Students share their coming-out stories
Complied by Edward Roué
WE LIVE IN a country where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2004. In light of the recent victories for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in New York and within the U.S. military, some may assume that homophobia is waning throughout North America. But, as the ongoing struggles of the LGBT community attests to, this is far from the truth. The recent, tragic suicide of openly gay Ottawa teenager Jamie Hubley has sparked a conversation about the existence of homophobia in Canada, with everyone from John Baird to Rick Mercer pitching in.
As a contribution to the dialogue, five LGBT University of Ottawa students share their coming out stories.
Coming out is a challenge. The uncertainty of each individual’s reaction becomes a little nugget of fear nestled in your chest that slowly wanes with love and support but, for me, has yet to fully disappear. I had to come out to my family, knowing they would never accept it, and my friends, knowing some of them would hate it. But the one person it was hardest to come out to was myself.
I grew up in southern Alberta in a very conservative, Christian family. There was never any ambiguity in what I was taught about sexuality. I was raised to believe homosexuality was a choice—it was a perversion of God’s creation propagated by sinful modern society.
I was so overtaken by my parents’ rigidly held beliefs that I never even consciously realized I wasn’t straight. Still, subconsciously, I’ve always known. Between the ages of 11 and 18, I rarely, if ever, had a guilt- or confusion-free moment. The turning point came last September when I went on exchange to Thailand.
I learned so much about myself last year, not only because I was away from my home environment, but because I really thought about what my beliefs are and about who I am—not what I had been taught to think or be.
In some ways I think I’ll always carry a shred of that earlier guilt and confusion with me, but I can remember the first time I whispered to myself, “I am bisexual.” It was undeniably the most liberating experience of my life.
Taking the harder path
When I was 16, I dated the goalie of the girls’ hockey team for three weeks. It was just long enough for her teammates to find out and promptly tell everyone in the school. I really couldn’t understand why they were so interested in who I slept with and why that warranted scary glares in the corridors. I turned to my mother, who until that point was a supportive, open-minded force in my life. She was not supportive or open-minded about this, though.
I walked into the living room, crying, and told her that everyone at school hated me because I was a lesbian. My mother stood perfectly still and didn’t say a word.
A week later she trapped me in the car and yelled at me for two hours while we drove to a camp. She asked me, “How could I possibly tell your grandmother?” and “What have I done to deserve this?” My mother told me my sexuality “simply wasn’t possible” and, my personal favourite: “It would just be easier if the whole ‘you being gay’ thing would just go away.”
My father, on the other hand, was a much easier sell. He simply told me I was taking the harder path, but he wanted me to be happy. From time to time, my dad and I have stunted, awkward conversations about my being queer. He really tries, but has no idea what to say. It means the world to me though, considering my mother still refuses to believe that my being queer is anything more than a ploy for attention.
The world at large has been much easier to come out to. If someone has a problem with my sexuality, they don’t need to be part of my life, but the fact that my mother won’t accept it hurts every day.
I was the shadow
My life growing up in rural Southwestern Ontario was pretty average. I was the socially awkward kid who was bullied a lot and asked if he was gay when he didn’t even know what sexuality really was.
I started the denial phase when I was 13, spurred on by the playground question and the desire to not let the unpleasant witch who posed it be right.
In Grade 9, a rival of mine came out as gay and the hicks in our school did not enjoy his flamboyant behaviour. I was frightened and worried they would react the same way if and when I came out.
I finally came out in December of my Grade 10 year to my now ex-best friend. The truth of my sexuality washed over the school in January. Other than a hushed “finally,” there was silence. The dominant social powers laid dormant and impassive. It seemed we had entered into a non-aggression pact. If I was not flamboyant, they would not be homophobic. It was a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” situation.
My family was different. I was blunt and direct. We were seated at the table for our weekly gathering and I blurted out “I’m gay.” No ceremony, no flare—I didn’t even wait for dessert. Never in my life outside of this moment have I been asked the same question four times in a row.
At first, my mother was concerned.
“Are you sure it’s not a phase? Are you really sure?”
It still tears me apart knowing I’ve made my mother cry as many times as I have.
My brother was awkward.
“Are you sure? OK…”
That was the last time I ever spoke to him about being gay.
My sister was annoying.
“Are you sure?” she asked. “I know, how about being bisexual! Then you have a backup plan—being gay means you can’t get out.”
In hindsight I appreciate her concern, but it still grated on my stressed nerves that she thought I could suddenly start liking women.
My father was amazing.
“Are you sure? OK, well, you know you’ve just made life harder for yourself, right?” he asked. “You know people are going to treat you differently and you’re going to get more trouble than other people, right? All right. As long as you know. I will still love you and you will always be my son.”
In the four years I spent attending a very rural school, I was only called the F-word once. I didn’t feel 100 per cent safe, but I never felt threatened. I was the shadow they knew existed but never made a lasting impact in their minds.
When I say ‘yes’
It was a joke amongst my parents and their friends when I was a child that I was always smiling. When I think back, however, maybe I smiled as a defence mechanism. If I appeared happy, people wouldn’t see the broken wreck I was inside—or so I thought.
I didn’t come out until this year. I was a little drunk, but I remember it, and my friend did, too. We didn’t talk about it much after that, mostly because I still didn’t know how to address it. I was very unhappy with myself and who I was attracted to. It took my friend telling me that I so obviously wasn’t happy—and maybe it was time I actually tried being happy instead of pretending—for me to come out. She gave me the kick in the ass I needed and, in short order, I told the rest of my friends here in Ottawa, as well as a few at home. While I knew no one here would reject me, it was still nerve-wracking.
Actually telling people has been rather uneventful, which gives me hope for the day that I feel secure enough to walk into my parents’ house and tell them as well.
True to my friend’s advice, this past summer was one I wouldn’t give up for the world. I was able to live my life as I wanted, without trying to hide anything. I was even propositioned in a bar, and if I hadn’t had a friend from home visiting, I probably would’ve gone with it. I’m hoping to run into him again. If I do, I will have a great big smile on my face when I say “yes.”
Leaving the safe bubble
“Coming out.” It sounds like a bad movie and it felt like one when my mom accidentally did it for me. She was snooping around in my exchanges of emails with a lover when I walked into the room to find her. We exchanged an entire conversation without uttering one word. We didn’t talk to each other for two days.
Eventually, my mom trapped me alone in the car since she had to drive me to work—I was only 14 years old. She cried and I held her. Her anger, denial, regret, and self-hatred flew before my eyes. My mom promised to never mention a word to my dad, as we both knew he would not allow it.
Years later, on International Coming Out Day, my mom sent me a brief text message notifying me she had told my father. Even though I was in a safe bubble thanks to my queer-positive friends and my new university life, everything around me came crumbling down. My internalized homophobia—a result of my surroundings growing up in a French Acadian city—hit me hard.
One thing I’ve realized is the brutal reality of being queer is the fact that there will always be someone new to “come out” to, such as co-workers, professors, and new friends. I don’t wear an “I AM QUEER” sign on my forehead, but I will tell them as it’s a matter of relevance and my own comfort.
Ultimately, “coming out” exists in many different forms and will always be a part of my life, whether I enjoy it or not.
Students struggling with issues related to their sexuality are encouraged to reach out to available resources.
For more information, contact the University of Ottawa’s Pride Centre (located in the Jock Turcot University Centre) at (613) 562-5800 ext. 3161 or firstname.lastname@example.org