Almost every gay man, lesbian woman, or bisexual person has to do it at one point: come out of the closet. Often, it doesn’t stop at one coming out: to family, friends, classmates, your sports club or new work environment. Some people have to open that closet door every week! But is the current generation of students Out and Proud?
And what can a students’ union such as A.S.V.Gay do to help? Perhaps our generation doesn’t need to open those closet doors anymore?
It varies from person to person to what extent the members of A.S.V.Gay are out of the closet, but there are noticeable trends. These trends mostly involve the background of the student: students from a small town or with homophobic relatives usually are not out of the closet everywhere. This especially holds true for international students, as homosexuality is still illegal in some countries, and often invisible.
But what is striking is that the majority is out in their daily life in Amsterdam and is quite comfortable with it. This makes it easier to also come out to family and friends back home. Of course, this doesn’t apply to everyone, and there is also gay hatred in Amsterdam, but it is often perceived as easier to come out here. This in turn helps people to move on.
A.S.V.Gay does pay special attention to coming out. Not only do we organize actions during the annual Coming Out Day (see pictures!), but we also deal with it on an interpersonal level. We have counselors you can go to if, for instance, you’re struggling with your sexual orientation or gender identity, or if you do not know how to tell your family or friends (you can also contact them with problems and doubts that are not directly GLBTQ related). However, we do realize that not everyone can or wants to come out. Therefore, we keep a list of people who don’t want to be photographed at A.S.V.Gay related events.
The counselors are not just there for personal contact, but also organize meetings, for example on self-image and how people experience the difference between student life in Amsterdam and their place of birth. Amsterdam comes out positively in the comparison, but it also begs the question under both gays and straights whether it is still necessary to come out at all. What does it really matter whether you are attracted to men, women or both, as long as you are entirely comfortable with your sexuality?
Looking at it from that perspective, people regularly keep their orientation to themselves, “not wanting to make a big deal out of it.” As we want homosexuality to be seen as something completely normal, it may not be prudent to keep emphasizing it.
However, people often forget questions like “are you in a relationship?” This kind of questions indirectly still push you out of the closet. You can choose to keep to yourself who you’re attracted to, but how comfortable do you really feel about your sexuality? Besides these considerations, many students do feel the need to “make a big deal out of it.” For them it is indeed an issue, for instance because they do not know what their orientation is exactly, or do not feel comfortable with it. It could also be that it goes against the expectations of their parents, peers and society. Their years in higher education pre-eminently are the time in which people are developing their identity.
Doubts and insecurities are part of that, and not just from within. It is pleasant that in Amsterdam different sexual orientations are increasingly considered normal, but as long as negative reactions are a possibility, GLBTQ’s have to consider what they want to do with that closet. It still remains important to be able to come out for our generation, and although these issues can be relevant at any age, they will pre-eminently be applicable to every generation of young people who are still developing themselves.
Tom Hendriks is former boardmember of the gay student union
ASV GAY, for more info see www.asvgay.nl