Brennan O’Rourke
Gallatin Travel Course: “Berlin: Capital of Modernity
Berlin, Summer 2017

Much of my life growing up in a city in Kansas (and I use the word “city” lightly) has been spent hiding my queerness. The Midwest is not the most welcoming of places to queer people, especially when it comes to challenging gender stereotypes. I always enjoyed a balance between the feminine and masculine, whatever those terms mean. I enjoyed wearing clothing and expressing myself in ways that men were not supposed to.

Berlin gave me the freedom to explore my gender expression. The judgment wasn’t completely absent, but my experience was certainly freer than anything I had ever experienced before. During my time in Berlin, I barely got any looks of disgust or hate. It was a new experience for me.

author posing on a wallWithin the first week, I made an amazing friend after we matched on a certain dating app (I know, I know; however, this friend became one of my rocks). He gave me the confidence to explore my gender expression. We went out a few nights in Berlin to queer clubs.

I remember one night specifically. Beers in hand, we were walking to a club, but something stopped us, and we stood there on the street talking about queerness. He explained to me about his family—how he hasn’t told them much, but that they know. I talked about how I was scared to explain to my family what gender fluid means, because of the way they think about gender. We spent about two hours there outside with our dress clearly indicating our queerness.

When I got home that night, I reflected on the number of times I had ever felt safe enough to stand on the street dressed like I was for that long. And the answer: never.

My studies about queer Berlin and Berlin’s evolution as a city have contributed to my growth as an individual. Berlin proved to be the centerpiece of the exploration of my queerness, and it also gave me the courage to express myself and embrace the importance of queer friendships.