When I came to law school last fall, I was a different person. I mean, I looked the same and I had the same personality and intellect, but there were certain parts of myself I kept hidden. Identifying as queer was something I had struggled with for many years previously and was still something only my closest friends were aware of. I hoped that coming to law school would give me the opportunity to reinvent myself and finally have the courage to include that part of my identity in my public image. In a way, I was right, but it did not happen the way I had hoped it would.
Social orientation is a whirlwind; you meet everyone so fast and share parts of yourself so quickly that you can forget that you just met these people. I recognize now that I was more than a little naïve to have expected the people around me to respect my privacy, but I really did. Upon coming out to a few trusted individuals, I had started to feel better about myself. “I can do this,” I thought; “just a few people at a time and coming out won’t seem so hard.”
Unfortunately, my little bit at a time plan was ruined by the gossipy bubble that is law school. I found out months later that not only were “friends” discussing my sexual orientation behind my back, but that someone had suggested to my close (female) friend that she should no longer sleepover in my room because she might “give me the wrong idea.” Luckily that friend took no more heed of that warning than she should and actually became my greatest supporter and ally.
I was so angry that my coming out had been stolen from me, but I decided to make the most of it. With my friends’ encouragement, I started attending OUTLaws events and started saying words like “gay” and “lesbian” out loud. It doesn’t seem like much, but for me those were huge steps. Before I knew it I had a rainbow button on my backpack and a flag in my window. I wasn’t ready to tackle my family yet, but I was the closest to being out than I had ever been before.
What bothered me most about being outed was the suggestion that my queerness would somehow make me unsafe to be around female friends. I was struggling with my identity as it was; when I found out that I also had to contend with rumours of unwanted advances, I became terrified. It was by far the most stressful time I had in law school. On top of the adjustments and commitments that law school required, I had to fear for my reputation. I was suddenly paranoid about every encounter I had with my friends, afraid what they would think of me or what they would say about me behind my back if I showed too much affection or said something “too gay.” It took months and the intervention of some true friends for me to realize that worrying about gossip was pointless and unnecessary. I was gay, not a sexual deviant, and no amount of malicious rumours would change that.
I don’t hate the people that outed me; it is an unfortunate part of the culture at law school that when you run out of things to talk about, you talk about your classmates, and sexual orientation is definitely a favourite topic. They knew that it was none of their business, but in their minds, my revealing that part of myself had given them a juicy story to share with everyone else. To this day I still hear people gossip about the supposed or rumoured sexuality of some of my classmates. But now I’m out to the people that matter and I rarely worry about what people are saying about me. I am a gay woman and I will someday (hopefully) be a gay lawyer; but I am also a student, a friend, a sister, a feminist, and kind of a geek. To borrow some words from a favourite TV show, “My sexuality is not the most interesting thing about me.” Here’s hoping my future employer agrees.