Last February we hosted and recorded the following talk on “Queer Identity” in Newnham College. Footage of the talk can be found here on Youtube.
Having been brought up in a family that was largely Muslim, in a conservative part of the UK, I never felt that I could be open my bisexuality before coming to Cambridge. Beyond a couple of close friends, I was unable to be myself completely due to the knowledge that it would result in at best humiliation, and at worst rejection from a large part of my family and community.
This all changed when I came to Cambridge. According to a Tab study, we are the queerest university in the country, and although I can’t be sure that this was the most scientific of studies I totally believe it! I can’t imagine anywhere more open to LGBT+ students of all gender and sexuality identities, or where so many of the people you meet turn out to be queer in some aspect. It is truly a place where you can be open about who you are and be sure that discrimination and homophobia is both extremely rare and also not tolerated by either the university or the overwhelming majority of other students.
As a result, it is also, for someone coming from a place where most people had never even heard of terms such as “non-binary”, and where “gay” was still used as an insult, surprisingly easy to find people who are openly LGBT+. Whether you just want others to talk to about your experiences, or are hoping to find someone special who you couldn’t imagine ever meeting back home, there can be few places better than here to make being queer the smallest barrier possible to your happiness.
While it took some time to get used to the idea of being out, the more people I told about my sexuality the happier and more comfortable I became and the more other LGBT+ people I met. My advice for freshers who have not felt comfortable being out before coming to Cambridge, is to remember that coming up is a chance to start afresh and define your own identity ab initio. Making however it is you self-identify clear right from the start means that you never really have to go through the struggles of ‘coming out’. Even if home is somewhere where your gender or sexuality identity can’t be revealed for whatever reason, spending most of your time somewhere you can be yourself without judgement is a hugely liberating experience. The earlier you seize it, the more exciting and freeing your Cambridge experience will be!
So my advice as someone from a background that was not exactly queer-friendly is to throw yourself into the opportunities Cambridge gives you – there are club nights, bar crawls, coffee mornings, talks, discussion groups and more, all of which are great places to meet people in similar situations from you. Make the most of it!, and good luck with your new start at the best university in the world (no bias!)
(To submit your own experiences, please email email@example.com)
I’ve given the website a long overdue revamp, improving the graphics and organisation of our pages. Loads of work was put into turning this site into a significant knowledgebase of all stuff LGBT+, unfortunately more recent committees have yet to continue that until now. From now on we’ll be posting listings and events here, and making more of an effort to introduce more people around the university to the advice and information on here.
If you’d like to contribute to any of the pages we’d be extremely grateful. Right now our trans stuff is pretty solid, however we’re severely lacking on information about things like sexual consent, intersex issues, asexual issues, intersectional themes within the LGBT+ community, to name a few. If you have anything you’d like added, feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
In Freshers’ Week, our college chaplain told us all something along the lines of “Don’t feel like you have to stay good friends with the very first people you meet. When I was at uni, I didn’t meet my really close friends until second year, and that’s okay.” It was good advice which I promptly forgot about for the next nine months or so, as I was swept away in the blur that is Cambridge life.
I had come out in high school, a couple of years before starting uni, and I was excited to arrive and finally meet lots of people just like me. So I went to a couple of smaller LGBT+ events in Michaelmas, where I met lots of gay men and trans* people, who were all welcoming and lovely. But it just so happened that there weren’t many women at the events I’d picked, and I was too nervous to go clubbing or to bigger events without anyone who I knew, so I didn’t. Long story short, I stopped going to LGBT+ events and threw myself into my friendships in college. All of my female friends were straight, but that wasn’t too bad – they are supportive and I love them all to pieces.
Towards the end of Easter term, my LGBT+ ‘sister’ organised a sunny picnic at Newnham (side note: sign up for an LGBT+ family! Mine was ultra relaxed and supportive and wonderful!). I went, and finally met loads of really cool queer women amongst the wonderful group of LGBT+ people who were there. I’ve been to a few more events since, and thoroughly enjoyed them all.
Now I’m going into second year with a handful of LGBT+ friends, including the queer women that I really needed to find, and I’m planning on attending a lot more events. I didn’t make any fantastic friendships with the first LGBT+ people who I met, but I wish I’d remembered that that was okay.
(To submit your own experiences, please email email@example.com)
Here are this weeks events all in one place!
7.15pm – Trans-positive Feminism Talk @ St John’s College, Boys Smith Room
In response to the invitation of Germaine Greer to speak at the Union, CUSU LGBT+ and CUSU Women’s Campaign are hosting a joint event to celebrate and discuss the history of trans feminism, and think through how feminism can be made more trans-inclusive.
Former Cambridge City counsellor and trans feminist activist Sarah Brown has been invited to speak. Meet at 7.10 outside John’s. Details here!
