Head Over Feels: Where can I show my queer identity?

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Media: Ally Rzesa

By Grace Griffin, Copy Editor

During the first semester of my freshman year in 2017, I walked into my suite mates’ room and closed the door behind me. “I think I’m bisexual,” I told them, to which they both responded, “Cool! Me too.”

This marked the first time I officially came out to someone, even though I knew I was queer since age 15. I expected it to be a bigger deal than just “Cool! Me too,” but I was happy it wasn’t. As I started to come out to other people—my roommate, sorority sisters, classmates, and acquaintances—I found it easy. They had similar responses to my suite mates: accepting, nonchalant, and unsurprised. It wasn’t necessarily “coming out” when I told people at Emerson I was queer; it was just part of my identity here, and no one knew any different. 

It wasn’t as easy at home. I’m from Massachusetts, which luckily is a progressive state, but at my high school and in my hometown I could count the number of queer people I knew on one hand. Compare that to Emerson, ranked as the most LGBTQ-friendly school in the country, and where I have only two straight friends. I knew if I came out at home I may not be accepted, and even if I was, it would be a bigger deal to folks there than it was at Emerson—straight was the default setting to them, and anyone who strayed from that became a spectacle. 

I got so used to being out at Emerson after a year that it became difficult to hide it when I was home. I set my Tinder settings back to only men so I wouldn’t accidentally out myself to anyone who saw me swiping. I turned my group chats with my friends titled “gay goblins” and “queer boob havers” on do not disturb so my parents wouldn’t catch a glimpse of those questionable titles. 

I’m fortunate in the sense that I knew my family would never openly disavow me as a queer person, but I knew it could change the close relationship I had with my parents. They expected their daughter to be straight, and because I wasn’t, I felt like I’d be disappointing them somehow if I came out.

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I’m a firm believer that coming out is an entirely individual choice and that no one has to do it, but staying closeted in my hometown caused me immense stress. When I got a new phone, my text messages synced up with my dad’s somehow and he started receiving all my messages. I panicked, thinking that he would see something about me being queer while I was texting my friends. 

These feelings of stress and panic pervade members of the LGBTQ community who hide their sexuality. Out Smart Magazine reported in March 2016 that remaining closeted for much of one’s life can be detrimental to their mental health, putting them at increased risk for chronic depression and lower self-esteem. I was lucky to be out in one facet of my life, at college, but not being out in the other half was still confusing and distressing. 

The Williams Institute at UCLA estimates that over 9 million adults in the United States identify as LGBTQ, not accounting for adults who are not out or minors who identify as LGBTQ. While that number accounts for less than five percent of the U.S.’s population, it’s a sizable number nonetheless and cannot be ignored. Straight is not the default, and the number of LGBTQ individuals who are out continues to grow as people feel more comfortable coming out to a society that accepts them.

I’m incredibly close with my parents, and I felt guilty for keeping such a large part of my identity from them. I dwelled on telling them—when, how, etc.—for over three months. It became somewhat of a joke with my best friends when I would text them once a week and say, “I think I’m going to come out to my parents,” but never actually do it. 

Flash forward to the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, when my parents drove to my apartment to pick me up for the holiday. Approximately two minutes after sitting down in the back seat of my dad’s car, I started crying. And I came out to them. They’re supportive—I think, I hope—and my dad told me he was proud of me for telling them. I ended up doing it more for me than for them. I had spent weeks in therapy agonizing over it and the stress was piling up, so I needed to get it off my chest. 

Much like when I came out to my roommates, telling my parents made it easier to tell other people because it feels normal now. I went to breakfast with one of my best friends since first grade, and when she asked if I was seeing anyone, I told her about a girl I had started talking to. I tweeted about being queer on my personal Twitter where high school friends follow me. I called my 17-year-old brother and told him, and he promptly posted an Instagram story about being an ally—a little bit of an over-compensation, but I appreciate it nonetheless.

Seeing straight as a default sexuality for people is damaging and confusing. Identities are so complex, and sexuality and gender expression are both so fluid that expecting adherence to a certain norm creates difficulties for people who stray from it. There are still people and communities I know I can never tell about being queer, but I hope in the future that won’t be a factor for LGBTQ young people finding their way in the world. Normalize queer identities. Represent us in media. Teach your peers and children about identities that aren’t talked about in the mainstream. And whatever you do, stop professing straight as the conventional way to identify.