During my year abroad, I realized I am queer.
Colorado College is a small, highly liberal institution. It’s the kind of place where you’re more likely to see students walking around barefoot than in heels. Anything goes, and people are highly accepting. I remember the loud and proud queer community on campus from the day I arrived bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for my U.S. college experience.
Coming from small town in the UK, I had never really been exposed to openly queer people. Much less had I been in the midst of an openly queer community. But at parties in the first couple of weeks, I found myself surrounded by couples of every configuration. Girls danced with girls and boys danced with boys (OK, some boys danced with girls, too). I remember looking around and thinking—who isn’t queer?
I think I learned the tagline “everyone experiments in college” from watching the TV show Friends. And sure, I experimented. Honestly, I had always experimented. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t attracted to girls. My first kisses all happened with female friends. At that time, however, I didn’t recognize my urges as attraction. I considered them simple friendship and “practice.” Though I knew of and whole-heartedly accepted queer people, my heteronormative environment growing up simply didn’t lead me to consider that I might be one of the club.
Colorado College, in some ways, is the louder, more open version of my mixing-it-up youth. At this point, I feel like most of my female friends have kissed another girl or talked about wanting to try it. A massive grey area exists at CC in terms of same sex hookups—particularly for girls—that get swept under the rug of “just for fun.” And there’s nothing wrong with that. The pressure is off for people to experiment and act as they choose, as long as they do so respectfully.
During freshman and sophomore year of college, I categorized myself as “heteroflexible.” I knew I liked boys, and I knew I liked girls, too. For some reason I just didn’t consider the possibility that my admittedly frequent dance-floor make-outs (DFMO’s) with girls could lead to anything romantic. If I met a boy I liked, I might want to date him. If I met a girl I liked, that was just college, right?
It took leaving Colorado College to realize that I was actually queer. To realize that the reason I wanted—and still want—to DFMO with girls is because I am attracted to them, not just because I’m a college student. I studied abroad my whole junior year. Putting distance between me and my hyper laid back Colorado home made me reflect on my sexual identity.
Don’t get me wrong—I dig CC’s free-love attitude. And I think it’s incredibly important for people to have a safe space to experiment and figure themselves out and have fun. But, somehow, living in such a liberal environment stripped me of the chance to think critically about what and who I wanted.
I remember sitting in a café in Nepal during the summer between sophomore and junior year, and realizing that me existing romantically in that space with another girl would be unacceptable. But I still wanted to be. Experimenting at CC is so normalized that I didn’t have the mental space to reflect on the way my actions and identity entwine. It took experiencing less accepting environments and people who didn’t know me or my dating preferences to have my “eureka” moment.
I now self-identify as bisexual, and I’m happy about it. When people asked about my sexuality over junior year, I responded with either “bi” or “queer.” It felt liberating to contextualize that part of my identity.
When I came back to CC, I faced a new challenge. I had a whole group of friends and acquaintances who already knew me and knew that I hooked up with girls. But they didn’t know that I considered myself queer. I guess it might seem like a subtle difference. After all, what’s in a name? But it felt important to me. I needed a way to let people know my identity. Something more subtle than turning breakfast chitchat from “Please pass the milk” to “By the way, I’m queer now.” At times, it seemed easier to just sharpie “bisexual” on my forehead and get over with it.
At this point, two months into my senior year, I think the word is finally out. I love going to Equal meetings (our queer student club on campus). I’ve had a fair slice of fun at BGPs (Big Gay Parties). When it comes down to it, no one is really concerned by my sexuality or self-identification. There have been no jaws dropping the floor or fanfare announcements, and there shouldn’t be. I am lucky to have a supportive network of family and friends who I trust to accept me for me.
This does not apply to everyone; experiences of self-realization and coming out are highly personal. Different CC students will have different perspectives on hook-up culture at college, and the queer community. All I can say is that for me, where I am right now, I feel pretty good—and a little proud.