Olu Odu poses with friends at LavGrad. LavGrad is the LGBT graduation hosted every year by the Office of LGBTQI Life. (Photo courtesy Olu Odu)
Olu Odu poses with friends at LavGrad. LavGrad is the LGBT graduation hosted every year by the Office of LGBTQI Life. (Photo courtesy Olu Odu)

Literary Lesbian: The coming out process

The coming out process is complex for many LGBT people, especially those who fall under the T due to individual and institutional transphobia

October 10, 2019

(Photo courtesy Olu Odu)

Like the accompanying weather of 98 degree days, LGBT Pride Month, which falls in June, is but a heat-crazed colorful memory. However, you haven’t seen the last of the gays as October is LGBT History Month, with Oct. 11 being National Coming Out Day. In the past two weeks leading up to the day, I have been thinking about my and my LGBT friends’ levels of outness in the world and our relationships to coming out. Many in the LGBT community are not at all out to some of the people in our lives. Some people will never come out because it is simply too dangerous for them to do so, whether physically, emotionally or financially. Until a year ago, I was not out to any member of my family for all three of those reasons. 

Most of my LGBT friends at Vanderbilt have come out as one identity to some people in our lives, and as another to others. For example, I am out as a lesbian to my parents, but not as a nonbinary person who uses they/them pronouns. Back home in Georgia, I have a close friend who is out to me as a trans woman, but is out to her parents as a gay man. 

Sometimes one’s degree of outness does not depend on the person, but rather on the space. I and many of my gender non-conforming friends use certain pronouns or names around family members, employers and professors (usually the ones assigned at birth), different ones around friends and sometimes ask close friends to use an entirely different set. In LGBT-friendly spaces, those sets of pronouns are described as inside versus outside pronouns. 

I was first introduced to that concept at a Lambda general body meeting. VU Lambda is the university’s undergraduate gender, sexuality and intersex alliance organization. Although the Lambda GBM space is not confidential, people associate a distinct level of trans-acceptance with those who choose to be in those spaces and therefore are more willing to be open about their identities. Another space on campus where a higher level of trans-acceptance is expected is during the Office of LGBTQI Life’s affinity groups. The groups are catered to people with specific identities, so the conversations in these groups have a level of depth that allow people to be more vulnerable.

A huge part of the reason for people’s choices to be out as different identities in certain spaces is that many people who claim to be okay with gay and bisexual people are not accepting in practice. In addition, these people often do not extend that shallow tolerance to gender non-conforming (gnc) people. It is especially difficult when a huge part of being trans, nonbinary or gnc is that your pronouns or presentation often do not align with what people expect of you. Important parts of your identity are constantly on display, and people often demean those aspects through constant misgendering.

Although same gender marriage is legal and there is a gay man running for president, it is still legal for employers to discriminate against members of the LGBT community. Though all gender bathrooms are available in some buildings on campus, there only tends to be one or two per building. Pronouns are available on YES, but professors are encouraged but not mandated to gender their students correctly. There is still a long way to go with societal perceptions of the LGBT community and institutional protection, especially concerning transgender, nonbinary and gender non-conforming people. This month especially, make sure that you are doing your part to be accepting and not just tolerant of the LGBT community. 

One way you can learn how to be accepting of the community and show your support on campus is to go to the Office of LGBTQI Life and Lambda’s events with an open mind. The Office is tabling at Fleming Yard from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. this Friday for Coming Out Day as one of their many events this history month. Lambda also has their 25th Annual Drag Show next week on Oct.16 at 7 p.m. in the SLC. Feel free to check out Lambda’s FB page for more information on these events and more. Have a lovely history month!

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