I always knew something was just a little bit different about me. I never really had that elementary or junior-high crush. I made one up about a kind and sweet girl to appease all the people who kept asking.
As I got older, again and again I would find myself feeling quite different from my peers. I’d ask myself if I thought I was gay, and these thoughts took me through a few phases, including just not wanting it to be true. The only common thread was the hope that my feelings would just go away. This wish would lead me down the rabbit hole of internet homophobia and misinformation that would take me years to get over.
High school, for me, was a chance at a fresh start. By this time I had reached the conclusion that I was, in fact, gay – even if I could not even say the phrase “I’m gay” yet. This led to a whole new dilemma – how could I tell my friends and family about this, if I could not say it out loud to myself? What would their reactions be?
Then, I found myself forced into a bit of a corner. A then-friend at school began to out me to my peers. The first days after this were tough. One day, in class, when I found out he had told more people than I’d previously thought, I just broke.
I needed space, I needed someone who would just listen. I excused myself from class, and went to another teacher’s room where I could just break down for a few minutes. I was able to go back to this teacher for help; we addressed the bullying that I faced from the person who was outing me. I also got support to inform my family at my pace.
Coming out is a process. Over time, I became comfortable enough with myself to tell my Mum who, sensing that something was wrong, made it clear that she would always have enough love to talk. And with more time I would tell my Dad, and my Mum’s parents. But it was always through a story, where I would imply that I was gay, because I still could not say the words myself.
To this day, a number of people in my family still do not know that I am gay. Some, because it is not worth the time – they’ll notice when one day I bring a guy home to a family gathering – but others I have not told because I fear their responses. Having to sit through conversations with relatives discussing how they think being gay is a result of childhood abuse is, unfortunately, not unique to me. While I am fortunate to have the support of my close family, I cannot imagine being a student whose primary caregivers make homophobic or transphobic jokes and remarks, or who openly oppose LGBTQ+ rights, as is the silent reality for many LGBTQ+ students and allies.
GSAs are a place of sanctuary for many students who are experiencing their own journeys of self-discovery. You don’t walk into the room and announce your sexuality, you walk in and say hi to a friend. They are about more than identifying with a sexuality or gender, they are about being a supportive environment for people to find themselves without the pressures, stigmas and fears the worlds presents, and without the risk and stress telling family can often put on people.
Saying the words “I’m gay” to family can be a difficult task for people who are ready to do it and is, in my experience, a downright horrifying prospect if you are not. Regardless of my family’s level of acceptance, how was I supposed to tell my family about something I could barely admit to myself? For me, this was a part of the journey I had to take; and it is a journey that all students deserve to take at their own pace and in their own way.
Jacob Dunn is a former student trustee with Edmonton Public Schools, and is currently a student in the Faculty of Science at the University of Alberta.
This article appears in the April 2018 issue of Avenue Edmonton.