Clinton and Hamilton’s Queer/Transphobia Aren’t So Different
In May of 2022, The Compound, a well-loved sandwich and specialty butter restaurant on Park Row in Clinton, closed after two years of business; they have since moved to a location in Utica. In comments shared with the Daily Sentinel (formerly Rome Sentinel) in May, Sharrone Sofer (one of the two owners of The Compound) mentioned a “progressing feeling of hostility within the village,” which began after a pride event held at the restaurant in 2021. Sofer shared with the Utica Observer-Dispatch that “they felt hostility through microaggressions, passive aggressive comments, and a lack of understanding and unexamined biases.” For them, despite the Clinton location having maintained “its profitability,” “it became less of a question of whether it was like, financially feasible or a question of whether it was emotionally.” The owners of The Compound said that many of the difficulties they faced in Clinton in the last year have been “largely directed by Clinton Mayor Elizabeth Tantillo.” The village of Clinton shared a statement on behalf of Tantillo, in which they denied the claims of “purposeful evasion, discrimination, and accusations directed at [the Sofers] by Tantillo.” The statement itself is very short, vague, and doesn’t mention queer people by name. The Sofers shared that The Compound was “being accused by neighboring building owners and building managers of bringing in the “wrong crowd… nobody says ‘the wrong crowd’ and means something that’s like, benign.”
Though this move may seem disconnected from Hamilton’s campus, there are much larger implications than the fact we can't go down the hill for The Compound’s grilled cheeses and tomato bisque. Driving down the hill into Clinton, I understand completely why, even without the microaggressions and discrimination that The Compound staff and owners have faced, Clinton would feel like an uninviting space. Though around 60% of Clinton residents voted for Biden in 2020, it sometimes feels like every other house has a Trump 2024 flag. This isn’t to say that Clinton is inherently a bad place, but rather that it’s unsurprising that a proudly queer-owned and visibily queer space would grow to feel unwelcome and targeted by the community at large.
It doesn’t surprise me that the village denied it, either — most left-leaning spaces (of any size) don’t actively parade their anti-LGBT and specifically anti-transgender views. Instead, it comes about in more subtle forms — the accusation of The Compound bringing in “the wrong crowd,” or, my experience this semester of being mass deadnamed (definition in link) in front of my entire dorm — in part so the enactors of this harm can claim plausible deniability.
But there’s more to this story than just accidental harm, or purposeful-but-covered-up harm. The Compound’s closure speaks to a larger culture of faux acceptance of (specifically) trans people in otherwise left-leaning spaces. Clinton, according to the statement given by the village, “has substantive laws and codes to guide their decisions so as not to seem capricious or biased over individual concerns” and accused the Sofers of having “fabricated the problem and sought to blame the mayor.” But the lived experience of discrimination and targeted accusations and comments that the Sofers and The Compound’s staff had in Clinton resonates with me. Hamilton is, in general, a left-leaning institution. But the lived experience of being trans (or queer in general) on this campus are riddled with disrespect, microaggressive comments, and a general lack of care or understanding for trans students at all. Clinton’s anti-LGBT culture as experienced by The Compound is not as far removed from Hamilton as its students may like to think. After all, the previous Mayor of Clinton before Tantillo was an administrator here, and Tantillo’s husband works in Hamilton’s Advancement Office. The Village of Clinton can claim that the Sofers weren’t discriminated against, but considering the myriad of Trump flags across the village, and considering how complaints of discrimination from minority groups are frequently downplayed/ignored, I find it hard to believe that it was “fabricated,” to use the words chosen by the village in their statement.
Hamilton let me enter a chosen name into their databases so I wouldn’t be deadnamed in class, but my deadname still appeared in many places that I was explicitly told it wouldn’t be shown over the course of my freshman year. Hamilton claims to be an inclusive institution, but I have had multiple professors use my asking them to use he/they pronouns for me as an opportunity to lay out their negative feelings about pronouns, about multiple sets of pronouns, about the difficulties of using they/them pronouns for people, etc. onto me (I now use exclusively he/him pronouns, in part because of this). I understand that people may have difficulty with pronouns. But that is not an excuse for a professor to tell me to simply not expect them to get my pronouns right because it’s hard for them. Has it occurred to these people that trans people are also people? And can also have difficulty with these things? I don’t get everything right every time. Literally no one does. It’s okay to say that. It’s not okay to take that sentiment and turn it into a comfortable excuse as to why one never genders people correctly. This lends itself to something Anna Sofer said, something that resonated deeply with me as someone existing as an openly and vocally trans person on campus: “who wants to really be a part of a community that really doesn’t want you to be a part of it?”
