On Feb. 14, I attended Torrey Pines, a stop-motion animated film at the Emerson Paramount Center in Boston. The film, created and directed by multimedia artist Clyde Petersen, tells the true story of Petersen's road trip with his schizophrenic, conspiracy theorist mother when he was a 12-year-old girl. It chronicles the strain of growing up in a dysfunctional family, while also being a wistful trans-queer coming-of-age story.
LGBTQ+ is an acronym for gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, and others. Throughout the film, Clyde struggles to make sense of his evolving sexual orientation and gender identity. Sexual orientation is a person’s sexual identity based on the gender to which they are attracted, while gender identity is a person’s perception of their true gender, regardless of their birth sex.
The LGBTQ+ population in the United States has a long history of inequality, oppression, and marginalization. The gay liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s was pivotal in making strides towards equality. Prior to the movement, non-heterosexuality was widely associated with sexual promiscuity, pedophilia, and criminality. LGBTQ+ citizens have been granted several rights in recent years, including legislation preventing hate crimes and workplace discrimination and the legalization of gay marriage, all of which were enacted under the Obama administration.
However, there are still significant problems plaguing the community today. In comparison to straight cisgender people, LGBTQ+ people, especially those of color, are subjected to violence at disproportionally high rates. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, in 2013, 72% of hate crimes in the U.S. were committed against transgender women. Transgender people of color were also six times more likely to be victims of police violence than their white cisgender counterparts. In addition, those in the LGBTQ+ community are more likely to experience discrimination in housing, employment, and healthcare.
In Torrey Pines, Clyde Petersen powerfully presents the hardships of growing up trans-queer and attempting to make sense of one’s sexual and gender identity. Clyde is depicted as a deeply misunderstood and often frustrated young child. He doesn’t like his middle school peers or teachers, he feels detached from his family, and he is most comfortable when he is alone, curled up with a book in his cardboard box fort. Although its quirky humor is one of the most charming aspects of Torrey Pines, Petersen touches upon a multitude of legitimate issues that members of the LGBTQ+ community, including those at Boston College, face on a day-to-day basis.
As a female child, Clyde felt he couldn't relate to his blonde-haired, blue-eyed, traditionally "feminine" mother. In the film, she tries to persuade him to wear dresses and shave his legs, which he detests. When Clyde accidentally sees his mother naked, he is disgusted and subsequently undergoes a nightmarish vision of menstruating, growing breasts, giving birth, and other horrors that go hand-in-hand with the female body. Similarly, LGBTQ+ BC students—many of whom come from traditionally Catholic backgrounds—may also feel the need to act in a way that clashes with their true sexuality and gender identity.
“From my observations, many students are figuring out their gender identities and sexual orientations during their time at BC. Many students that I know, perhaps in response to feeling pressure from friends and family to live or behave in a way that conflicts with a piece of their identity, are more out at BC and less out at home,” said Claire Geruson, a student in the Boston College School of Social Work and a facilitator for Prism, a support group for queer women and non-binary students on campus. “Overall, Catholic or not, our society is still developing to be accepting towards various diverse gender and sexuality presentations.”
Throughout the film, Clyde experiences eye-opening moments related to his sexuality and gender identity, which leave him feeling confused or angry. Boston College is often accredited with having a heteronormative, "bro culture" atmosphere. As a result, many LGBTQ+ students discovering their own identities might impulsively suppress these kinds of feelings and realizations due to societal pressure.
“If by bro culture, you mean toxic masculinity, over-indulgence in alcohol, a generally white economically-privileged attitude, and prioritizing heteronormative and cisgender identities, I would say that many students do not conform and are not comfortable with bro culture,” said Geruson. “There are certainly moments where LGBTQ+ students may not feel safe to bring their whole selves. However, in my experience, often students get to a point where they don't suppress who they are and are very vocal and active on campus.”
Clyde Petersen felt isolated as a result of his trans-queer identity. He felt alone and "weird" compared to people around him and the expectations of society. Boston College provides a variety of resources for LGBTQ+ students who feel alone, misunderstood, or marginalized.
The LGBTQ+ Student Support page and LGBT@BC Faculty and Staff resource guides offer a comprehensive list of people in almost every major department on campus who are identified as allies and resources. There are several LGBTQ+ activism and support groups at BC, such as Prism, Horizon, GLC, and Spectrum. In addition, members of the LGBTQ+ community and allies at Boston College have marched in the Boston Pride Parade during previous summers.
In terms of advice for LGBTQ+ BC students, Geruson stated, "We see you, we know you exist, we love you, and we want to support you unconditionally. Please know that there are so many more spaces on campus that are loving, accepting, and will be proud with you and for you—even when you're not sure you're ready yet—than those that might feel oppressive. We are a community that is very strong, and we are grateful you are a part of it. We accept you wherever you are in your journey and with whatever questions you have. Each step of loving yourself is so worth it."