By: Daniel Chin
I ate pizza almost every Thursday during my four years of college. It wasn’t the “typical” lazy, can’t cook college scenario. It wasn’t because the dining hall food was bad. It wasn’t even because I really love pizza!
It was ginner.
I was fortunate enough to attend Bowdoin College, whose Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, hosted a community dinner every Thursday (and served the aforementioned pizza). Email invitations with taglines such as “Out, Coming Out, Figuring it Out, or Just Want to Hang Out Weekly Dinner” and “Supporting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Questioning Students, Allies, and those who aren’t so into labels…” set expectations for an inclusive and welcoming space. While the dinners weren’t officially called ginner (a portmanteau of gay and dinner, if that isn’t clear), it quickly became our shorthand for the event after we began attending regularly.
“Are you going to ginner this week?”
“See you at ginner!”
My first ginner actually happened by chance during September of my first semester in college. A few friends from my floor who identified as members of the broader LGBTQQIA+ community told me they were going to a dinner at the Resource Center. Freshly out to my high school friends a week before leaving for college, I had only just taken my first steps out of the closet. As I navigated roommates and many new social situations, I had tiptoed back “in” to assess my situation. And yet, here were other allies going to support their queer friends, offering me the chance to do the same. I went under the guise of being an ally, and I soon found the dinner did not require us to label or identify ourselves. Instead, we faced the challenging icebreaker of “Would you rather tan plaid or sweat cheese?” (To this day, I have trouble deciding.)
As weeks went by and the ginner community began forming more solidly, I grew more comfortable, both with my peers and with my own sexuality. By December, I was ready. Discussing our return home for winter break, we gravitated to the subject of family relationships and being “out," some expressing concern while others gave it little thought. I admitted the timing was bad for my friends because I would be coming out to them now and promptly returning home for a few weeks (where I would have to re-navigate being out). Regardless, I decided that it was time to tell them I was not just an ally, but gay myself. Gauging the reactions, I looked around the table and saw many supportive faces (and one or two mouths agape). In retrospect, I can see I needed a safe, low-stakes situation to come out to these friends. Although they clearly had demonstrated their support, and even their own identities, I still needed to navigate my own identity.
When I returned to my floor after ginner that night, my friends quickly invited me into their room to begin what I thought would be an interrogation. Why hadn’t I told them sooner? Didn’t I trust them? Instead, I was met with an outpouring of support. My friends who had opened their mouths in shock quickly explained that had nothing to do with disapproval and instead represented their surprise. We then covered the requisite topics: was I out to anyone else? My family? Did I like someone? What did I think of this guy? My coming out process had accelerated so quickly, and yet, I felt so at ease with these friends.
Returning from winter break, I resumed my ginner attendance in search of the support of this community. Kate, the director of the Resource Center, also reached out to me by email inviting me to lunch. We met one-on-one in the dining hall and I found myself a bit more intimidated. I no longer had the group to sink into if needed. I can still remember the tension I felt as she asked whether I might identify as bi or gay or queer. Though “out”, I was still coming to terms with so much of my identity. Kate could perceive my discomfort, but she balanced the proper amount of coaxing and support with pushing me out of my comfort zone. I soon found many peers had similar meetings with her and expressed praise, relief, and even love for Kate’s time and care. Ginner was only one piece of the services she offered to queer students and the college, with counseling and advocacy also in her repertoire. I and countless other students cannot thank Kate enough for her love and dedication to us all.
I would continue to attend these ginners every Thursday--barring a semester abroad--throughout my college experience. Attendance at ginner ebbed and flowed, but I made some of my closest friends at these dinners. My coming out process aligned with that of many of my friends. We obsessed over potential crushes or lamented lost loves. When friends from home came to visit, they asked, “Is anyone you know here straight?” I valued my community of queer friends and allies, which were brought to me through ginner. It felt so much easier to have peers beside me going through many of the same things.
As I moved through my four years in college and went from a timid first year to a boisterous senior, I saw classes of students below me undergo similar evolutions, though some also arrived much farther along in their coming out processes than I did as well. Not all students have the same access to community and resources, and not all organizations are willing to make it a priority. When I left Thursday night dinners behind, I found myself longing for a more robust queer community again. As much as the specific people affected me, I also felt the loss of the atmosphere of safety and support. There have been few spaces in my life (so far!) that have felt so genuinely inclusive. The weekly repetition of embracing my identity empowered me to bring the same pride and openness into other spheres of my life. I also realized that while I left feeling more “fully formed”, I had to face coming out to bosses, coworkers, doctors, and other people outside of my collegiate bubble. While I thought my coming out process had finished on a high note from all these ginners, I realized it is a process that will continue to unfold. Kate, ginner, and my queer community provided me with so much coming out practice that I will always remember. Not only do I hope others can find their own ginners, but I also hope to become my own ginner host, to follow in Kate’s footsteps, and to found queer affirming spaces for the next generation.
Follow Danny on IG: djchin12