Archive for the ‘university’ tag
Our first coming out story in a while comes from Irish political organiser and activist, Neil Ward.
Coming Out, as most people who have done so will attest, is a process rather than a moment. Every month of my life I have to come out to more people, and I have to continue examining how my sexuality has influenced my life, my values, my politics and my behaviour. Which makes any Coming Out a difficult story to tell.
To combat this, I don’t intend to try telling the story of my Coming Out, but rather the story of one night in that process – the first night that I consciously realised the meaning of the confusion which had occupied me for so long.
In early 2000, I was coming towards the end of my 9-month stint as an Arts student in UCD. While my academic performance was less than exceptional (to say the least) during that nine months, I had discovered that I wasn’t terrible at basketball. I had quick hands, and my height was naturally advantageous. And I fucking loved it – I’d practice, play and exercise for hours at a time – often getting to the UCD gym before noon, and leaving at closing time. Memories of that time still fill me with joy – I’m not much of a sporty person nowadays, but I still think back fondly to those carefree days.
The other enjoyable aspect of playing basketball for UCD, was the extraordinary boozing we’d do – a group of 10-20 teenagers and young men on the absolute lash. Our nights out usually ended messily (giving away my shoes at the Portobello bridge being the highlight of one particular evening), but they started so much more innocently. We could smile together, and that was what really bound us. We’d tease and torment, leer and laugh, chatter and chastise – all in the best spirit imaginable.
The combination of a bastketball match followed by one of those nights on the beer in March 2000, led to me walking fown the road in Stillorgan with one of the other lads, in whose house I was staying. As usual, we were setting the world to right – chatting about music and basketball, analysing the result of the evening (which I can’t for the life of me remember at this point), and talking about the big issues of our worlds.
Suddenly, with no apparent lead-up or prompting, I stopped dead in the street – sober as a judge. “Fuck me” were the only words out of my mouth for a while – I retreated into myself processing the most unimaginable thought I had ever encountered. To say this practically-catatonic version of me alarmed my companion is probably an understatement in hindsight, but he was either too wasted or too gentle to try and intrude too much on me.
What felt like hours later (and in fact was at least 30 minutes), I lifted my head and resumed walking, picking up the conversation where we had trailed off. In the most stunning revelation my life has ever experienced, I had realised that my fondness for men was partly sexual. And my life immediately made sense.
It’s a funny thing, the human mind. Tell it not to do something, and it immediately does the very thing it is not supposed to do. I bet you’re thinking about elephants now. And probably asking yourself, what do elephants have to do with coming out?
Coming out is a process, like peeling back the layers of an onion, mostly because both involve a hell of a lot of tears. In my case, I had a surreal start with coming out to my family (It’s always the ones you least expect), and a rather non-event coming out to my four best friends (they could not care less, and the one I was expecting to have the biggest freak-out had known for months already.)
But early into my third year of university, less than 8 weeks after telling my family, I was approached by a professor I respected above all others and was asked to do something shocking: write an essay on what it meant for me to be gay in the United Church of Canada. I still remember the day he asked after class – my brain shut down and this voice that did not seem my own at the time immediately agreed. I had two weeks to write the essay and submit it for the class to review and discuss the following week, on my birthday of all days! And of course, I had to tie it in with the course topic, “Enlightenment and Transformation in Religion”.
Immediately I regretted my decision. I spent nearly the entire two weeks crippled with fear. Was I ready to come out publicly? What would the class say about it? Could I handle negative reactions? What do I say? For the most part, I tried to put it out of my mind, and was very successful until three days before the essay was due.
I had two courses with this professor, the other being “Death and Dying in World Religions”. On this particular day, in the “Death & Dying” class, the professor posed a question: What is it about death that you fear the most? A seemingly innocent and academic question, given the course topic; but it shattered me! I barely made it back to my dorm after that class before I broke down in fits of heart-wracking sobs.
What did I fear the most about dying? I feared I would die without anyone knowing me; die alone, unloved, anonymous; I feared dying a damned liar.
I knew what I would write. I went to my computer and allowed my heart to speak. It spoke of the elephant in the room, of being gay but being afraid to say it. It spoke of living in constant fear of being beaten, murdered, hated, unloved and alone. It spoke of the interminable pain of watching my Church struggle with, and be torn apart by hatred as it tried to bring love and acceptance to … yes, to MY people!
I was gay – not some abstract concept, but a member of a real community. And damn it, a proud member! I would not accept lip service to the goal of equality, but demand real change. And may whatever god you believe in take mercy upon you if you had a problem with it, because I was taking names and offering no mercy.
In the process I discovered that my elephant was not all that big. And that voice that was not my own that accepted the assignment was the true me, the gay me, crying to be set free. I think back on that class, and recognise now the gift that it really was.
It was my transformation, my breakthrough to a form of enlightenment, and the best birthday I had had in a long time! It was a true birth day, the day my gay self emerged into the world as a fully formed, self-aware individual who not only loved himself, but finally loved the world in which he lived.
And oddly enough, it was also the day I realised that the worst thing in the world that can happen to me is that I can die, and that is not something I fear anymore. Thanks to that amazingly wise professor (Again, thanks Eldon!), I am fearless, and free.
Oh yes – and not a negative reaction in the class. To date, I have never had anyone I encounter have a negative reaction to my sexuality. I have truly been blessed.
When I came out, there were a lot of people in my life I was worried about telling. I did lose friends. I also lost acquaintances, a babysitting job, and the calling I thought I had.
I had a particularly stressful appointment to come out to someone religious who had meant a lot to me, so I scheduled an appointment with the school counsellor for immediately afterwards. I’d been to see her several times before and felt I might need some support just then.
Fortunately, things had gone better than expected. While coming out to that person effectively derailed what I had seen as my vocation in life, the reaction had been even handed and caring. I’ll never forget that, and I never fail to hold other religious figures to the same standard, although precious few measure up.
Nevertheless, I sat in the chair in the counsellors office feeling afraid, stressed and oddly giddy. It was a gut-wrenching combination I was learning to live with in those early coming-out days. She asked how I was.
“Good,” I said. “You?”
She was well.
I smiled. I couldn’t help it. I had it my head that she was never going to guess — or even believe me. I knew she was a lesbian, so I didn’t fear her reaction, which in itself was a relief.
“I had an appointment at the chapel,” I said. “I told him I’m gay.”
She didn’t blink.
What came afterwards felt like a strange post-coming out debrief.
How did it go down? (quickly, pretty uneventful)
How did I feel about it? (relieved but sad)
How did he react? (honest, supportive, caring)
Are my friends supportive? (mostly, lucky to have diverse group of friends)
What about my family? (Umm, not ready for that yet)
Towards the end of what seemed like a great chat with an exceptionally wise friend, she admitted it was a question that had been at the tip of her tongue for a while.
I thanked her for not asking. It was something I needed to figure out myself and I was glad she knew that.
I hope this explains my impossibly high standards; I’ve known exceptional people.
Who made your coming out easier?
I had no idea there were coming out stories on YouTube. I fear I may not sleep tonight.
Here’s one I’m watching now. So adorable, dramatic, heartbreaking.
Great glasses and hair.
I’m sure other people knew there were coming out stories on You Tube… any favourites?