People from my high school notoriously don’t stray far from home when considering university. The year I left, most ended up within 80 miles from home; a mere train journey away from tea and toast on a Friday night. There’s nothing wrong with that – but it wasn’t for me. This wasn’t born from an intrinsic hatred of the city I call home – the opposite, in fact. As a young queer woman, I saw the opportunity of university as a chance to be authentic to myself. It just meant moving hundreds of miles away to gain that confidence.
Those who know me at university would be surprised by this. Out to almost my entire social circle, I come across as confident and assured in myself. For the most part, I am. Yet something always holds me back and permeates my experiences at home – as if stepping off the train reverts me back to being sixteen, self-conscious, and scared. I’ll add that “home” is a big city, and that my family are open-minded and kind people. Maybe seeing the taunts directed at people more courageous than myself during high school told me to keep quiet. Maybe I knew I could blend in and hide behind my feminine gender presentation – after all, I was “too girly” to be gay. Maybe I was, point blank, not ready as a teenager to add another string to my “weirdo” bow. I stood out enough – I didn’t want a rainbow-coloured target on my forehead, too.
It took me a week in Glasgow to do what I couldn’t in eighteen years at home. I first came out at the end of my freshers’ week, tipsy in my halls kitchen, when someone asked if I had a boyfriend. Word spread fast throughout our flat, but it wasn’t malicious in the way I saw at high school to one of my best friends. Sometimes I feel as if I have a privilege in being “read” as straight, and it’s one that I definitely relied on growing up. I saw rumours being spread, hurtful whispers and rude stares in the corridors. I know a lot of these people would be mortified to look back at their actions, and I’m sure they’ve learned from their mistakes. It doesn’t excuse what they did, though – to the people they hurt at the time, as well as the frightened onlookers wondering if the same would happen to them, too.
For every version of myself, running scared from home, there will be someone else who finds my home city their personal safe haven. It hosts an annual Pride event; city council buildings fly the rainbow flag periodically; LGBTQ+ arts and culture thrive in its creative scene. It’s somewhere that, objectively, seems no less LGBTQ-friendly than Glasgow. Its universities have active LGBTQ+ societies in the same way that Glasgow’s do. For the most part, I used to justify my silence with “if straight people don’t have to come out, why do I?” A few years and a few sociology lessons later, I know it’s not that simple. I didn’t fit that time’s image of what a queer person was, so I was able to hide. It feels like I never remembered how to emerge from the shadows.
Now, when even well-meaning people tell me that “they’d have never known I was gay”, or that I “don’t look queer”, it reminds me of both how easy it would be to revert into myself. Instead, though, I’m trying to exist, openly, to challenge that preconception. I had the luxury of controlling when I could come out and in what circumstance, which a lot of people I now know didn’t. I chose to have physical distance and a new slate to do that, in the setting that was best for me. I was lucky to have that control, and the wounds of witnessing other people being outed is still fresh. Am I a coward, or am I clever? I’ll let you decide.
What I’m trying to say is that there isn’t a universal image of what a queer person should look like, or should act like, or should be. For me, moving to Glasgow was a chance for me to reinvent how I presented myself to the world. I know that if I ever want to have a serious romantic relationship, it will involve opening up to the other half of my life about the half of myself I keep hidden. I’m proud of the life I’ve carved for myself while at university. I hope that, one day, I – and other people in my shoes – can feel safe to be open about ourselves, entirely and unconditionally.