We all know there’s no one right way to come out. Some girls trip out of the closet onto their faces, while others bang the door open and strut their stuff – and some never found themselves in the proverbial closet at all. Wherever you identify on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, everyone has his or her own unique process of declaring himself/herself as a part of the community, and everyone has his or her own story that comes with it.
We checked in with a few collegiettes to hear how they discovered their identities and shared that with others. No two experiences are the same, but all are inspiring stories of what it’s like to come out of the closet, be brave and tell others about who you are!
1. J.E. Reich
“Whenever I am asked about my coming-out story, I am always inclined to pause,” says J.E Reich, an Emerson and Brooklyn College grad. “No one has just one coming-out story, because every time you meet someone new, you inadvertently come out again.
“At 17, I wrote a 10-page e-mail to my father, who was in Europe for work,” she says. “I cried noiselessly in a computer carrel in the empty school library during lunch period and figured I was signing my own disownment notice. He wrote this back, ‘Surprised, but not shocked. Love, Dad.’ Months later, when I told my mother I was gay, she replied, ‘No, you're not.’
“My step-grandmother, who I had somehow forgotten to tell, came out for me. ‘I don't see why two women can't get married,’ she said to me out of the blue, when I visited her on a trip I took to Miami. The warm silence said the rest.”
J.E., who is an editor for Medium, an aspiring novelist and a contributor for Thought Catalog, The Huffington Post and The Daily Dot, says that being a writer has given her the opportunity to tell her story again and again. It is part of why she is inspired to keep coming out.
“The more and more I come out, the more I grow to be courageous and true,” she says. “By sharing how I continue to come out, I hope somewhere, someway, someone else will find them and have the strength to come out themselves.”
2. Kayla Goldstein
For Kayla Goldstein, a junior at Florida State University, coming out was a relatively normal experience. Kayla says it just sort of happened after the prompting of her family.
“One day my mom said, ‘Are you a lesbian? Grandma thinks you're a lesbian.’ So I told her I was bi, and we carried on with our day as normal. It really wasn't a very big deal,” she says. “I was always pretty open about [my sexuality] with my peers for as long as I can remember. I didn't really tell my parents because I always found the concept of coming out to be kind of weird. Like, why do my parents need to know what kind of person I'm attracted to?”
Kayla says that being out has prompted her to become even more involved with the LGBTQ+ community, as she desires to help others be accepted and accepting of diversity.
“I was actually the co-founder of my high school's GSA and served as the vice president one year and the president one year,” Kayla says.
As a role model of the group, Kayla is also an advocate for intersectionality awareness and disregarding cisnormativity. Her experiences have pushed her address these important topics within the LGBTQ+ community.
3. Angela Stahl
“The summer before my freshman year of high school, I attended a softball camp at the local college,” says Angela Stahl, a sophomore student at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. “During the camp, I started to grow close to two girls. I admired them for their skill level; they were way better than I was. As the days grew on, I started to become confused as to whether I felt so frazzled around these girls because they were older than me and I respected and admired their athletic abilities, or if I had a crush on one of them.”
Though she’d never considered dating a girl at this point in her life, Angela says that she began to realize she would be comfortable in a relationship with a girl and really wanted to give it a shot.
“Practice for the school softball team started a few weeks later, and I started to grow close to the girls on the team,” she says. “The majority of my team identified as either bisexual or lesbian. Homosexuality was the norm. As a crush developed for one of the players on my team, I felt the time had come to tell my friends and family that I felt I should identify as bisexual. I told my mom first. Her response, which I will remember forever, was, ‘Whatever makes your peaches tingle.’
“My dad jokingly requested that I date more girls so that he wouldn't have to worry about a teen pregnancy. My girl friends had no problem with my sexuality, and the dynamic didn't change.”
Telling the men in her life about her sexuality, on the other hand, yielded a different reaction.
“When I told the boys, it seemed to break down a barrier in our friendship, and we could bond in more ways now than we could before,” Angela says. “If anything, my social status went up, because, at that point in time, my peers viewed bisexuality as, ‘more likely to be open to threesomes,’ which wasn't actually true. But I was okay with the positive attention at the time.
“Once I told all my friends, I felt the need to play the part. I was aiming to be the stereotypical butch. I wore my hair back and stopped wearing makeup and used cologne instead of perfume.
“After dating my first girlfriend, Kristen, I became comfortable with my new identity. I came to the realization that I didn't have to dress or act in any particular way; I just needed to continue to act like myself. My experience was very easy because of all the support I had around me. My school had a large and involved GSA and a permanent transsexual substitute.
“Once I got to college, I realized that the term pansexual suited my preference more appropriately,” Angela says. “I personally think that labeling myself for my sexuality is strange. However, I understand that everyone does not think the way that I do, and some people need to be able to categorize people in order to understand them. For this reason, I continue to label my sexuality.”
4. Kimberly Rosenthal
“My mom will tell you that her and my dad knew when I was five that I might be gay. I’ll tell you that it was seven,” says Kimberly Rosenthal, a University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point graduate. “When playing house, I was always the guy, and looking back, I realize I basked in the attention from my friends sitting on my lap while I pretended to be Danny from Grease. However, the term ‘gay’ didn’t reach me until high school, and ‘lesbian’ didn’t register fully for me until my senior year in college.
“Everything in hindsight makes sense; the quick glances at girls in the locker room; toxic relationships with men, not because they were awful, but because I didn’t know how to communicate with them; or putting myself out there for a best girl friend.”
Kimberly had always told herself she wouldn’t be opposed to being with a woman, but always dated men.
“I was attracted to men and was happy with them. However, something always felt like it was missing. I blamed it on myself because I knew the men I was with were good, kind and caring people that wanted to take care of me.”
Kimberly didn’t fully realize that she wasn’t completely straight until her senior year of college, when she attended a conference.
“I was joking with a girl and we both made a sly sex comment, and I realized at that moment that women had sex with each other and that I would enjoy being with this girl intimately,” she says. “At the time, I was dating a guy and was happy, so I continued dating him, but acknowledged to him and myself that I was bisexual.
“It was scary taking a leap to queer-ville, because I knew that it wasn’t going to be an easy road. I dated men off and on and was with a few women, but nothing felt comfortable. I was in limbo, and it caused a huge depression in my life that took moving out of the country to move forward from.”
It wasn’t until the age of 26 that Kimberly says she finally fully loved herself and accepted herself for who she was.
“I am a woman that loves a person for who they are, but feel a stronger connection emotionally to women. Some say that is bisexual; I prefer the term queer,” Kimberly says. “This summer, I met an amazing woman that I cannot wait to share my life with. We became engaged on July 31, 2014. Her story, like mine, was about self-acceptance. Our journey together is about building up each other as strong women.”
As these women have shown, no two paths to coming out are the same. While there might never be a perfect time, way or place to come out, we hope that you take pride in your journey no matter what.