Student Life

Don't Live in a Closet, You're Not Harry Potter

We all have our closets where we hide our true selves, but coming out is liberating.

Mar 2, 2016

It wasn’t until I was 16 years old that I figured out I like girls. All through high school I got teased about it because I’ve always been a major tomboy. I used to say, “If I was a lesbian, don’t you think I’d know?” As it turns out, I really didn’t know. It wasn’t that I didn’t know gay people existed, because I did. It just never occurred to me that it’s a thing that I might be.

I was raised in a pretty traditional Catholic family. My parents are high school sweethearts. No one in my family is gay. Being gay wasn’t discussed much in health class or sex ed, and when it was people said things like “If you feel attracted to another girl, it’s totally normal but it’s nothing—it’ll pass.” Or, “It’s just a phase, don’t worry about it too much.” Thankfully, things have changed a lot since my high school days.

I lived in a small town where everyone knew everyone and there were certain expectations about how you lived life. You’d go to school, graduate, get a job, date boys, get married, have kids, and live happily ever after. That never really felt quite right to me, but I couldn’t explain why.

Figuring myself out

One night back in the days of Much Music and terrible reality TV, I was watching “A Shot at Love” with Tila Tequila. Classy, I know. My mom walked by as two girls were kissing on screen. She kinda freaked out and said something like, “do you want to end up like that?” I thought about it, and the answer in my head was “yeah, I kinda do.”

It took me awhile to come to terms with the fact that I liked girls. I wondered if it was just a phase. When I finally realized the truth, I found it hard to say out loud. “I like girls.” I mean, it’s not a difficult sentence, but I couldn’t bring myself to say it.

I’d spent so long fighting people on it, trying to convince them that I didn’t. I’d been bullied for so long about it that I didn’t want those people to be right. I felt stupid. I felt like they’d won and saying it out loud would give them even more fuel.

I also worried that I’d lose people’s respect. I thought it would mean no one would take me seriously anymore. I played on an all-girls hockey team; were they all going to hate me or, worse, feel uncomfortable around me?

It wasn’t until I started playing roller derby that I began to feel okay with myself. It just so happens that there are a lot of girls who like girls in the derby community (it's a really accepting group, no matter your story). Because of the derby community I started to love myself again, and I was able to step outside of the miserable closet I’d been living in.

We all have closets, and coming out is hard

In Ash Beckham’s TED Talk “Coming Out of Your Closet,” she explains that we all have our closets. I relate to Ash because my closet is also rainbow-coloured and often when I walk into the girl’s bathroom I get funny looks. Your closet might be telling your lawyer parents that you aren’t going to become a lawyer, or telling your family that you don’t want to take over the family business, or telling someone you’re pregnant, or declaring bankruptcy.

Beckham argues that while we may all have our closets, it’s not okay to live in them. She says: “A closet is a hard conversation and we hate it, it’s scary but it needs to be done.” Everyone has a closet, everyone has their story, and everyone has their hard conversations. For me, coming out of the closet as gay was an incredibly hard conversation, and during the process I discovered that sometimes the hardest person to have that conversation with is yourself.

Often, we are our own worst critics. Sometimes it’s hard to see our own potential, to believe in ourselves, and be nice to ourselves. But having people around me who believed in me and supported me was really powerful, and helped me to love myself again.

How moving away for university helped

In the process of stepping out of my closet for good, one of the best things I did was move away to go to post-secondary. I ended up at the University of Lethbridge, which was the best thing ever because Lethbridge is nowhere near the small town I grew up in. All of the sudden I found myself in a new city surrounded by people I didn't know.

Even better, these people didn't know me. The expectation I felt growing up just melted away, and I got to start over. I could be who I wanted to be, do things that I wanted to do.

One of the major perks about attending post-secondary is that you’re tossed into a new environment with lots of new people—and in all that newness lies an opportunity. For me, it was an opportunity to shed all of the expectations that weighed me down back home. It was an opportunity to finally be who I was, without being afraid of what people would say. Plus, it was an opportunity to connect with likeminded people. The first thing I did was join the Pride on Campus Club. I was no longer the only lesbian for 100 km in any direction. 

Stepping out of the closet

The closet is a dark, scary place and it really does make you feel alone. Beckham’s TED Talk helped me to realize that we all have our closets—and more importantly, that we all face those hard conversations when we step out of them. Know that there are people out there going through the same things that you are. There are people who can and will understand you. There are people who will accept you, support you, love you, and celebrate you for exactly who you are, no matter who that is.

And it really does get better.

Shannon

Business Administration
Red Deer College

Don’t go to school because people tell you to. Go to school to reinvent yourself and become who you want to be.

Check out Shannon's profile »»