some of our loud and proud students.

I spoke to: KA Harris, a genderqueer comparative literature student, using they/them pronouns, Amy Metson, a bisexual midwifery student in a hetero, long term, long-distance relationship, using she/her pronouns, and Daniel Birtles, a pansexual biochemistry student, identifying with he/him pronouns. We discussed everything from the LGBTQ+ society to the ‘gender-neutral’ toilets on campus, to get a better idea of what everyone’s individual experiences had been and if there was any overlap—as it turned out, there was a lot.

What do you think it’s like in terms of inclusivity at King’s?

Daniel: I think that my experience on Guy’s campus has been a bit strange because of the nature of the subject; the subjects at Guy’s don’t traditionally attract that many queer people. That being said, I would say medical students are probably one of the more queer groups.

Amy: Well you say that, but I don’t feel very well supported. I mean, not many people know or can easily tell that I’m bisexual. They might now that I’ve shaved my head, but there hasn’t been a big LGBTQ+ community or anything in medicine like you were just saying, for me.

Daniel: There’s not really any visibly queer people for sure, and it feels strange being one of those who are visible.

Amy: I think I’d really love it if there was a bigger LGBTQ+ society, which I know a lot of my other friends at their universities have, and they really enjoy it.

KA: There is one, but it’s just a lot less visible because it’s only on Strand campus.

Amy: I’m at Strand sometimes and I don’t really see a lot of it being supported or promoted at all. It’s very humanities-focused.

KA: My experience is probably quite niche because I think most of the people in my degree are queer non-males. It’s definitely an issue, though, that we’re one of the few courses like that, and one of the few courses that talks about things like queerness and studies it. I’d say comp. lit is unusually good for it.

I’ve found English to be like that, where there’s definitely more of a discussion about it. Guy’s campus, however, I always found quite intimidating. You wear a coat that’s a little bit dramatic and someone will look at you the wrong way!

Amy: Oh my god yes, Guy’s is so intimidating! Obviously, when going to uni with a shaved head, the attention you get is crazy. For people who are cis and straight, unless they’re a boy, having no hair is quite odd, and I know a lot of people look at me and just think ‘queer person’. I’m kind of loving it because I’m getting that recognition that a lot of bisexual people don’t get. However, you can sometimes just know that stares aren’t always positive and they’re staring at you because they think, ‘they’re weird’. I hate that just queer people seem to be ostracised for expressing weirdness.

KA: I see what you’re saying because it’s so nice to get the recognition and it feels better to be unapologetic. But that being said, people code whatever you’re trying to present or send out into the world differently. I’m trying to present ‘non-binary person’, but someone else is probably coding me as bisexual woman and trying to interact with me like that.

Daniel: There’s something kind of romanticised about being the only queer person in a room and being best dressed or most flamboyant, but actually it’s nice to be like that with other queer people. Having more openly queer people on my course would eliminate these obvious differences. I love interacting with people who are really different to me, but also it can be nice to have someone that can understand my experience.

KA: It makes such a difference. We were doing introductions in my seminar once and we had to turn to the person next to us, introduce ourselves, and then introduce the other person to the class. I had been thinking about pronouns before this, planning on introducing myself with pronouns even if I wasn’t asked for them, and suddenly I couldn’t do that anymore because then I had to tell someone else to introduce me with my pronouns which, had I not been sitting next to someone I knew already, who is also queer, I wouldn’t have been able to do. I was sitting there thinking she was going to slip up while introducing me, because that could be uncomfortable, but actually she did it perfectly and it was all good.

Left to right: Daniel, Amy

It’s just nice to have support sometimes. I feel like you two doing medical/science subjects must have it harder. Even with English, there are queer people but they are not, for the most part, visible. Unless you were close friends with them, they wouldn’t just come out with that information, so it can be really hard even in humanities and arts to make other queer friends, let alone in a STEM subject which doesn’t have as many opportunities for queer people in general.

Daniel: It’s definitely alienating, I think I engage in fewer socials and things because of it. I’m less inclined to do things within uni, and also being Jewish adds a weird spin on it in social situations. Being a visibly queer person is like an extra alienation sometimes. It would be nice to be able to engage in social things with other queer people.

KA: Yeah, I don’t think we’d really want to go on a straight night out for example. We would rarely want to go to straight clubs because whatever you’re going out for, you need to feel safe, and that’s not likely to happen in a straight club. And if you’re planning to pull, then obviously gay clubs are so much more fun. It becomes a different social world already if you want it to be.

Has anything negative ever happened to you on campus because of queerness? Has anyone ever said anything or treated you differently?

KA: I’ve had a male doctor from the King’s health centre misgender me throughout our appointment in a really stressful way. I had a panic attack after that appointment which definitely made my anxiety worse. He called me a few days later to follow up on something and I tried to raise the gender, pronouns thing then. But he wouldn’t hear any of it, would not accept any feedback, and it was really stressful. I was going to file a complaint against him, but I just felt I couldn’t handle that, because I didn’t want to have to go into it again. Other than that, nothing beyond micro-aggressions. One thing that bothers me is that most of the time the genderqueer/all gender bathrooms are also the disabled toilets with a gender-neutral sign tacked on. It’s a bit like, this is interesting short-term solution which makes sense, but at the same time I’m going to feel weird going into a disabled toilet when I’m not disabled. Even though I’m genderqueer and want to use that bathroom, I’m always going to be worried that I’m going to come out and there’s going to be someone with an actual disability who needs that bathroom. What would be better would be specific genderless bathrooms. The phrasing is weird as well: a ‘gender-neutral’ toilet sounds as if the toilet has a gender. You wouldn’t say ‘I’m going to the male toilet’, and all-gender bathrooms make more sense because that’s what everyone has in their homes.

So, would you want a separate non-binary toilet block?

KA: No, I just want toilets not to have genders attached to them.

I think, though, that would make some people feel quite uncomfortable, especially women if there were men coming into the same bathrooms. I don’t think anyone cares if there’s a trans person in whatever bathroom they use, but I think it would be men in particular that could cause that discomfort or anxiety.

Amy: Personally, I would feel quite uncomfortable being in a toilet on my own and having four cis straight men in there as well, you know? I mean nothing against all cis-straight men, but a lot of them can lack understanding, and that’s where I think I’d feel anxious.#

KA: I’d just like a space for non-binary people, whatever that might look like.

Are there any final thoughts or things you’d like to discuss?

Daniel: There should be more initiatives to get queer people involved at King’s. A queer student mentorship programme, or events for LGBTQ+ people during freshers, would have been nice.

KA: It’s not that King’s makes being queer harder than anywhere else, but I’d like to see acknowledgement that queer people do just have things harder in a lot of ways generally. So, that would mean access to support in recognition of this; not just for the queer community but also BAME students, working-class students, communities that sometimes need more support. Outreach to these people or active investment in them would be nice and it’s hard to do that without first more investment into student support because the waiting lists are crazy. More queer, BAME, working-class people working in student support who could empathise with particular things that not everyone has to deal with would also be great.

Amy: I have to say overall that it hasn’t felt negative being queer at King’s. It’s just that wherever you go, some people are going to have particular views and make it difficult for you to live your life if you’re queer. I guess, though, that King’s is quite an inclusive uni and I’ve met some great queer people here. I’ve never had anything bad happen to me because of my sexuality, but I think there needs to be more promotion and support in general.

KA: I think there should be more outreach to prospective students who are queer. You’re not seeing visibly queer people on campus, so when others visit, they aren’t going to see that either—and then they might not be able to see themselves in this space.

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