It should be no surprise that some people wait until university to come out. High school seems to do its best to highlight our differences, sometimes in cruel ways, showing us that we should expect to be scrutinized by peers. In a sense, university is the safe haven that follows, instead encouraging diversity and being a cradle for new ideas and acceptance, while still challenging what and how we think.
With TRUSU’s pride awareness week on now, the exploration of various aspects of LGBTQ culture is centre stage, and with this in mind we reached out and heard from three students who shared their experiences.
Coming out in the first year
Amy Ouwehand, third-year tourism student, didn’t come out openly as lesbian until her first year at TRU, at the age of 19.
“I knew I was going to take a couple years. I don’t just rip off the Band-Aid,” she said.
“I knew it was always there, but I kind of said ‘eh whatever,’ like I’ll just ignore it, hopefully it’s just a phase,” Ouwehand said. “I came out as bi when I was 18.”
The realization that she wasn’t “75 per cent [into girls], 25 per cent [into guys],” but in fact 100 per cent lesbian wasn’t an overnight progression for Ouwehand.
“You have to sit down and talk to yourself and [say] ‘Yes, I am gay. This is who I am,’” Ouwehand said.
For Ouwehand, it took roughly a year to be comfortable with her sexual orientation.
“After 20, I started saying ‘this is who you are, you have to be true to yourself’ because I was still kind of living in denial, even though I did essentially come out,” Ouwehand said.
For Ouwehand, the TRU campus is a place she feels free and is less restricting than her hometown.
“Being back home … it’s not really fun. My girlfriends know that I’m gay, but they don’t want to talk about it. But I mean, it’s the way it is,” she said. “It’s great. Kamloops feels so much more comfortable. Just being out here, like, it’s not even a problem. I have the best friends here.”
Ouwehand was becoming closer with a female friend when she felt the need to define her sexual orientation. She had been dating guys when they first met and was worried the friendship would change. In the end, much to her surprise, her friend could care less.
Ouwehand said her friend’s reaction was to tell her that she was an amazing person and that it wasn’t a big deal.
Along with the memories of acceptance, however, are the less positive experiences. One night, at Cactus Jacks Nightclub, Ouwehand took her friend away from a guy on the dancefloor and he lashed out.
“It was kind of like a ‘get out of my face you fucking dyke’ kind of thing,” Ouwehand recalled. “My friends were there and they heard it. They came over and just reamed the guy out. I was just so shocked at the time. That was the first time I ever got called out.”
For Ouwehand, she’s not sure that her friends back home would have been as supportive.
Ouwehand recognizes that TRU’s campus population isn’t as big as other universities and that the pride community is also not as large, but does feel that TRU still has room to grow.
“You see pride awareness week, so there is advertisement for stuff like that. But I just feel like our group here could do more,” Ouwehand said.
“Honestly, there’s no comparison to international week. Because international week, this place is filled. You know what week it is,” Ouwehand said. “I know people are working their ass[es] off but I just feel like it could be a little more presented.”
“They don’t know everything, and you know what, it’s a lot to do with religion, with race with all that other stuff,” Ouwehand said. “If you grow up that way, and you have your entire family telling you that’s how to live – that that’s the way the world works – it’s no surprise that someone [will think LGBTQ] isn’t right, this is not what I’ve learnt.”
It’s not always a ‘thing’
Christopher Herbert, third-year sociology student, grew up in a small town in northern B.C., always knowing he was gay.
“I was just always attracted to guys on TV shows and stuff,” Herbert said. “Being gay in a small town is difficult.”
Herbert isn’t comfortable when he goes back to his hometown, but feels it’s more important that he’s comfortable with himself.
“I don’t talk about it, because I know people are going to have a different opinion,” Herbert said.
Herbert had a best friend growing up that, upon learning of his sexual orientation, ended the friendship.
When he moved to Kamloops in 2012 he officially identified as gay. In his first year, Herbert took a sociology class on sexuality. Another student at the front of the class spoke up about the struggles he had faced being gay. Herbert recalled how understanding the class was, saying, “It wasn’t something I really expected. It was nice to know I was now in this environment where somebody could say to the class ‘oh I’m gay’ and that’s not that big of a deal, it’s not a thing.”
For Herbert, he recognizes that relationships with male friends, who, although supportive, are kept at a distance.
“I know there are friends that I have that are male, that if I wasn’t gay I’d be closer with,” Herbert said.
As some of his guy friends have gotten girlfriends, tensions have risen from the girlfriends feeling uneasy with Herbert’s closeness. Overall, Herbert’s experience at TRU has been safe but still feels like progress can be made, specifically the stereotyping surrounding homosexuality.
