I am always really flattered and pleased when people read one of my stream of consciousness blogs that I post on Facebook and it resonates with them. I am rather stunned to discover that I was perceived as so intimidating in college! This seems really ironic to me. I had a long-time girlfriend back at home and the constant lies and evasions—even with my best friends— was tough and demoralizing. I didn’t end up coming out to my best friends from high school until I was in college and very few people (2? 3?) back home knew we were a couple.
I was thrilled when I arrived at Mount Holyoke College that I finally had the opportunity to be myself and stop living a double life. But it wasn’t quite that easy. I was in a dorm my freshman year on a floor with eleven other freshman living in each other’s pockets in temp doubles. I realized pretty quickly that although the upper class women in my dorm were pretty laid back, the other freshman were pretty typical 18 year olds. Most of them had not met a lesbian before (at least that they knew of), they carried around all the typical stereotypes (including the idea that lesbians were attracted to every woman they met—pretty awkward in a dorm!) and maybe needed a little more time to adjust to all the new things that come with being away from home for the first time before the big reveal. So, I stayed closeted among the majority of my floor mates.
My freshman roommate was smart and observant and put together pretty quickly that my “friend” from back home was more than just my friend and outed me to ALL of the other freshman in the dorm. The eleven other freshman on my floor did not talk to me again for the rest of the school year. Some of them have still never spoken to me again, period. I felt so shunned and unwelcome that I had to move to another floor in the dorm. I rarely tell this story on social media because I actually am Facebook friends with some of these women now and I am truly grateful that we could reconnect and find some common ground later in life.
The experience, while pretty traumatic at the time, was freeing in some other ways. There were several freshman who were not part of the 2nd floor hive who were wonderful and basically said, “I have never met a lesbian before but I like you as a person. Tell me about your life.” There were others, like my wild New York city raised friend Janet, who couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about and volunteered to be my new roommate. Several of the LBGTQ AND straight upper class women really felt for me and took me under their wing. It also took away all my hesitancy about being out on campus—the worst case scenario running around in my head had already happened and I had lived through it. Also, being a little oppositional-defiant at heart, I probably couldn’t resist being in people’s faces about it—partially to try to cover how hurt I really was and partially because I don’t always know when to keep my mouth shut. I started to volunteer to do Lesbian Alliance workshops in the dorms and discovered I really loved doing them. I discovered quickly that the people who asked the most offensive questions often were completely ignorant that their questions were offensive and why they were offensive. It was not unusual for women to linger after these workshops, wait for the coast to be clear, and then share quietly with my co-facilitator and I that they were bi/lesbian or had a LBGTQ parent/sibling/friend. I made some of my closest friends at college by going out to dorms and be willing to talk about my life, answer crazy questions and just be a human face to connect to a very abstract concept for some.
I also had another very humbling experience as a freshman. On one, and one occasion only, I got really, really drunk my freshman year. It happened to be the night of the first Lesbian Alliance dance (maybe I needed some liquid courage to walk through the door?! I was impulsive and determined, NOT always brave) and let’s just say that some of that dance was a bit fuzzy around the edges for me. For the entire rest of my freshman year, I would go to introduce myself to the women I considered the really “cool dykes” on campus and would have them say to me, “I remember you! You were that REALLY drunk freshman at the first LA dance!” Let’s just say that this level of humiliation was good training for parenthood.
© 2016 Christine Elizabeth Ray – All rights Reserved