When I was assigned my housing for this year, I was deadnamed first to my roommate and then to my entire house, despite the fact that my name on my housing account has shown up as Corey Sloan since around June of 2021. I still don’t understand how Hamilton can have my preferred name and not implement it everywhere it is possible. I understand that sometimes technology has issues, but this has been a chronic issue since I arrived at Hamilton, and has been an issue for other trans students for many years longer. All my professors had the right name on the roster, but my advisor’s roster didn’t. My physical Hill Card had the right name, but my digital one and Hill Card account didn’t, because for some reason it wouldn’t stay updated. I ended up legally changing my name this year (an exhaustive, complicated, and very long process), solely due to the fact that I am tired of being unjustly deadnamed on campus. Since I submitted my preferred name to Hamilton in May of 2021, there is no reason that anyone other than people dealing with my health insurance and employment should have been aware of my deadname. In Anna Sofer’s words, “who has the emotional energy to be dealing with this stuff all the time?”
At Hamilton, I constantly am worried about being misgendered publicly — and it’s not an unfounded fear. Last semester, though unnamed, I was referenced in a Hamilton newsletter. They never asked for my pronouns, and used she/her for referring to me when I was referenced (“A third student recalled that after a presentation she and Ambio attended…”) despite my being open about being transgender/not a woman both publicly and on my forms/documents since I applied to Hamilton. I constantly am worried about having my deadname exposed (even at this point, in which it is no longer my legal name), because it continues to be shared with different people on campus, often by “accident.” In what spaces can I truly feel fully comfortable and safe? Why am I expected to correct people 24/7 when they could simply be doing better in the first place?
It’s embarrassing to reach out to ask for my pronouns to be corrected, especially on something as public and wide-spread as the Hamilton Headlines. It’s humiliating to have one of my first messages to my new dorm in our Discord server be (along the lines of) “I don’t know if I should say this here, but can you take out my legal name and replace it with Corey? I don’t know why Hamilton did that, they know I go by Corey” because the roster with my deadname was first emailed to the dorm (25 people), and then forwarded on to the nearly 60 person Discord used by the dorm (this server includes current residents, other students living elsewhere on campus, Hamilton graduates, as well as non-Hamilton students). It is a constant struggle to decide whether having my (now legal) preferred name and pronouns be used outweighs the stress and embarrassment of having to correct people, especially people who already have this information about me. This isn’t even to mention frequently being mistaken for people who look nothing like me, just because we’re both trans (and in this case, also white). I consistently brush it off even though it actually is very frustrating to feel like people can’t see the difference between me and someone else just because we have an identifier in common — especially when we look completely different. The forced homogenization of trans people is disturbing, especially when it comes from people that would likely call themselves trans allies. Do you see a visibly trans person and just assume it’s the one you’re thinking of, or do we all (dependent on race) actually look the same to you?
I know this sounds like I’m just complaining about Hamilton, but there is a point within this. I am extremely disappointed that The Compound closed. I loved their grilled cheeses, and their tomato bisque is genuinely the best soup I have ever had. But there is so much more to their closing for Hamilton students than just the loss of a great restaurant. This should serve as a reckoning for what we as a campus stand for in terms of trans and broader queer inclusion. Clinton is not as far removed from Hamilton as the Hill makes it seem, and we should be doing more as a campus to not just say, but prove that queer and trans people have a place on campus. What would it mean for Clinton’s anti-trans culture if Hamilton made a stronger effort to include and uplift trans people? Culture can emanate outwards — this is a fixable problem.
The statement from Clinton about The Compound said that the Sofers and their staff did not experience discrimination, and didn’t experience it at the hands of the mayor. But saying something doesn’t make it true. Hamilton and its students can say that they care about trans people, but the material reality of trans people on campus is, at least in my experience, one of constant anxiety over having personal details about your life being outed and one of extreme isolation and anxiety over every decision one makes regarding anything to do with trans identity — from bathrooms, to dorming, to how one dresses, even down to what classes (especially P.E./dance/other physically active classes) one takes. It is so anxiety-inducing to have to ask people to use different pronouns for you than they may have expected or consistently correct people on pronoun use, for fear of coming across as overbearing or “too much.” Especially when coupled with oftentimes only being the trans person in the room, every aspect of the trans experience on a college campus as it has to do with interacting with others is anxiety- and paranoia-inducing.
Is it sustainable to constantly be on edge and paranoid? Is it sustainable to have to constantly self-advocate, with little-to-no material support? Is it fair to constantly be told that Hamilton is an accepting space, and that Hamilton has these structures in place to protect trans students, all the while having to, daily, deal with unacceptance and the failure to protect trans students? Yes, there are definitely places worse for trans students than Hamilton. But that doesn’t mean that Hamilton can’t be better, can’t create new infrastructure with trans students, faculty, and staff in mind — or at the very least do better with what it already has. It doesn’t surprise me that trans and queer staff at The Compound didn’t always feel comfortable in Clinton, because I don’t always feel comfortable at Hamilton. It doesn’t surprise me that the Sofers closed The Compound in Clinton, because every time I get hit with another example of unacceptance and/or transphobia on campus, I think about whether I should have to deal with this for the next three years. Do I really have to deal with this?