The ‘closet’ can be a lonely, dark place

Anonymous (TheLorian)

This is the first part in a series on gender and sexuality

“I often think about the closet that queer kids grow up in. How it’s not just passive hiding, it’s traumatizing. To suppress parts of who you are, to experience your own life as an outsider, to hear the people you love hate people like you is a trauma you carry your whole life.”

The artist, @aristhought

We celebrated National Coming Out Day on Monday. The first coming out day was in 1988 and was intended to emphasize the simplest form of activism for LGBTQ+ citizens – living their lives openly.

Many people who identify as LGBTQ+ choose their time as a college student to take their first step out of the proverbial closet.

“Coming out is a process – it can be a lifelong process,” said Michelle Bechen, Associate Professor of Social Work. “When somebody finally says the words out loud to someone who is accepting and supportive, it’s like lifting a huge weight off their shoulders.”

Bechen, who is also the faculty moderator of the Loras Gay Straight Alliance, said that, for the most part, Loras students are very accepting of those who identify as LGBTQ+. She says there has been lots of improvement over the last 20 years, when it comes to acceptance of LGBTQ+ issues, but, she says, we certainly have room for growth.

For example, an openly gay member of an athletic team on campus found out that their teammates, who were partying together, tore up a rainbow flag, Bechen said.

Bechen says that a lot of students also struggle with the idea of intersectionality. That is, how certain elements of their lives as a student, athlete or Catholic, may complicate their situation as well.

“… some students struggle with their sexual orientation or gender identity and their faith,” Bechen said. “[They] try to really suppress or compartmentalize their gender identity or sexual orientation because they don’t feel really accepted walking in the faith world.”

Perhaps this is why Loras student Jordan Doe (a pseudonym) has decided to keep their transgender identity a secret.

“From what my friend told me, someone came out as gay and was getting bullied … I don’t what that to happen to me,” Doe said. “I can definitely tell some people’s beliefs are really strong and they’ll crack jokes about being trans.”

Doe has come out to his mom (but not his stepdad) and a select few friends. But, Doe says, their efforts to be more public have been met with resistance at times. On the first day of one of his classes, Doe asked the peer advisor for the class if the students could announce their pronouns and was told. While the PA was excited to offer this option, many students in the class were not. Doe says many of the other students in the class are now ignoring him.

“I’m kind of just sitting like – sitting in kind of like a bubble of just myself, and I just don’t know how I can get out of it,” Doe said as they began to cry.

Doe wiped tears as they said, “I feel like that’s where a lot of my problems come from, like with wanting to come out, because I’m just stuck and thinking that I’m the wrong person and I don’t feel normal.”

“My first instinct is that what people are going to do to me is violent because that’s all I see on the news,” Doe said through tears. “I just stopped watching the news because I don’t like violence and I don’t like seeing people discriminated against because they want to be who they want to be.”

One of the issues with coming out at Loras can be that the news will reach beyond campus. Bechen recalls a student a few years ago who came out on campus. She said that the student’s friend went back to their home community and told family and friends. “It turned out to be a real shit show,” Bechen said.

Bechen says that if a student does want to come out they need to find a safe person, someone who they feel comfortable talking to. She says there are plenty of resources on campus, and in the Dubuque community, where students can find help. Students can make an appointment with a counselor or visit Sergio Perez, the Loras College Diversity Officer. Bechen says, students should seek help because “trying to lead a double life can be exhausting.”

For Doe, he feels that other students should be better about being accepting of his identity. “It’s not their life, they’re going to have to get over me being trans at some point,” Doe said. “They can’t do anything to stop my decision. If that’s who I want to be, then that’s who I’m going to be.”

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