I made a very conscious decision the summer before starting college that I was going to be open about my sexuality from the start of my college career. It wasn’t an easy decision at the time, because I was not out to my parents or even my closest friends in high school. I didn’t really know how “being out” would affect how people saw me or act around me. Could I still have straight male friends? Would the news of my sexual orientation somehow make it back home and devastate my parents?
I worried a lot about coming out once I was in college, but I knew that it was something that had to be done. I did not want to go through college the way I did in high school, speaking half-truths and tiptoeing around dangerous topics like dating and sexual attraction. I also wanted to make sure that whoever my new friends would be in college would be people who accepted me as a gay man. Preferably, my sexuality would be a non-issue and I wouldn’t be known as “the gay one” to anyone, just me.
I’m happy to say that I have found what I was looking for. Of course, the liberal, tolerant environment of my school contributed to the ease in which I was able to put myself out there as a gay Asian male. At a queer student support group, I was able to meet and befriend other queer students. The goal of the group was to create a “safe space” for queer students, where we could be ourselves with no reservations. And it truly did feel safe. For the first time, I felt safe with my sexuality. It was not a dark cloud hanging over me, it was not a demon sitting in the corner of my mind, it was not a weight I had been burdened with.
Coming out is not an event that happens once and is over. It must be done over and over, in different circumstances and with different people. I think that’s what heterosexuals sometimes overlook about the queer experience. It’s not a black-and-white separation between those who are “out” and those who are “closeted.” It’s a hodgepodge mix of people with their own varying definitions of what being queer means (if they choose to use that word at all) and who they choose to be out to, and for what reasons.
Most important of all, you must come out to yourself. And that too is not a simple process that you do once and is over with. I remember the first time I said the words “I’m gay” out loud to a group of people. To hear my own voice say it, to have it ring in my ears, was a very powerful moment. It was coupled with immense fear but also relief. “There, I’ve said it,” I thought to myself afterwards. The second time was still scary and nerve-wracking, but not as much as the first time. I’ve probably said it over a hundred times now, but every time I announce my sexuality, even among other queer people, I can still feel the tiniest amount of something. I don’t even know what it is, something like a mix of adrenaline, fear, anxiety, and forced confidence. It’s something that is tangible though, and will be for the rest of my life. But it’s better than suffering in silence.
*name has been changed