Today's slightly more accepting world might be a little bit more forgiving, but way back in the early 2000s (eons ago, I know), "coming out" as a high school student was simply NOT an option.
To be gay in high school was equivalent to social suicide. Most of us wanted to survive those four hellish years, regardless of how harrowing they were. And do you know why?
Because the sweet end was near, babes. The future was finally in plain view. There was a light at the end of the grammar school purgatory tunnel we'd been trapped in.
And that, my sweet kittens, was ~college~.
My fellow top-secret gay clique was the most feverishly excited for college, more so than anyone else I knew. We had all wisely chosen schools with notoriously liberal environments because we were so emotionally (and sexually) pent up from a sexless lifetime of hiding in the shadows.
I really went for it. I chose a liberal arts school in southern California, where I was going to be a theatre major. Pretty fucking queer, I know.
I had just started watching "The L Word," which conveniently premiered the winter of my senior year in high school, in anticipation of my SoCal lez life. I was convinced that Los Angeles, only 30 minutes from my school, was just teeming with hot dykes who worked in show business. (And I wasn't entirely wrong either, babes.)
"Where do I sign up!?" I thought to myself as I sunk into the couch and watched the legendary, swaggy character "Shane" writhe around in a steamy sex scene. Her trendy Sally Hershberger-inspired, shag haircut was seductively mussed as she sucked face with a hot femme she met at a lesbian club, also packed with hot femmes.
I thought, Surely this would be my life, once I went to college.
"I'm going to tell my parents I'm gay once I get to college," my friend Matt* told me when we were both commiserating over our boring, closeted love lives, getting ready for our last, lame, high school party.
"I'm going to hook up with every single girl once I get to college," I showed off, applying a layer of lip gloss to my lips.
"I'm also going to snag a proper boyfriend once I get to college," Matt would continue, staring proudly at his pristine reflection in the bathroom mirror.
We might as well have started a band called "Once I Get To College," since we were so obsessed with how glitteringly gay it was all going to be.
I knew that the moment I got to college, I could finally post on MySpace (how retro) the secret, badass pictures my best friend Owen had taken of me posing in front of salacious (but very telling of me soon-to-be future life as a trampy lez), graffitied walls like this:
But I wasn't even remotely aware that once I was faced with real, live lesbians, I would be scared shitless and cower in their presence, with hair extensions tucked between my legs, like a nervous puppy surrounded by fully-realized pit-bulls.
When I finally did get to college, I was ecstatic to be "free" about my sexuality, but I was far more afraid to dive into the queer kid world than I had ever imagined I would be.
Coming out, even in a liberal collegiate environment, was an emotionally draining experience for every queer babe I knew. Here are the 5 emotional stages of coming out in college:
1. The "drunken confession" stage.
It all starts with a drunken confession around the first or second week of school.
Usually, you blab to your straight-as-an-arrow roommate to whom you've fiercely latched on, since you're both scared shitless about being away, and neither one of you has any friends. It's a relationship built on the foundation of convenience, but it's still a powerful one. It's like being married to someone you would never date.
"Um, I'm sort of bi," you'll spill after three beers (before you've built up a tolerance), even if you're totally gay (baby steps, kittens, baby steps).
"Aww, that's awesome!" your roommate will say, feeling really special that you told her first.
"Don't tell anyone," you'll say with a shaky voice, suddenly serious and full of fear.
"I PROMISE," she'll say soothingly, twirling her long, mid-western hair around her ring finger and thinking of how she's never had a "gay friend" before.
And the two of you will drunkenly pinkie swear and giggle like the two innocent, dorky teenagers you still totally are, regardless of how desperately you're trying to be cool, college kids.
2. The "painful, soul-consuming crush" stage.
Weeks have gone by, and you still haven't really "come out" to your new crew. But you have been obsessing over your crush to your loyal AF roomie.
Maybe it's a girl who's a few years older, openly gay, super fierce and a talented artist, and you just can't stop stalking her social media handles.
Maybe it's a boy who looks like Calvin Harris, whom you saw kissing another boy, who looks like Nick Jonas, behind the bleachers of the football field. You swore you caught his eye as you walked by, puffing on your "ironic" menthol cigarette.
