In his debut queer-living column, Josh Fernandez discusses the rewards and challenges many LGBT students face when assimilating to the college atmosphere.
Three years ago, I was working on a chemistry lab involving some ingredient from the periodic table of the elements and a Bunsen burner. My lab partner, who was really nice but the type of person who often ends up with her foot in her mouth, was trying to make small talk.
This time she decided to talk about a guy she was dating.
She must have realized I rarely spoke to her about my love life, as she began asking about my own relationship status.
“I’m currently single,” I told her uncomfortably.
She didn’t seem satisfied with my response and continued asking questions. While I wasn’t necessarily required to disclose the crucial aspect of my sexual identity to her, I said, “Well, I’m gay, but that has nothing to do with my lack of love life. I’m just fickle.”
Her response: “Oh, what’s that like? I’ve always wondered what it’s like for two guys to kiss. I wonder if stubble is ever a problem.”
Coming out as a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individual in our society is considered one of the scariest things about queer life. Rejection by friends or family can shatter your self-esteem into a thousand tiny pieces, and it can take years to put them back together.
As terrifying as it is, we do it. People continue bursting through closet doors, fingers crossed, hoping for acceptance.
The question is: Why do LGBT people have to “come out” in the first place?
“Coming out,” as we know it, was started by Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, a gay rights advocate in Germany during the late 19th century. Ulrichs seemed to believe invisibility was a hurdle to mobilization of the gay rights movement, so he encouraged all LGBT people to come out.
Today, although I’ve heard stories about middle school-age kids coming out, college tends to be the place where many LGBT youth tiptoe the first stepping stones to queerdom.
I’ve come across many Temple students (whether freshmen, transfers or anyone else previously peeking out the crack in the slightly-open door) with their own on-campus coming out experiences, risking acceptance from roommates, friends and peers in the process.
For example, take my good friend, who came out to his roommate last fall. And by came out, I mean he was getting some guy action — when his roommate walked in. Oopsies! For the remainder of the year, his roommate seemed to sport his homophobe hat.
Years after Ulrichs, National Coming Out Week emerged. LGBT centers and groups in major U.S. cities and on college campuses – groups like Temple’s Queer Student Union – celebrate this week to encourage people to come out.
NCOW is the first week of October and will be very encouraging for new students on Temple’s campus, as QSU, HEART, Student Activities and Residential Life will all have a presence. A more accepting, 21st-century environment doesn’t change the fact this rite of passage to queer-ville.
Perhaps one day, we gays will have the chance to learn what it’s like to not have to “come out,” but it will likely take time.
Until that day comes, all you boys, girls and transgender individuals can keep kicking down those closet doors and filling out your Facebook profiles.
Joshua Fernandez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.