Herbert has attended Pride Club events directed at the LGBTQ community, but isn’t actively involved with pride advocacy on campus. He supports the acceptance and equality that pride fights for, but doesn’t relate to the portrayal of gay men attached to pride awareness, specifically found at pride parades.
“The issue is that it’s really hard to represent an entire population of people without generalizing them,” Herbert said. “I’m not like some gay people and you know we’re all different. I have different values so growing up I always felt like gay pride doesn’t really represent me. It represents a certain type of person, just not me.”
Herbert enjoys both his traditionally masculine and traditionally feminine qualities. He enjoys videogames, going to garbage dumps and building bikes out of the scrap parts he finds.
“I like hunting – I’m really into fishing,” Herbert said. His sense of humour, he feels, is more feminine in taste. Similarly, he identifies his love for cooking to be more feminine.
“I like to garden. I like fucking tomatoes!” Herbert said, laughing.
According to Herbert, femininity is seen as inferior to masculinity, leading to inequalities for gay people who are a part of the feminine realm. In comparison to his lesbian friend, he notes that there could be greater difficulty for gay males to enter the feminine realm then what his lesbian friend endured.
“I think gay issues are going to improve when women’s issues improve, once femininity is understood for its value, I think gays will have an easier time.”
“I’m gay but I feel like that’s such a small part of who I am as a person, and so it shouldn’t be this huge thing. Before I’m a gay person, I’m so many other things,” Herbert said. “My name’s Chris Herbert, I’m a sociology major at TRU, I have a history minor. I’m very interested [in] global issues. I’m a very kind person, I’m really funny. These qualities, they’re just qualities like being gay, but I don’t think gay is that significant because someone’s not going to love me because I’m gay, but because of what I’m interested in, my humour, stuff like that.”
Finding a second spirit
Megan Graham, current TRUSU LGBTQ representative, has started experimenting with the pronoun of they/them in replacement of he/him and she/her. For Graham, who identifies as two-spirited, this resembles the concept of being what she refers to as “two-in-one.”
“It’s traditionally a native or Aboriginal North American term,” Graham said. “But the concept of it is to be in one body with two spirits, so you represent male and female in different ways.”
The non-native equivalent would be gender queer or third-gender, according to Graham. Within Aboriginal communities, two-spirited individuals are often spiritual leaders, a quality Graham relates to.
“The two-spirit, for me, is gender and sexuality being integrated into spirituality was really key,” Graham said. Graham is a fourth-year interdisciplinary student with a focus in outdoor ministry.
According to Graham, there are many different roles we each individually play, and as a two-spirited person they are able to move between roles.
“At times I need to be a stronger masculine presence, and be that outgoing sometimes arrogant and pompous [person],” Graham said, laughing. “Other times I can be really romantic and really feminine – well I guess not really feminine. That’s a bit of a stretch. I’ve never been really feminine, but I can be a lot softer and kind.”
For Graham, they note that their coming out story “is not that exciting” – they’ve always just been themself. Growing up, they never had to hide any part of their orientation.
“I am really lucky that my parents allowed me to be tomboy,” Graham said. “And let me do whatever.”
Graham was often met with confusion, as Megan is not a boy’s name.
“I would say ‘well yeah, it’s not, do with it what you will.’ If you think I’m a boy then I guess that’s up to you. It doesn’t really matter,” Graham said. “I wouldn’t necessarily correct people – and I still don’t often correct people.”
Graham lets others correct as they see fit, saying, “sometimes my girlfriends will remind people, ‘hey, no, that’s a she – that’s my girlfriend,’” Graham said.
For Graham, learning of two-spiritedness was not a sudden self-identification but was one of the many “ways of being.” It was when they started working with Aboriginal youth a few summers ago that two-spirited fit how Graham had always simply been.
Since being at TRU, Graham’s understanding of the queer community has grown.
“I wasn’t part of any clubs back home, I didn’t have a lot of friends that were specifically, ‘let’s go to pride parade let’s do all these things,’ like pride, pride, pride,” Graham said. “It wasn’t until I joined the Pride Club on campus purposefully putting myself in that position that I started to open and see [that] there are a lot of options, there’s a lot going on.”
Graham was looking for a group of people similarly-minded to theirs who had informative experiences to share. They came across the Pride Club, where they found a diverse group of people.
“You say your name and your pronoun – anybody’s an ally, anybody can be gay or straight, it doesn’t matter because it’s about you just being who you are in a safe place,” Graham said.
As LGBTQ representative, Graham has designed pride awareness week to give others the same learning experience they had in their mid-20s. Graham intends for the week to be a bigger and bolder move than just offering a Pride Club.
“Especially around [TRU], there’s a lot of different cultures and not necessarily less acceptance, but a lot of different attitudes towards it,” Graham said.
Art by Rae Imeson