In the spirit of Swarthmore’s Coming Out Week, The Daily Gazette collected three diverse coming out stories from students around campus. From my personal experience, and as you’ll read in the following stories, coming out isn’t a one time deal. It’s not something that can be done in a day or a week. It’s an aspect of ourselves that we’ve shared with others before and will continue to share throughout our lives. Yet this week is an important time to support and give visibility to the queer community.
And so Coming Out Week for me is a time to remember the queer people who’ve gone before me, to support those not yet willing or able to come out and to reflect on my position as an openly gay man.
I was 14 the first time I came out. Somehow in passing I quickly spat out the words, “I’m gay,” to my best friend at the time. I had been questioning myself since 10 or 11 but didn’t want to say anything, just in case I was mistaken – wishful thinking at the time. (My mother later told me she knew when I was 4; I wish she would have told me, it would have made the grueling soul-searching a lot easier.) But once I outted myself once, it became easier to say again and again. While it was easy to come out, I had no idea what it meant to be gay and felt no more comfortable with this part of myself than before.
The first thing most girls would say to me is “OMG, I knew it, we should go shopping together!” (To all those girls: the answer is no, I’m not your accessory, and this isn’t the kind of acceptance I’m looking for.) While these reactions gave me the sense of belonging every 14-year-old searches for, they also systematically placed me into a role I felt I somehow needed to fill.
At the time I was at a conservative, suburban high school with a couple token lesbian and gays. So in coming out, I had stepped into a politically charged position without knowing myself or how to be myself. And while I come from a loving and supportive family, I had no way to affirm my queerness outside of a heterosexual environment. Simply, I had no mentors, no one to look to for guidance besides perhaps Will and Grace or that one guy on Degrassi.
For a long time I was more afraid of saying I held shame and remorse about being gay than I was to say I’m gay. When I was 17, I shared my experience with a spiritual leader. For the first time, I told somebody that being gay sucked and I felt ashamed. I wasn’t homophobic, I made sure to tell her, I just wish I didn’t have to be gay, that’s all. She started crying, and I remember I started to cry too because at that moment I realized how screwed up it actually was to nurture an internal hatred rather than to make peace and move on.
However, the crucial turning point for me in being able to embrace my sexuality was finding friendship with a group of healthy, successful gay men. In my year off between high school and college, I moved to the Twin Cities (Minneapolis is now ranked #1 Gayest City in America) where I began forming strong relationships with other gay men. It was this group of friends that was able to mentor me not only in gay vernacular like Twink and S & M (Stand & Model), but who taught me what it means to be a gay man. It opened up my perspective to what gay can be beyond the characters seen on TV. They taught me the culture, but more importantly, they showed me – with their confidence, intellect, and wit – how to be myself.
Sam Buchl ‘13
Coming out is a continual process; many people I meet either deem me straight or are uncomfortable asking about my sexual orientation, so, to clear the air, I come out again and again. For me, it’s been emotionally wrenching at times and surprisingly comical at others – sometimes both. Stepping back, however, I can confidently declare coming out a good practice.
I first came out to myself and others at the end of my junior year. An awkward “romantic” relationship with my best female friend, Anna, had ended at the beginning of the school year, and I was thrilled that we’d somehow become even closer by spring. At a beautiful, end-of-the-year bonfire, she horrified and thrilled me when she came out to me when were lying alone in the grass, looking at the stars; of course I had to reciprocate her gesture, half-laughing, half-crying as I accepted the reality for me and for her. The next day, we met at the highest point in our city, on a hill near the elementary school, and discussed our futures, alone in our families but together in our otherness, our queerness.
Though we haven’t yet gotten around to marrying each other, we have managed to have some pretty spectacular adventures, on sabbatical from our Midwest homes for at least the near future. Even though she’s in New England, and I’m at Swarthmore, Anna has been a comforting force as I’ve come out to my parents and some of my other religiously orthodox relatives. Having a friend by my side at the beginning of my coming out, a process that truly does get easier – if not better – with time, makes me grateful for my friends who don’t just tolerate, but prefer knowing all of me.
Morgan Sulerzyski ’12
After facing some pretty horrific homophobic bullying during my first year of high school, I was not optimistic about the idea of coming out at the very traditional all-girls prep school I transferred to later. I had attended and excelled in public school all my life, and this (as well as a super unattractive goth stage) already made me stand out from my fellow students. When my new classmates asked if I had a boyfriend, I spent the first few weeks saying yes. However, months later when my girlfriend broke up with me, I let it slip to several people in my distress that I had actually been dating a woman. Coming out as queer turned out to be nearly entirely unremarkable as I quickly assumed the role of token lesbian, but because of the nature of the school, my gender identity was more of an issue.
Senior year, I started identifying as genderqueer and struggled to find my place in the all-female environment. I became hyper-aware of the assumptions my teachers made about students, from everything to what kind of literature we would like to who our prom dates would be. To our holiday celebration, a decades long tradition that required formal dress, I wore a menswear inspired suit and tie, which earned me both praise and dramatic eye rolls. I stopped talking about myself as a woman, and for my senior speech in front of the whole school, I explained the gender binary and the basics about the transgender community. Although I never said anything about my personal identity, standing up to talk about transgender issues looking as androgynously as I did then sent a certain message.
The surface response from the school was overwhelmingly positive. I had never heard the student body applaud a speaker like they did me, and several teachers asked me to talk with them more about the issues I raised. The students I spent the most time with at school spontaneously began calling me a gender neutral nickname, and the comments about how pretty I would be if I just grew my hair back out mostly stopped. Things weren’t perfect. The faculty still continued to make heterosexist and cissexist assumptions. I still had to graduate in a dress like everyone else, and I frequently overheard conversations between students speculating about whether or not I belonged at the school. However, despite the conservative, single-sex exterior of the school, it was a fairly positive place to explore my gender identity. I still haven’t told the alumnae office or anyone I knew from that school that I fully identify as male now, but that’s going to be a whole different coming out story.
Grey Daniels ‘13
Being a flaming faggot is easy. It’s easy to be fake and pretend you’re perfect. It’s even easier to play the gay best friend who loves glitz, glam, glitter, fashion, and having sex with hot boys. He’s the sissy, ballet-dancing, high-voice, twink type-a queer: a femme, me. All the kids knew I was gay before I even knew what that word meant. Coming out to yourself is a vital step people overlook. By the end of fifth grade, I had my first sexual experience, and I liked it. Can you imagine? That was that, I was officially a homo, but I didn’t want to be. I was in denial for quite some time. I learned how to play the role of a straight boy. I was super straight-boy, if you wish. I tried out for all the sports teams and excelled. I was serial-dating girls like a fiend, and even managed to affect that deep god-awful monotone drone of my fellow bros. All the while, I kept the fact that I was ballet-dancing, dick-sucker a secret. As I think back on it, I deserved an Oscar for my performance. I kept the charade up until high school when my world came crashing down. I won’t go into all of that, but it resulted in my coming out to my mother. It was a hot mess. I was a deviant in her eyes, and what I was doing was evil. I wanted to change, and I thought God could help me. Honestly, I agreed with her. Good Christian boys didn’t butt-fuck and deep-throat. Anyway, I went willingly to my second baptism, and fought tooth-and-nail against being sent to a conversion camp, which subsequently led to my filing for emancipation. It wasn’t until after years of looking in the mirror and telling myself I am beautiful in every single way did I learn to accept myself. Being gay is work. You constantly have to reaffirm that you are not sub-human, and the way I do that is by being the biggest and loudest sissy out there because that is the only right I have.
Want more out? National Coming Out Day is every October 11th on the anniversary of the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.