Coming Out of the Closet in College
First and foremost, don’t feel like you have to. But if you’re ready, here is how to make the experience positive for everyone involved.
By Andy Winder, BYU
Last Tuesday, October 11th, was National Coming Out Day.
As the day passed, I thought about ten months ago, when I came out to my roommates as transgender during my freshman year. I thought about how terrifying it was, and yet how relieved I felt afterwards. After I came out, I found myself much more open and trusting of them; our relationship was a lot fuller than it was when I was in the closet.
For some people, coming out to roommates is not safe or comfortable. If that is your situation, then you’ve got courage and I’m sorry you’re going through that. For others, however, coming out to your roommates may be the first step to a healthier relationship. Yet, you may have many questions as you contemplate coming out: Do you introduce yourself as queer? Do you wait until you know them more? What does that conversation look like?
Coming out is different for every situation. While there is much that depends on the circumstance, there are a few things to keep in mind as you move towards this step.
Come Out When It Feels Like It’s Time
When is the best time to come out to your roommates? When you feel most comfortable. Some people prefer to mention it in their email before they meet. Some wait until they get to know their roommates and feel that they can trust them. That’s okay, too.
The best time is when you feel ready. If that means you come right out the first time you meet, there is a virtue to being proud and confident in who you are. But if you feel like you need to develop this relationship with your roommate, you should feel okay about that, too.
Be Safe: Know What Is Right for Your Situation
Be safe. If you feel like you can trust your roommate, by all means, come out. But if you are concerned that coming out could, in any way, threaten your safety, you have two options: If you feel like your roommate would not feel comfortable and you appreciate their company, you can choose to remain in the closet.
But if you feel like coming out to them could threaten your emotional or physical safety, talk to your RA or building supervisor about changing rooms. Even if you are in the closet, if they are openly hostile towards LGBT+ people, it will be an unhealthy situation for you.
Also, if you don’t feel emotionally comfortable enough to come out yet, don’t feel pressured to do so. This is a hard conversation. Wait until you’re in a good place to do it. Remember: This is not for your roommates’ benefit. It’s for yours. Do what works for you.
There Is No “Right” Way to Start the Conversation
You have a lot of options on how you want to start this talk. Some people feel most comfortable mentioning it in passing, while others prefer to open up in a more intimate setting. Some like telling all their roommates at once, and others tell them one-on-one as they feel comfortable.
Read the situation. If you feel ready, try to convey that you trust them and appreciate your relationship with them.
Because of that, you want to share something very important with them about yourself. From there, steer the conversation to your liking and tell them as much as you feel comfortable.
Be Honest: Speak What’s in Your Heart
If you’re having trouble getting the words out, close your eyes. Breathe. Calm down. What do you need to say to these people? When I came out to my roommates, I had a hard time finding the right words. It was hard enough to even say the words “gender dysphoria,” let alone anything else.
In that moment, I thought about what I wanted to say to them, and I realized that I just wanted to know that they would still love and care about me. So that’s what I told them: I told them that being transgender made me feel unlovable and sometimes even guilty for who I am. They assured that they still cared about me and gave their support, even though there was much they didn’t understand. It was what I needed to hear.
Your story is your story. It is different from what anyone else needs to say. If you’re feeling stuck, think about what you need to say and need to hear. As long as you do the first part, you will get answers on the second. No matter what the responses are, it will be relieving to have all your uncertainties put to rest.
They Might Have Questions. This Is Okay
It’s hard to predict what questions your roommates will have for you. They might ask how long you’ve known you were queer, or what it means to you. Maybe they won’t understand some of the terminology you use and need a little clarification. Or maybe they want to know how they can support you and how to move forward as roommates.
All these questions at once may cause you to panic, but try to look at it as positive; questions mean that they are trying to understand this. This is new to them. You may have had years to come to terms with your queerness, whereas their friendship with you may be the first close relationship they’ve had with an LGBT+ person. As long as they are respectful and trying to connect, let these questions assure you that you are on the right track.
Alright, I’m Out. What Happens Next?
After you come out, it may take a little while for your roommates to adjust. Maybe it’ll take a few days for them to adjust to the right pronouns, or maybe they’ll have to adjust to the idea before asking you about your dating life or partner. Like sharing anything personal, coming out to your roommate may change the dynamics of your relationship. As long as it is not hostile, try to be patient during this time of adjustment.
Soon enough, it will settle and things should go back to normal. Except better. After a little while, you’ll have a roommate environment that is open and honest, something you’ll value for so many reasons. Maybe in the future, your roommate will come with you to something that is personal to them. Maybe they’ll come out to you. Most importantly, you and your roommates will feel safe and able to communicate about anything with each other.
Know Your Resources, and That You Are Not Alone
Talk to your RA about other resources, like counseling or peer support for queer students. Most universities have clubs and support groups for LGBT+ students on campus. Consider joining if you feel relating to others who have come out and survived would help.
You are not alone. If you’re in the closet, it may feel like you are alone sometimes. It may feel unbearable. But I promise you, you are not. If you feel ready, you can build a support system. Start with your roommates and branch out. College is a time of discovering who you are. The more open you are with others, the more you will discover your true self. Best of luck as you begin this crucial step. May it lead you to a path that goes forward from here.