You’d have never accused me of being normal in high school, but developmentally, I didn’t really stick out from the crowd. I grew up in a conservative coastal town in suburban Connecticut. I excelled in high school, had a few boyfriends, and got good grades. My longest relationship spanned two years, two proms and a break-up with the boy I thought I’d be marrying and having many geeky kids with. I left high school for Amherst, Massachusetts, confident in my sexuality, my body, and the knowledge that I’d figured it all out before the ripe old age of 18.
I came out in May of my freshman year.
The six months before that were confusing. Were my attempts at communicating bisexuality to my boyfriends alienating? Was there some sort of ulterior motive behind my smuggling in DVD copies of Catwoman at the age of 14? Why was my first R-rated movie The Girl Next Door? My quirks were turning into questions and I was struggling to find the answers all at once.
After meeting my first girlfriend (and vetting many duds before her), I came to the realization that I was definitely gay. It chills me to think that in another alternate scenario, this revelation would have never occurred. With this in mind, I wanted to break down some of the most helpful things I discovered during my coming-out process, especially how it related to my college experience and how it shaped those years for me.
Pick an open-minded university and town.
Although I didn’t consciously sense it at the time, all of the schools I applied were in towns opposite to mine—Annandale-on-Hudson, Northampton, and Cambridge, all liberal college towns. Don’t assume that you’re LGBT if you’re looking at schools in areas like these, but it’s also worth knowing why you’re looking at these places outside of their academic programs.
I unknowingly sought places where I could safely modify myself. Not reinvent—I don’t subscribe to the summer blockbuster philosophy of college as a means of complete metamorphosis, but I wanted to make some changes to myself that only independent living in an 80-square-foot cell could inspire. In choosing a college, I’d suggest the same.
Small, suburban towns may be convenient, but they might not necessarily be the most LGBT-friendly places to be. Research the area, and not just the college campus. You’re not going to be on campus all the time. Make sure you do your homework and see what the town is like outside of the college. You’ll want to see if the businesses are LGBT-friendly, if there are accepting churches or synagogues, and what types of support there is for medical care.
Feel out the atmosphere of campus groups without relying on any one in particular.
So there I was, on campus. It can be overwhelming to be placed in the middle of such a busy environment. Instinct dictates that you’ll want to flock to people you believe to be kindred spirits. However, while LGBT groups and clubs on campus may look appealing, I was personally prone to overzealousness in my second year. I wanted to make friends, so I took a position at an LGBT-affiliated organization and moved to an all-LGBT dormitory. Know that not all LGBT organizations and groups are alike.
My job was stifling, a disgruntled supervisor pushing my interest in LGBT culture to the backburner, and the dormitory group was one part heterosexual students who had no idea they were living with LGBT students (my roommate blithely asked if I was going to hit on her) and one part students who identified as LGBT but whom I’d mistakenly expected to be intuitive as a result. LGBT students can be just as vapid and dumb as heterosexual kids.
At the end of the day, many of us are still college kids first and queer second, so know your audience. Don’t assume that joining these groups will drastically improve your chances of enjoying college, getting laid, or making friends. I ended up hanging out more with the kids from one of my classes, and they were every bit as accepting of my sexuality as anyone else was. I wouldn’t have lived there again, it was identical to any other raucous college dormitory. Don’t be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone. If you’re in a more relaxed environment, you might find that the kids you’re at school with are nothing like the ones you grew up with.
Be firm and confident in your decisions and sexuality.
Above all, I wished that I’d been more confident about my sexuality. I wish that I’d stopped the girl who’d taken me on a coffee date when she pulled a Bible out of her purse. I want to shake the flaky alt-girl who live-tweeted her boyfriend on our date. For all of the frat boys who yelled out of their cars to proposition threesomes, I wish that I’d told you outright that I liked girls as much as you did.
I never want to be in a position where wanting to be accepted outweighs my desire to be accepted as who I am. Don’t let people use your sexuality as an exoticism. College is, as many a motivational video has promoted, a time for self-discovery, but it’s also a time for self-affirmation.
Above all, be confident in who you are and the rest will fall into place.
More from living