10pm – Kaleidoscope @ Kuda (Life)
CUSU LGBT+ and Kuda are excited to bring you the third instalment new weekly LGBT+ club night in Cambridge – Kaleidoscope!
ADD YOUR NAMES TO THE GUEST-LIST BY WRITING ON THE EVENT WALL NOW!
There are gender-neutral bathrooms.
7pm – Get Real. Launch Party @ Trinity College, Wolfson Party Room
Get Real. is proud to announce the launch party of its first print issue. Wristbands for reduced entry to Fez will be available so get keen for a great night. Event details HERE!
10.30pm – _Oh! Rama @ The Fountain
Wobble on down to the THIRD Oh! Rama, at the top floor attic of the Fountain of Love, for another wild and wayward celebration of all things queer and dandy. £2 entry and gender-neutral bathrooms.
7.30pm – Gender Neutral Ceilidh @ Emmanuel UCR (opposite Pembroke)
Event page HERE!
Cambridge University Amnesty International is hosting an exciting gender neutral ceilidh, throwing away gendered calling in order to open this fantastically fun, traditional folk dance to those who don’t identify within the gender binary! Tickets £7 at or £8 on the door. Click here to get them before they’re gone!
“If you have never been to a ceilidh before, there are two things that you need to know. Firstly, it’s pronounced ‘kaylee’ and secondly they are very fun! Similar to country or barn dances, there will be live music played by the wonderful Cambridge University Ceilidh Band. Instructions are shouted out by a ‘caller’ and walked through a couple of times, then the band joins in and you follow what eveyone else does. You need no dancing skills whatsoever and if you have a poor concept of right and left this only makes the night more amusing!
Since the ceilidh is gender neutral there will be no gendered calling, and we have a ‘caller’ who has experience hosting gender neutral ceilidhs. All profits made will be donated to Amnesty International which works to protect the rights of LGBT+ identifying people across the world.
11am – Trans coffee @ Clowns
Come meet other trans folk in Cambridge for a chat over coffee and Italian food. The group will be downstairs and easily identifiable by their toy ostrich.
4pm – LGBT+ Coffee @ Clowns
Come meet other LGBT+ folk in Cambridge for a chat over coffee and some Italian food.
10pm – Dive @ King’s Bunker
LGBT+ at King’s Bunker. ENTRY £2 // FREE AT 10 // DRINKS £2/£4. Event details HERE!
TBC – Anti-Valentine’s Day Event
An event in celebration of aromantic and asexual folk on Valentine’s Day. The plan at the moment is some sort of non-alcoholic speaker event at 5pm and a party afterwards but WATCH THIS SPACE!
7pm (TBC) – “What is love?” DISCUSSION NIGHT (Venue TBC – Follow the Facebook Page for more details.)
This is a discussion about that weird elusive thing called love. Why is everyone chasing after it? What’s the big deal? Think about Valentines Day from an aromantic perspective. Can asexuals ever find love? What about asexual-sexual partnerships? Again precise details to be confirmed.
16/02-22/02 – Non-romantic “secret valentines” in celebration of aromantic awareness week
If people could email firstname.lastname@example.org, their name and college to get involved. Idea is to get silliest/funniest present for under £5 and send via UMS by 16th Feb. Extra points if its aro-related. Open to all, but with a focus on raising aromantic awareness.
We need your opinions on Spectrum! We want to make sure that Spectrum is as inclusive as possible to everyone across the LGBT+ community in Cambridge, but to do so, we need your thoughts. What do you like about it? What would you improve? Is there anything putting you off going? Please let us know in the survey below, and hopefully we can ensure Spectrum is a night everyone across the LGBT+ spectrum can enjoy.
The following is the link to the survey: http://goo.gl/forms/gX9DMePVS2
LGBT+ Mingle (at the Vaults Bar, http://www.thevaults.biz/)
Get to know some other LGBT+ people in Cambridge over drinks/meet some old friends. We will be heading to Spectrum (see below) at 11.30.
9.30 pm – 11.30 pm
LGBT+ Graduates Mixer Jesus College
20.00 – 23.00
At the Jesus College Cricket Pavilion. It can be found by entering the College at the main gate on Jesus Lane, going straight through First Court, Second Court, and crossing the cricket pitch
Spectrum LGBT+ Club Night (at Vodka Revolution Cambridge, http://www.revolution-bars.co.uk/bar/cambridge/)
10.30 pm – 3.00 am
Tuesday, Wednesday, 07-08/10
Stand at the University of Cambridge Fresher’s Fair,
10am – pm
Pick up some flyers and leaflets, get to know some members of the CUSU LGBT+ committee and get any info about LGBT+ things happening in Cambridge.
Weekly LGBT+ Coffee Socials 4pm at Clowns Café (http://www.yelp.co.uk/biz/clowns-coffee-bar-cambridge).