Whoever it is, it's your first crush out of high school, and oh, you're consumed, baby.
It's the first time when hooking up with a crush is even a mild possibility, so their face lingers in your brain endlessly. You've regressed into a rosy-cheeked, teeny-bopper school girl, who reads Tiger Beat and is totally boy crazy.
The only difference is you're same-sex crazy, and you never got to openly gush about your crush when you actually were a school girl, because you were a sad, closeted teeny bopper pretending to fawn over the baby-faced boys in Tiger Beat.
3. The "queer activist" stage.
Since you're still to afraid to come out, but you want to be surrounded by gay energy, you've now entered the galaxy of the "queer activist."
You start attending queer rallies, which happen all the time at regular college and ad nauseam at an art school. You volunteer to sign people up for the Gay-Straight Alliance, even when you're hungover on a Saturday morning. You're at every queer activist event, protests and parties alike.
And you know what? You're pretty cute there, new kid. Can I get a YAS QUEEN?
All the seasoned gays have been hooking up with each other for a few years now, and they're ready for some ~fresh meat~. They've seen you hanging around the queer scene, but they aren't sure if you're just a gay groupie or playing on their team.
Finally, someone musters up the guts to ask you.
I remember my experience like it was yesterday. A cool, California lesbian strode up to me with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth and her snapback on backwards. A beer was clumsily clutched between her fingers, and her gait seemed impossibly cool, slow and confident.
"So, are you a lesbian? My friend thinks you're cute," she said, raising an eyebrow in a way that suggested the "friend" was actually her.
This leads me seamlessly into stage four.
4. The "to come out or not to come out: that is the question" stage.
The moment is suddenly crashing upon you. A cool lesbian is asking you if you're gay, and you know now is the moment that will likely change the course of your college experience.
Your brain goes back and forth as fast as the speed of light.
NOW is the time. Tell her you're gay! the fearless side of your brain shouts, pulling a rainbow flag out of the pocket of her distressed denim jeans and waving it around like a maniac.
No, you're not ready for all of that yet. I mean, what if your best friend Suzie Q from high school finds out? She will not want to be BFFs with a FAG, you hear? the conservative part of your brain yells back, her big, concerned eyes large and pressing. She's wearing a Catholic school girl's uniform, but the really unsexy kind, not the Britney Spears "Hit Me Baby One More Time" kind.
You will finally have a life like 'The L Word'! your fearless brain says.
You will be excommunicated from your HOMETOWN! your conservative brain bites back.
The two go back and forth relentlessly until you realize that this pretty lesbian is staring at you, waiting for an answer.
As you gaze into her hazel eyes, you're overcome with the power of queer energy. And before you know it, your lips move, and they're saying the following life-changing word:
5. The "shouting it from the rooftops" stage.
So you did it, girl. And you did it, boy.
You finally mustered up the courage to come out, and suddenly, it feels like a thousand weights have been lifted off of your meek shoulders. You're high, baby, and honesty is a hell of a drug. Now, you just can't stop outing yourself everywhere you go.
"Sorry, don't hit on me. I'm a LESBIAN," you proudly yell when a frat boy accidentally brushes up against you, even though you're just in the cereal line in the cafeteria.
"Don't come near me. I'm GAY, honey," you proudly tell the sorority girl winking at you at the dance.
Seemingly overnight, you go from being terrified to tell anyone besides your roommate to updating your Facebook status about how GAY you are.
But you know what? This is a beautiful stage, even though you might look back on it and cringe. (What the fuck was I thinking with those rainbow knee-highs?!)
You're drunk off of your freedom, kid. Now that you've tasted how sweet life can be when you live it openly and honestly, you will never go back to being repressed again. In fact, you've even caught the queer trait of speaking your mind without giving a shit about offending other people.
People always ask me why gay people have such strong personalities, and I'll tell you why. Once you've put everything on the line, risking losing life-long friends or being neglected by your own flesh and blood for owning who you are, simply stating an opinion is a cake walk.
Welcome to the queer side, babes. Now that you've finally come out, you're going to be a strong, successful, queer force of nature, who can't help but speak your gorgeous mind and be your bad self all the time.
It's a blessing, really. Today is the first day of the rest of your life, darling.