“College made you queer.”
It’s a phrase many students dread hearing when they return home for the holidays. It gets told all too often to those of us who use college as an opportunity to experiment and express to ourselves, to those who begin to explore their wants and needs both physically and intellectually. We hear it from skeptical parents, teasing friends, and disappointed grandparents.
Each time I visited home and came out to another person, I heard these words. Sometimes they were masked with fake sincerity or admiration. Sometimes they came in the form of a facial expression or the addition of some extra physical space between us. Most of the time it was accompanied by other comments like, “I wasn’t expecting that,” “you made that decision pretty fast,” or the most vexing of all, “We’ll see how long that lasts.”
Despite all of this, the worst part of hearing these words was the fact that I couldn’t even argue against it, because it was true. College had made me queer. And although it took me more than a few awkward holiday dinners to finally come to terms with it, I eventually realized that exploring my identity in college wasn’t such a bad thing. In fact, it was a great thing.
Many college students, specifically women who identify as bisexual or pansexual, receive a lot of criticism for coming out during college because others claim that they are going through a “phase.” This expression is problematic for a few reasons. The first is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with experimenting with your sexuality at any point during your life, even in your college years. Not everyone is born knowing exactly who they are and what they want, gender and sexual identity included. Even those who don’t end up identifying along the LGBTQ spectrum are entitled to that time of self-exploration.
The second issue with the term “going through a phase” is the implication that a person’s age, location, or activities might invalidate their identity. Some people need others to help them come to terms with their identity, and college is the perfect place to find groups of people who that can help you do that. As for age, some people discover themselves at seven, and some at 87. There is no window of time during which someone must come out, and the age and timeliness in which they choose to do that is completely up to the individual.
The real reason that many people don’t identity earlier in life is because they had never been given the chance too. College not only serves as a sanctuary for many students who never had friends who felt the same way they did before, but it’s also a place where there are often support systems at every turn from friends, clubs, professors, counselors, and more. College also gives students better access to terms and ideas that they may not have even known existed before, as well as hopefully, giving them a safe environment in which to experiment with both of these things.
Though some people may still view the queer college experience as something temporary or even “cliché,” the truth is that the few years a young adult spends in college can sometimes change them more than the previous 18 years ever did. Although there will probably never be an easy way to come to terms with a new identity, the most important thing to do during this time is to be honest with yourself and with the loved ones you know you can trust.
And the next time someone tells you that going to college has “made you queer,” just remind them that yes it has—but that it has also made you happier and more willing to accept that.
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.