Have a chat with other LGBT+ People over some coffee and Italian food! 🙂 We will have a Teddy Bear sitting on our table so you will recognize us.
Weekly Women’s Cofee 4pm at Clown’s Café. (http://www.yelp.co.uk/biz/clowns-coffee-bar-cambridge).
Have a chat with other female identified LGBT+ people over some coffee and Italian food! 🙂
LGBT+ Pub Crawl
9.00 – 11.30
Meet at Market Square in front of the town hall.
Get to know the bars and pubs of Cambridge with some other LGBT+ people. Some College Reps will be organising groups from their College coming to this. If your College Rep is not organising a group, just come there by yourself or with some friends and we will get you sorted.
We will be grouping multiple Colleges together (depending on the sizes of groups) and handing you a map with 4 pubs to get through. There will be both alcoholic and non-acoholic task sheets.
Afterwards, people will be meeting at 11.30 at Wetherspoons before heading out to Spectrum. We will give you more infos about this event closer to the evening 🙂
First fortnightly Bi Coffee social at 5pm at King’s coffee shop
Hey everyone, Hope you’ve all had marvellous summers! There will be a proper listings in a day or two once some details for freshers week events have been finalised but there are just a couple of networking events whose details I wanted to forward on to you all asap. Enjoy the last few days of the break.
MORGAN STANLEY LGBT NETWORKING DINNER
There is an invitation to a networking dinner at Morgan Stanley’s Canary Wharf offices for LGBT students who are interested in a career in Investment Banking to learn more about the firm. Aimed at students interested in a career in Investment Banking, this dinner is sponsored by the EMEA Pride and Ally Networking Group at Morgan Stanley. Students will have the opportunity to network with representatives across the Firm, who will share their professional experiences and insights.
DATE AND TIME Wednesday 22 October 2014 16:00–19:00
LOCATION Morgan Stanley, London Offices
To register for the event, they ask students to email their CV to email@example.com by Friday 10 October. Be sure to include ‘Morgan Stanley LGBT Networking Dinner’ in the subject line. Further details about this dinner will be communicated to successful applicants. More details can be found in the attachment.
MCKINSEY & CO – LGBT RECRUITING DRINKS
McKinsey and Co would like to invite you to their ‘LGBT Campus Recruiting Drinks’ on Thursday 16 October at 7:30pm at The Varsity Hotel in Cambridge. It is described as a relaxed affair and they say that CVs are most definitely not required. Students from any degree discipline are invited but they request that you register your interest in the event at the following web address https://mckinsey.secure.force.com/Event/job_details?jid=a0xA000000AyDpJIAV  by Sunday 12 October 2014 to help them plan catering.
Before Cambridge, I was at an all-boys’ school and I don’t think coming out as trans* under those circumstances would have been easy even had I not been completely and utterly confused about my identity anyway. I can’t say for certain whether things would have been different if I’d gone to a mixed school, but I think that coming out at uni is certainly not too late (you still have the whole of your life ahead of you, after all!) and it’s important to recognize that everybody has vastly different experiences. Although woefully short of desirable, I would stress that Cambridge is a comparatively good place for trans* people as a city and as a university and I personally have never experienced in Cambridge anything like the abuse I have received on the streets of London.
Coming out is always a scary process but I was extremely lucky to have a very supportive group of friends and my college was extremely helpful with changing my name for internal purposes and I found it easy to come out to my tutor and Director of Studies. My department itself is a little stuffier and don’t seem to have got the message despite my DoS emailing them. I sometimes get the impression that different colleges have very different cultures and I feel in general that every Cambridge student’s experiences are highly dependent upon which college they end up at, the friends they make and which faculty they are part of. The University administration on the whole is rather more old-fashioned and stuck in their ways, and I feel like Cambridge has an intrinsically “macho” culture of hectic terms and a sink-or-swim attitude to your studies which sometimes doesn’t really allow you the breathing space you need. On a further note, there are some good GPs in Cambridge and some not-so good ones, so make sure you don’t stick with an unhelpful one!
The LGBT+ scene in Cambridge is not too bad, but not as good for trans* people as it could and should be. I would like to see trans* issues placed more at the heart of what CUSU LGBT+ does rather than the periphery because the community would be stronger with more inclusivity and a more powerful voice for everyone, not just gay men. There is progress to be made, but there is also a fairly sizeable and supportive trans* community in Cambridge and it’s a shame that it sometimes feels like trans* people are left on the sidelines.
My experiences at Cambridge have been quite mixed and it’s difficult to work out which things are solely “LGBT” relevant. This isn’t necessarily bad, though – bi people and trans people both have higher-than-average incidences of mental illness, so seeing how the University copes with that thrown into the mix is probably relevant to a lot of people in either or both groups.
