Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

‘Y’all means all’: a Southern queer kid’s take on Dylan Mulvaney’s talk

Kellyn Taylor
Illustration by Kellyn Taylor

After a 27-hour-car ride from Louisiana, my first steps onto Emerson’s campus three weeks ago were in a rush to meet my roommate for the first time. The following days were packed with orientation, in more ways than one, and, needless to say it, was overwhelming. 

Why am I here? Is this really where I belong, at some small liberal arts college in Boston?

My high school experience was NEVER this gay. For me, Emerson is the first place where being gay doesn’t feel like a big deal, but also isn’t inevitably no deal. I feel at home here because queerness is more normalized. At Emerson, it’s clear that being gay ISN’T just about sex; it’s also about compassion. Experiencing that sense of compassion during orientation made me feel accepted. 

My orientation leaders dragged us to the New Student Welcome Show, assuring us that we “would not want to miss this.” In Cutler Majestic Theatre, surrounded by hundreds of other freshmen, the theater erupted in applause. My eyes focused on the words on the screen: “Dylan. Mulvaney.”

My decision to attend Emerson was based on its esteemed Journalism program and inclusive community. I come from the South, so both of these things are more or less considered “too liberal.” My small town culture emphasized traditional Christian values, and though I grew up in the church and loved the familial relationships it strengthened, tradition was suffocating my sexuality. For the first time in my life, I am in an environment where I’m not looked at differently in class when I talk about my girlfriend because there are more people like me.

These thoughts came flooding to me as I watched Dylan Mulvaney run out onto the stage to greet a packed theater. Her presence filled me with emotions I didn’t know I had – that middle school feeling when your guy best friend gets a girlfriend, wishing that was a possibility for you. As I rewatched the video I took of her entrance, it still did not feel real – as if I didn’t take that video. 

I realized a lot from Dylan’s talk:

  • I had never been in any setting where a queer or transgender person was invited to speak.
  • I had never been in any setting where a queer or transgender person felt comfortable to exist and be heard publicly.
  • Queer and transgender representation is so rare. 

While coming to the realization that you’re queer can be freeing, for most, publicly coming out also comes with consequences. Until eight years ago, I could not get married in all 50 states, and even now it’s rare to find a space where I can be with my partner without fearing for my own safety. 

Emerson is that safe place. I’ve heard a lot of people – professors, students, or outside sources – call Emerson a “bubble.” While I agree that this school feels separate from Boston and the rampant homophobia of the outside world, there are still weak spots where hate leaks in. Even within the Emerson community, there were several straight and cisgender individuals who were  openly against Dylan’s speech. Though they’re a minority, they still exist here and in my head, telling me I am wrong for simply loving. 

Dylan’s recent visit received a lot of negative attention online, with many articles misgendering her or bashing Emerson for inviting her to speak. One thing all of these articles have in common is that no one who wrote them was there. None of the outraged conservatives on X (previously Twitter) sat in Cutler Majestic Theatre and heard Dylan talk. As someone who did, it was powerful. 

Hearing Dylan’s speech was important to me, as it made me feel accepted and cemented my choice to pursue higher education at Emerson. I did not realize the magnitude of her impact on young transgender kids, and therefore young queer kids, until I spoke with the other queer people that experienced her speech with me. Their joy mirrored mine as we agreed that seeing casual, positive representation can be lifesaving for queer and transgender teens. In the case of my friend Rayan (they/them), hearing Dylan speak live in the midst of their physical transition gave them hope. 

I can count on my hands the number of shows or movies I have seen with queer representation that wasn’t solely for the purpose of checking off a diversity quota. Seeing Dylan exist happily and freely lifted a weight from my shoulders that I didn’t know I was carrying. 

It was not the “leftist agenda;” it was a speech. I felt seen by Dylan even though she didn’t know I was there. As she talked about her experience being queer in college, it reaffirmed my decision to spend four years at Emerson. When she said she wished she could have attended a school like Emerson, I felt lucky to have the chance.

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About the Contributor
Merritt Hughes
Merritt Hughes, Co-Opinion Editor

Comments (2)

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  • C

    celia / Sep 22, 2023 at 3:22 pm

    so lovely and heartwarming 💕💕

  • M

    meira / Sep 21, 2023 at 1:15 pm

    This is so well written! I can’t express all the emotions this made me feel