“Language as a Tool for Survival”: Nick Gibeley ’22 Examines Secret Queer Communication Throughout History

Facing a full hall of cheers, Nick Gibeley ’22 presented his Brace Fellow presentation, “Language as a Tool for Survival: A History of Secret Queer Communications since the 16th Century,” on Monday, April 4 in Abbot Hall. Gibeley introduced historically used queer languages, such as Polari, and elaborated on their origins, connotations, and uses.

“Because of the influence that our surroundings have on us as we form our identity, this leads to the formation of a speech community. It’s a common identity that leads to similar use of language. This prompts members of the same speech community to share similar ideals, similar customs, characteristics, practices, etc. Language is such a powerful form of resistance against dominant forces. And as such, it’s a powerful form of survival. The ability to communicate itself is an application of our development. People manipulating the language used to oppress them, to create a secret language that the oppressors can’t understand, is powerful,” said Gibeley.

Dr. Emmanuel Odjo, Instructor in French, was Gibeley’s faculty advisor. He emphasized the need for people to understand one another’s attempts to survive and have compassion for the differing experiences of others. Furthermore, he hopes that people learn to consider how to create spaces of belonging for the LGBTQ+ community.

“One aspect that I want people to take away is the notion of survival. We need to be more sensitive to other people’s plight. We all have different identities, but we also belong to the same humanity, and that is the notion that you have to create something to feel accepted by people to function in your own group of people. So in other words, if you really embrace them, then you want to know where they come from, and what makes them feel comfortable in this community or anywhere. What can I do to make someone feel comfortable? What can we all do together to make every member, each member of the LGBTQ+ community feel at home and not have to constantly watch their backs? So tolerance is what I want them to take away,” said Odjo.

According to Odjo, he learned from and was inspired by Gibeley throughout the process. Odjo is impressed by Gibeley’s creativity, work ethic, and desire to gain more knowledge in pursuit of the truth.

“His diligence is very thorough in his quest for the truth for facts, for what’s interesting, you know, and that’s a very good thing. We talk a lot about compassion at Phillips Academy, and it also means talking about tolerance, talking about being willing to embrace other people, accepting other people, understanding them, talking to them, asking them questions. I think that the virtue that Nick has when it comes to his approach to knowledge, his approach to compassion, his tolerance approach, his approach to creativity, his approach to being willing to know more is fascinating,” said Odjo.

Gibeley reflected on his attempts to balance audience-presenter interactions with information displayed in the visual presentation. Through the process, he noted that he learned how to create an engaging public presentation.

“The hardest part was actually creating the presentation because it is an art form. Honestly, you have to put enough information on the slide to keep people’s attention and to have something for people to look at. But you can’t put too much because people won’t be paying attention to you and they’ll just be reading something on the screen. The most meaningful thing that I got out of this in terms of being a scholar is how to create a public presentation like this and how to make a good presentation,” said Gibeley.

Solar Lu ’24 reflected on the importance of conversations on topics addressed in Gibeley’s presentation. They believe that more of the Andover community should be involved in such discussions in order to become more aware of issues so prominent in today’s society.

“I think as a queer person, it’s really important to know about queer history, just to know the legacy of the people before us. And just to know that we’re not only existing right now, but we’ve always existed. Talks like this are great. But there is a great disconnection between those who went and those who did not. It’s important to involve more parts of the campus into joining and embracing conversations, talks, and presentations because they are really useful for current times as well,” said Lu.

Gibeley agrees with Lu and expressed his hopes that through his presentation, people will recognize that queer people have always existed and will continue to be an important part of society.

“Something that I want people to get held in this project was that queer people have always existed and will always exist and continue to exist and continue to thrive in society, regardless of people’s opinions, regardless of how certain people think or certain people are present,” said Gibeley.