Jordan Crossfield, Student Relationship Manager at Regent’s University London, writes on coming out and going back into the closet at university.
We all know how traumatic coming out can be; yes, people experience support and rejection on a varying scale but even those with the most loving support network at home experience the same trauma and the same fear of rejection when debating on coming out. University is supposed to be a safe space so why do so many students go back into the closet when they attend? They’ve spent their formative years at school fighting their way out, so what could be behind the regression back into the dark of the closet?
University takes place for the majority of students at such an early stage of adulthood that most life experiences still have yet to be….well, experienced. There is still so much out there to go through that for most of us our skin has yet to be toughened; and those school years create such a bubble of blissful ignorance that breaking out of that can be a terrifying prospect. For the most part students simply don’t want to come out again. If facing the stigma they had at school from a brand new group of people can be avoided then why would you choose to go through it again.
In terms of presenting who you are there is a still a lot of figuring out to be done in those years of your life, many students are still questioning the identity that they labelled themselves with at school, and going into university is an opportunity to alter the way they see themselves, and how they present to others. Many see the ability to be anonymous as something to use to their advantage, odds are no one knows you at University so you can present however you choose to. I had a similar experience when I first went into my undergraduate studies, I wondered if I could present as straight, to see how that skin would fit. It lasted all of a couple of hours until I got drunk and told everyone my real story, and I felt better for it. But to even want to be able to get away from the person I had been at school shows how troubled I was, and how uncomfortable I was in my own skin at that time.
Young LGBTQ+ people are faced with prejudices from all directions, going to university should be a liberating experience where they can really explore who it is that they are, and express themselves in their most honest and true form. Regression comes from shame and from fear and it’s easy to sit behind a keyboard and say that young students should be brave when going to University and be who they are; that’s easier said than done. But Universities are by definition a place to learn and where people go out of their way to become part of a community that is actively seeking education and by default seeking ways to broaden the way they view the world. Acceptance should be a given at University, but even if it’s not there are places you can go to find a safe space. There are people with shared experiences that will also be seeking acceptance, and will be looking for their own community to be a part of.
If there are concerns at the start of studies then my advice is to own your space – you have every right to be there and to be the person you are as much as anyone else. Seek out and join the LGBTQ+ societies and get involved with people that have experienced what you have and who are in the best place to give you support.
Lastly, be unapologetic; you’ve worked hard to be who you are and don’t run out of steam now, it may seem easier to go back to place of safety and anonymity – but you’ll thank yourself later for keeping those closet doors firmly open.