“I hear the word ‘tolerance’ — that some people are trying to teach people to be tolerant of gays. I'm not satisfied with that word. I am gay, and I am not seeking to be ‘tolerated.’ One tolerates a toothache, rush-hour traffic, an annoying neighbor with a cluttered yard. I am not a negative to be tolerated.” ~ Chely Wright
I’m not an avid reader of the Boston College Confessions page, but I browse whenever I want to avoid doing a particularly nasty bit of homework — in this case, writing one of many end-of-the-year papers. As I read, I came across a confession that was particularly troubling to me.
“#6635: My biggest fear in college is that I will go four years without ever having come out of the closet. Now I have four weeks to come out to my friends.
Leave no words unsaid, no regrets... let's go, seniors!”
As a gay student at BC, I have often had a hard time stomaching the fact that there are people who struggle with the process of “coming out.” I personally found it offensive that I should have to “come out” to anyone. What difference did it make to them if I was gay or not? I had a hard time understanding why people made such a big deal out of it. Consequently, I never really bothered to have an official “coming out:” I told people if they asked and didn’t care if anyone knew. At the same time, though, I never made an explicit point of telling people just for the sake of it.
I’ve never really thought of BC as a hostile environment. I mean, after being involved with various activist groups on campus, I’ve heard my fair share of complaints about it. I understand the theory: Catholic school filled with upper middle class students forced into the “bro and biddie” archetype that we all painfully know.
Does everyone really feel comfortable here at Boston College? I would have to say no. But at the same time, I think it’s time we consider what opportunities we do have. Is it perfect? Probably not, but is anything?
I grew up in a small and conservative community in North Dakota. Even the best people there are horribly closed-minded. (If you think BC is conservative, tour North Dakota!) It never even crossed my mind that I could be gay until I was a senior in high school. I had no idea who I could tell or talk to about it, so I kept it to myself.
When I realized I was gay, I didn’t feel anything negative associated with it. No shame. No indignity. No half-hearted pleading with a supreme being to make me straight. I accepted my place in life and moved on with it. I realize now how lucky I was to have been able to do that. To the best of my knowledge, many of my peers have not had such fortune.
I didn’t let it change me, either. As hard as it may be to believe, being gay hasn’t defined my life any more than being straight has defined the lives of the majority of Boston College students. I was never embarrassed about it, but at the same time, I was never “proud” of being gay. I was comfortable with myself and that’s all that mattered. It never mattered to me that other people might be uncomfortable with it.
Unfortunately, because of the society that we live in, people often feel the need to validate their lifestyle. Once again I was fortunate. I didn’t need anybody to reassure me that I was not doing anything wrong. I didn’t need to hook up with countless people to validate myself or prove my sexuality. I knew who I was and that was that.
The summer before I went to BC, I vowed that I would be honest about it and open with myself. Unfortunately, it wasn’t exactly meant to be. I told all of my friends at home during that year, but I wasn’t quite as honest with my friends here. In fact, in some ways, my own fear of being disliked for being gay prevented me from making more friends. While I refused to define my own self-worth by my sexuality, I was acutely aware of the possibility that others could.
As hard as it is, my best advice is just to be honest. I tried to hide it my freshman year because I wasn’t quite sure what would happen if I didn’t. I wish that I had been more open about it that year. In retrospect, it wouldn’t have changed anything with my friends, but it might have made a world of difference in getting to know more people. They came to realize it anyway — you can only show so much interest in fashion, cologne, Desperate Housewives and '80s pop music before people reach their own conclusions.
Gay rights issues have been brought to the forefront of a large number of conversations, thanks to the considerations by the Supreme Court regarding the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8. People that I never thought would have these kinds of conversations have done them quite openly. As it turns out, the bros and biddies don’t necessarily share in the hard-line conservative values I might have expected them to.
After a while, I came to notice a small difference between the way that gay and straight people acted in the social scene at BC. In a community where people are less likely to wear their sexuality on their sleeve, gay students tend to be more cautious. Unwilling to step on people’s toes or offend them with an assumption, it is more challenging to take great risks in meeting new people.
Furthermore, I’ve observed that people who are not completely comfortable with their sexuality around their friends are likely to stay that way. If it is difficult for them to share their sexuality with their friends, they may go to unnecessary lengths to hide it, which ends up isolating them further. They are less likely to interact with other gay people in the open, perhaps for fear of being judged by their peers.
Being gay, you also learn to embrace a new f-word, but I’ve heard it a lot less than you would expect. In the whole time that I’ve been at Boston College, I’ve been called that only twice, neither time by people I knew or that theoretically could’ve known that I was gay.
If you’re struggling with your sexuality, don’t do it by yourself. There is at least one friend who you can talk to about it. And if there isn’t, you can use campus resources including University Counseling Services. Someone will be willing to sit down, listen and talk to you about it.
I would be remiss for not using this as an opportunity to encourage getting involved on campus. I’ve never felt more at home than I have being a part of Gavel Media. Since day one as a timid sophomore, I never felt the need to hide who I was around these people.
For people who know me personally, I’m not often one to talk about my feelings openly. Friends and colleagues often take great pleasure in attempting to pry personal details out of the vice that I hold them in. For some reason, I don’t feel strange sharing these things with you.
Being gay doesn’t have to change you. In fact, I can’t think of one way that’s it’s altered how I interact with my friends or myself. I still love listening to country music and consider myself a farm kid. At the same time, though, I know that people often feel differently around me because of it. It used to make me self-conscious, but it has now become just another facet of my identity.
Last and honestly the most important thing that I can say is this: don’t let anybody (including me) tell you how you need to define yourself. If you want to celebrate your sexuality by coming out or doing absolutely anything else, by all means, don’t let anyone stand in your way. Don’t ever be afraid to demand that you are accepted, not simply tolerated.
Featured image by Alex Krowiak/Gavel Media.