Say my name.

I was talking recently with a friend of mine over a beer – we were comparing our college experiences. I went to a moderate-to-conservative private college in the south; she went to a famously open-minded private college in New England. Environment doesn’t always play a factor in one’s decision to identify deviantly, so to speak, but in my case I think it did. I was wound up so tightly that I needed to be in an community that pushed me out of the closet; I needed to be in an inflexible environment that disallowed any kind of identity that wasn’t completely In or completely Out.

But what I really want to talk about is the moment of truth, the moment I not only realized but the moment that I accepted. The point of no return. Here’s how I unraveled:

My first year at college was a nightmare, and it was mostly my fault. I was quiet, anxious, and afraid of being called out. I was afraid of being noticed for fear that someone might see parts of me I wasn’t comfortable baring. The combination of my own inflexibility with the general social inflexibility of my college created a bit of a psychological time bomb in my head. I chose to deal with my unhappiness at college through complete disbelief: everything was fine, and everything will be better when I transfer, everything will be better after I graduate.

The problem is, for whatever reason, the gays on campus found me. Over the matter of a semester and a half, I befriended the gays on campus, curious as to why they all managed to introduce themselves to me. They were the only real friends I had. Little did I know that by being so aggressive and friendly, they planted a seed deep in my brain – they introduced to me a new identity that somehow managed to get by, to live happily despite all the pressure on them to cease to exist. But I refused to go out and socialize with them; I refused to take another step across the diving board into what I considered a self-abating spiral of masculinity, into non-heterosexuality.

As the first year rolled into second semester, my friendships with the campus gays grew, and my perception of the community shifted to a more positive lens. I started to help with campus LGBT activism as a straight ally, collecting signatures for petitions I’d advertise in classes where I felt comfortable.

Now here’s where I’ve been leading – my meeting with Dr. Jones, esteemed professor of southern literature. After she encouraged me to make an announcement to my classmates about one of our petitions, I met with her privately to discuss my thoughts on a thesis I was developing for a paper. But she didn’t really want to talk about my paper.

“I really admire all the work you’re doing; I can’t even imagine the struggles you must have endured during just your short time here.”

I smiled blankly and nodded, confused.

“I mean, I myself studied at schools in the south, but there were still vibrant, encouraging communities for gay and lesbian students.”

I still smiled blankly and nodded, but my insides screamed horror. I was trapped.

“So, as a gay student, have you found your experience here to be as dreadful as I hear it can be?”

And with that question, with that presumption of my identity, I had been given a choice. Until this moment I had not considered for even a second that I was gay; it just wasn’t an option. But here, so innocently, Dr. Jones – a gracefully aged woman, looking at me with empathetic, concerned brown eyes – called on me to reidentify.

Something happened. It was entirely impulsive, like a twig snapping under someone’s weight. In those few seconds before speaking, I didn’t think about consequences. I wanted to finally be able to communicate with someone and feel comfortable and know that they felt comfortable, too. I wanted so desperately to really talk with her. I just wanted for one small moment – one small moment in the anxious existence I constructed around myself – to breathe.

And then, as I felt my lips begin to whisper, I exhaled:

“…it hasn’t been too bad.”

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