‘I’m totally against the bikini’: The Fun Home freshman speaks

We asked Duke Christian Brian Grasso how he’s coping on campus

Brian Grasso won’t have been the only Duke freshman to pass on the reading assignment this past summer. But he may be the first to provoke national headlines while doing so.

Grasso earned a name for himself by refusing to read Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir-novel Fun Home – and posting his decision on Facebook.

When he had settled into Duke, The Tab caught up with him for coffee in Vondy – and asked him how his views about sex, nudity and ethics are going to affect his campus life.

Grasso talks candidly about homosexuality, how women objectify themselves, and why he hates the bikini.

Tab reporter Cody Parrot (left) interviews freshman Brian Grasso (right)

Let’s start with just getting your side of the story. Can you tell me what your motivations were for not wanting to read Fun Home?
The Bible teaches sex is sacred, and that’s the basis of my ethics and why I didn’t want to read Fun Home. Because it is sacred, I believe it shouldn’t be normalized or trivialized in the ways it has been in pop culture. It seems to me assigning a summer reading with graphic depictions of sex would be doing so.

So what led you to sharing this position with the Duke community on Facebook?

I posted on the Facebook page because I thought other people would feel the same way. I wanted those people to not feel the pressure to conform to Duke’s culture, but to really think through what they believe on their own.

Has anyone reached out to you in support on campus?

I had about 70 strangers message me privately on campus, from different grade levels and backgrounds. I have gotten a lot of people who consider themselves Christian on campus, and from some liberals on campus. And from someone who is a more conservative Muslim.

What about people reaching out to you in a negative way? Did you engage with them?

Yeah I had a few, but the first thing I did was send them the Op-Ed piece I wrote in The Washington Post, and then after they read it—they were friendly. Most of them did assume I was incredibly homophobic and I hated gay people, which isn’t true nor [is it] why I didn’t read Fun Home.

Would you say you feel marginalized on campus?

I did feel marginalized until I got the opportunity to write the Op-Ed. Afterwards, people who disagreed with me, but sort of respected what I said and decided I had a right to exist here, and that gave me the confidence to ignore any “Oh, you’re that kid” looks.

You said depictions of porn are morally reprehensible, but you used a Matthew verse stating you were unable to look at women lustfully. So what about a community swimming pool – can you go there? Do your beliefs limit your leisure activities?

There are people in my community who go both ways on this. I don’t really know how I feel about it yet. I would say I think pictures of women having sex is different than women in bikinis, but I’m totally against the bikini. I hope that’s in the article, because I am.

If you track historically what modesty is becoming, and it makes sense with culture and how things are changing, but I think it almost feels like women want to be objectified sometimes with how they dress, and I think the bikini is an example of that. I don’t think it makes sense for, say, a Christian woman to be walking around in what is essentially underwear.

How have you been treated by those who have approached you for interviews and opinion pieces?

To be painted [as homophobic] on CNN was certainly disappointing. Christians especially have been homophobic, and there has been this massive pushback against that, as there should be. I would definitely push back against that kind of rhetoric.

Speaking of homophobia and bad rhetoric, I want to get your opinion on whether Kim Davis is within her rights to deny same-sex marriage licenses in Kentucky? 

I do think homosexuality is dishonorable to God, and I think most people don’t have a category for disagreeing with what a person does and still interacting with the person and loving with the person. I think that’s the main distinction.

I’ve made many friends on campus, and the person I was closest to is someone who is considered bisexual. You know there is more to us than what we do, and so we can talk about ethics, but at the bottom line I believe homosexuality is wrong because God exists, but if you don’t believe God exists, well then we have to talk about that first. But I don’t agree with how Christianity has taken that belief and used it to deny people’s humanity.

Keeping that in mind, do you ultimately think your hesitancy to read the book has produced a constructive or divisive conversation on campus?

I think it’s been constructive. I really do.

People are starting to recognize conservative ideals do exist on campus, and that’s another facet of diversity. A lot of people think diversity means we all have to completely be okay with everything each other is doing. They kind of expand the concept of accepting a person and accepting a relationship to approving of a person and approving of a relationship. That’s a really common idea on campus.

I hope that’s something people can reject to get a more refined view of diversity. I hope the Christians who read my article realize it’s good to be friends with people who are different than you, even those part of the LGBT community. It’s vitally important we don’t stigmatize them, but it goes both ways. It’s vitally important the LGBT community doesn’t stigmatize Christians and put up these stereotypes of what Christians are, but it does go both ways.

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