Being Out at College
Being Out at College
by Sarah Simon
About four seconds into researching LGBTQ youth support online, you’re going to run into the “It Gets Better” campaign, which is awesome because, generally, it does get better and things are great, and yay! But I guess the question is: when do things get better? Next year, next month, when you’re 45, when you’re in college? When do things turn around? When do people drop their bigotry and their prejudice and just see you for who you are? Honestly, I don’t know. I’m just a sassy ‘lil 20-something trying to find my way in this cold and cruel world. BUT that doesn’t mean I’m not full of opinions and thoughts on the matter! So let’s explore this a little, shall we?
So, you’re asking if it will be easier for your LGBTQ kid to be out in college than it is at home. Humph. My first inclination is to say that it depends on where your child is from and where your child is going to school. One of the most important things you can do is research - make sure your child is heading off to the friendliest of LGBTQ campuses, which will help immensely right off the bat. It’s likely that your child is the only or one of the few out LGBTQ student in their high school—maybe in your whole town. Depending on the climate of where you live, this is either neutral/eh or bad/awful. One of the most important things I can stress here is to encourage your kid to let go of their past - just keep on rollin’ down the river. Your child is on the brink of an adventure that will end with getting a college degree. C’mon - that’s a big deal. Their past experiences with bullying, coming out, or feeling comfortable enough to be themselves should shape, but not define, who they are. And look how well they’re doing already! Talk to them about ways they can emotionally let go of what went on in high school, and in turn, make room for all the amazing, new experiences they’re about to have. In doing this, your child will find it a zillion times easier to just breathe, to feel safe, and to be unabashedly out and proud.
But the question here is: will it be easier for your child to be out in college versus home? And honestly, I say no. It won’t be. And I’m sorry—that’s not the answer you were probably looking for. But let me explain myself before you hate me. Here’s the thing—it’s never going to be easy to be part of a marginalized group of people. It’s just not going to happen. But the good news is that it will get easier on a more visible front. Your child will not have to deal with being pushed up against lockers, being cyber-bullied on Facebook, or getting dirty looks in the hallway forever. That will pass, and the overt bullying will eventually fade.
In college, your child will find a group of people who are like them—or who, at least, understand and accept them. Maybe they will be able to take LGBTQ Studies courses, be in clubs that support and celebrate their identities, or even clubs that combine their identities: the queer spoken word club, the feminist theatre troupe, or the all-gender a cappella group. In college, your child will be able to become a big fruit salad (no pun intended) of identities. Now, they can be the poet, the animal rights activist, the dancer, the whatever—and one who is queer-identified.
At the end of the day, once your child makes friends and meets the right people, they will be seen as the sparkling stars they are—queer or not. They will be appreciated and loved, and it will be great. I firmly believe that by just owning the identity and making it a very real part of who they are, rather than hiding it away so they’re not “the queer one” anymore will do more good than harm in the long run.
Talk to your child about what their identities mean to them. Figure out some ways they can comfortably incorporate their identities into their personas while still allowing other parts of who they are to shine. After coming from a conservative Catholic high school to a liberal arts school known for its LGBTQ acceptance, I got a bit of culture shock, and became intensely immersed in Queer Culture. My parents talked to me and reminded me that just because I can become somebody who is single-faceted - the gay one - doesn’t mean that I should. I was who I was before I came out, before I realized I was gay, and before I went to college. Through this conversation, I realized that I could be queer, and also be exactly who I was before queerness came into my life. At the end of the day, just because being out in college might be easier, safer, and more accessible, doesn’t mean that your child should stop being intersectional. Navigating these waters is a tough and kind of weird job sometimes. But you got this, super-parent. And most importantly, don’t forget to own it.
Sarah Simon has been writing for My Kid Is Gay for two years. She is an ENFJ/ Sagittarius who usually can be found with body glitter on her face and English Bulldogs on her mind. Sarah is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, where she studied Queer Theory and Psychology. She is currently a candidate for her MA in Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence. In between pots of very strong coffee, Sarah makes rad mix tapes for her friends, cooks fun vegetarian food, and cackles at the thought of destroying the patriarchy. Follow her on Instagram @glitterpawzz and on Twitter @misssaraheliz
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