Dear Sundborg: Hands Off Queer Bodies

Seattle University still calls me from time to time. It’s usually about money. Sometimes I’ll throw a bone and send some change their way. However, after hearing President Sundborg’s response to an image of a drag performer printed in The Spectator, and a professors theft of several issues on newstands, that money may be kept in my pocket. In fact, I’m going to use it to tip a drag queen this weekend.
I graduated from the university in 2010. I was a Journalism and Women and Gender Studies student, a Naef Scholar, helped coordinate what was then referred to as The Children’s Literacy Project and–full disclosure–spent time reporting for The Spectator. I currently work as a middle school teacher in the city and lived in New York working with LGBT youth. My four years at Seattle University were powerful. I came out in September of my freshman year and didn’t waste any time making it known. After 17 years of hiding, fear, and anxiety, I burst out of the closet because it was my only option.
It was Seattle University—a Jesuit Catholic institution—that propelled me out of that dark and restrictive space. In combination with friends, professors, and OMA programs, it was a Jesuit on campus who encouraged me to live openly, honestly, and to be myself because I, too, was made in the image of God. That is precisely why the administration’s response to an editorial choice like this is so jarring and disappointing.
The photo itself is not egregious. It’s fierce. That bodysuit and heels combo is not an easy thing to pull off, nor is the pose itself. While my guess is the majority of the student body saw the image and didn’t bat an eye, it is clear that Fr. Sundborg and Fr. Leigh evaluated the photo from a cisgender, heterosexual-lens. Anything outside this antiquated scope may be deemed “embarrassing and indecent” if you’re operating under the context of gender as binary. It shows an incredible lack of education on gender and sexuality as well as drag as performance. If he thinks this is outrageous, he should walk into a Women Studies class at SU and pick up some Judith Butler. Maybe they’ll have to confiscate Butler’s books too.
This cisgender, heterosexual lens is not new for queer people. We’ve had to try and fit within the frame our entire lives. Spaces are not often designed for us. Movies and plays and books and television and music is not made for us. It is events like this drag show that allows students to escape the strict and rigid confines of heterosexual spaces and explore gender. A space on campus is completely queered if only for one short evening; queer bodies are celebrated; queer experience is celebrated. Celebrating students, Fr. Sundborg, is never embarrassing or indecent.
Educating the “whole person,” as SU so routinely espouses, means recognizing that the whole person includes every part of our complicated identities. To be embarrassed, ashamed, and offended by an image of a drag performer is to be offended, embarrassed, and ashamed of so many of your students. Recognizing and pushing for diversity and inclusion on campus means not just “allowing,” but celebrating all aspects of what makes the SU student body unique.

-Alex LaCasse, Seattle University Class of 2010, former Spectator reporter