When I was first diagnosed with a mental health issue, most didn’t really know what to do but some seemed willing to learn, as long as it was communicated very clearly and as far in advance as possible. Communication is one of the things people at Cambridge have a very particular attitude towards – the curtness with which people answer emails really affects some people with anxiety issues – so the constant expectation of academic-level clarity can be a drain.
As with mental health, so it was with trans stuff – gender doesn’t really come up in my supervisions and so supervisors have gotten all the way to the end of term without ever asking or making a statement that had to be corrected, then have accepted correction when I pointed out their end of term report had it wrong. Most of them have been faintly confused when they see the person attached to the name they’ve been given and it’s quite obvious they don’t quite get what’s going on, but I’ve had very few overt comments. The one memorably bad experience I think I’ve had is a supervisor who decided trans people’s existence was a fascinating intellectual subject and didn’t see why this might be inappropriate. On the college end, it’s been mostly OK, aside from one incident where the Senior Tutor asked me to “just keep using the women’s bathrooms (i’m a trans man), so people aren’t confused and distressed”. He backtracked quite fast when he learned this was “technically discrimination” – basically, the rules are on your side with that one. The main theme here, I’d say, is that it’s overwhelmingly likely that any horrible things that happen will be non-overt and anything that is overt is something you’re likely to be protected from in some way, at least after the fact. Depending on how you process interacting with people, this could be a good or a bad thing.
The mix of trans and bi has mostly not been a problem – people who pride themselves on being enlightened, liberal academics tend to at least try to not be overtly homophobic. One of the porters at my college did suddenly stop being so warmly supportive when they realised I still liked boys, but by and large people who can deal with “trans” can deal with “trans and bi”. Cambridge is, I would say, astoundingly safe compared to most of the places i’ve lived when it comes to obvious signs of non-heterosexuality. When I walk down the street with a person i’m seeing who is also trans, we are very rarely harassed – I can count the incidents on one hand. I definitely feel like in most other places we wouldn’t be this safe. I will note that this is in the centre of town – the areas not dominated by students are a bit different. Slightly out of the middle of town I did once get chased by a man threatening to beat me up for “looking like a woman”, but the fact that this was just the once says a lot about Cambridge’s relative safety.
The mix of being trans and mentally ill is harder to form a solid opinion on. Supervisors have dealt variously with the mental illness – some have been very understanding when I’ve been unable to attend or respond well in supervisions due to medication side effects, manic twitchiness or depression fog, while others have displayed a stunning lack of empathy for anyone who doesn’t fit the effortless high-achiever mould. People have been less understanding about eating disorder related setbacks than they have been about depression, and I feel this is relevant to my Cambridge trans experience as so many of us have eating disorders. The University Counselling Service was really not appreciative of how being trans might feed into other issues (or alternatively, how not every issue was related to it) and also put my body dysphoria issues down to being on the autism spectrum. The CUSU LGBT+ trans rep really helped me when I came out, though, and they and I are still good friends. From what I’ve heard from people at other unis, our trans welfare is actually pretty decent.
“CUSU LGBT+ really has been foundational to providing a new range of social experiences since I came out in October 2012, some two years after matriculating here at Cambridge. The LGBT+ community here has been nothing but welcoming, inclusive, and friendly to me. I’ve managed to meet some of my closest friends from mingling at Spectrum, the weekly LGBT+ club night, and college socials, in addition to those friends I already had before the time seemed right to be more open about my partner preferences.
My college has a thriving LGBT+ community, representing people from all walks of life, so I felt more at home at university than ever before when I got to express who I really felt I was with people who non-judgementally accepted that. Plus, knowing there are two tiers of support available through college and CUSU LGBT+ is comforting, but before coming out my knowledge of the community here was limited. I think not everyone is aware of the support networks available to them, and we should be all the louder because of that.
To prospective students reading this, I would say really take the initiative and get involved, not only in the student politics side of things, but in all the great stuff Cambridge LGBT+ life has to offer. Good luck 🙂 “
“I decided to come out when I got to uni because it seemed easier (instead of having to correct people’s assumptions, they could just know I wasn’t straight from the start). Personally, I have had a very positive experience at many levels, for example: my teachers, while sometimes ignorant about LGBT+ issues, have often been willing to discuss them respectfully (in language oral classes, for example); I have made lots of fantastic friends with whom I have experiences and concerns in common; I am involved with running LGBT+ stuff; I feel more comfortable in Cambridge town than I would in many other cities.
Of course, things could improve, for example: LGBT+ events are often very male-heavy, leaving other people such as myself feeling a bit out of place (also unhelpful if you mainly fancy women and were hoping to pull…); biphobia is not always challenged, both in LGBT+ and general settings; my college could be much more proactive things like removing gendered terms from dress codes.
My experience at Cambridge has been, overall, very enjoyable. It is easy for me to find spaces which I feel comfortable in and people to hang out with, and students etc. tend to be respectful regarding LGB stuff.”