Starting uni...

Three years ago I was only so far out of the closet. The door was open but I barely stepped outside. Despite living in a gay capitol, Manchester, I did experience years of high school bullying and self repression. So while my brothers were drooling over The Pussycat Dolls, my sister could go wild over Justin Timberlake but there I was staying silent about Darren Criss making my heart race in skin tight jeans. I was still out, everyone knew and by sixth form most people were very supportive. But all the same it stayed like an almost secret part of me that people even sometimes forgot about.

However, after being shyly open for about two years I promised myself that university would be different. My floor on Castle Leazes was all guys who asked a myriad of identical questions, most of which was forgettable and polite small-talk. Asking whether or not I had a gap year, where I was from, what I was studying and finally whether or not I had a girlfriend. Prior to university I would have been vague and just said no, but this was my opportunity to be open and honest and say no because I’m gay. This had some mixed reactions, as any time I come out does. Some people are unphased, some people think it makes sense and others are flabbergasted that they don’t think I’m gay enough. I promptly started dressing in brighter clothes in hopes to meet this queer criteria people didn’t think I met. But this was among straight guys, and I’d had a lifetime of straight male friends, for the first time ever I wanted other LGBT+ friends. I had tried in the past to talk about my attraction to guys with straight guys and though they can be accepting they can hardly participate.

Then came the day I waited for, the society fair. While I did want to pursue a sport, pick up new hobbies and expand in fields I already enjoyed, I hunted for that rainbow flag with a borderline magnetic attraction. And I think it was so important that I had that. The first night out, which was also my first night in a gay club scene, felt electric. Just seeing boys kissing boys and girls dancing with girls and knowing it wasn’t for a “no homo” joke or to get guys to buy them drinks, it was all real. It’s difficult to describe how welcoming that atmosphere felt, for someone who hadn’t gone on many nights out before. The lights and the music, all felt a little overwhelming but the friends I made almost instantly in the society, some of whom are now my best friends, helped make it easy.

It goes without saying that the first year of university is a confusing time for anyone (thank goodness the grades don’t count to the overall degree). For many it is a new realm of independence, you have a new standard of work expected and it is the beginning of really being yourself as an adult. As I said, for anyone that is a challenge. But being LGBT+, university can offer you the freedom to really be yourself and surround yourself with brand new people who can give you complete support, acceptance and understanding.

I was finally having the kind of friends, moments and nights out I had been missing out on that my straight friends had already experienced. And the effects were clear; I stopped trying to dress to appease straight perceptions, I was more emotionally honest, I was having fun. Over the three years of university the hesitation and discomfort I felt regarding my sexuality had all but melted away. I could casually mention the fact that I have a boyfriend to people without anxiety, and the wonderful thing was that there was almost never much of a reaction positive or negative from people after hearing that. And this wasn’t just the LGBT Society, anyone from people on my course, people in my houses and strangers on a night out. I wasn’t afraid to just be me anymore.

I think it’s fair to say that much of this came from the natural progression of just growing up and being in a more mature, open minded environment. But I’d be lying if I said that the friends I made at university didn’t help, especially with the confidence that I built from the LGBT+ Society. Now that I’ve graduated my hopes lie with the new students coming in a similar situation. The ones who are kind of in and kind of out of the closet, maybe not totally okay with announcing themselves to everyone and the ones who are excited to meet other people just like them. For those students, know that university can be the start of something completely new and fantastic for you. And that rainbow flag could be for you what it was for me and what the pride flag is by definition, an affirming symbol of acceptance and celebration. So, among the many lessons you will learn at uni, never forget the important lesson to love and celebrate yourself.

Connor Cathcart