My first assignment for Windy City Times looked something like this:
I hopped in my car and drove from my white, middle-class, cookie-cutter suburb to a tiny theater in a part of the city I'd never seen so I could photograph ( on a camera I'd never used professionally before ) the musical performance/burlesque routine of a gay Black man in a rainbow leopard-print onesie.
My editor, Andrew Davis, knew that. He also knew that my exposure to Chicago had been largely confined to the Loop and the Red Line's Addison and Loyola stops. I'm not certain if he knew Donyae Asante's music heavily focused on the singer's sex life ( and I'm pretty sure I lied about how well I knew how to use the camera ), but he definitely knew I'd never had to discuss the anatomical realities of non-hetero sex with a stranger in a public park, which is what the next day's interview looked like.
This is not an airing of grievances. No wrongdoing or deception was involved: I took this internship knowing full well I would be covering the LGBTQ community, and in covering a community that is defined in part by sexual identity I would unquestionably encounter the matter of, well, sex. Nor was anything I interviewed Asante about abnormal; it just wasn't my kind of normal.
I have lived my life in a peculiar yet highly common state of open-mindedness, where I and what I imagine to be a significant number of white, college-educated, heterosexual people proudly proclaim ourselves as equal in our treatment of all races, creeds and colors without ever having to encounter anyone who doesn't look or behave exactly like us. There were occasional gaps in the curtaina long unmarried uncle casually outed, a classmate who showed up to school one day with hair cut short and a new namebut rarely do any of us elect to reach forward to the breadth of these vastly different communities.
I'm not asking for a pat on the back. The issue at hand isn't what I did ( and even then, did behind the comfortable facade of the objective reporter ), but what so many straight, white, cis peopleparticularly mendon't. We succumb to inertia, letting our kumbaya chant drone out the realities of a fractured world and then responding with knee-jerk denial when someone on the other side of the curtain gets fed up and tries to wrench it open for us.
So how do we fix this? At my college paper, The Daily Northwestern, we talk about the need to integrate women and LGBTQ persons and persons of color into traditional, heteronormative environments, in our case mainstream media outlets. We talk less about putting white, heterosexual reporters like me into environments like Windy City Times.
It's not hard to see why. The curtain has historically been just as much a protective barrier for those on the other side as it has been a tool of comfort for my group. To some who helped cultivate these safe spaces, letting someone like me not only look in but also step across this divide, is an affront.
But I know am a better man for having been granted the opportunity, and I believe others like me would benefit from such access.
I also believe that this access is something that needs to be granted. Straight people showing up to Pride doesn't bring changejust Citigroup-sponsored floats. We need to be immersed, thrown in the deep end.
My internship with Windy City Times is coming to a close. I hope it is not the end of our association, but if it is, I emerge with knowledge and an attitude I could not have gained in any other environment. And I hope I am not the last like me to gain this knowledge.
Joshua Irvine is a member of Northwestern University's class of 2022.