I came out as bisexual in my last year of high school. I often get asked if I knew I was queer for long before I came out. The answer is complicated. In part, I always knew, but I didn’t really come to terms with it until I was 17. Part of the reason for this is that I never really felt there was space for me as an LGBTQ+ person in the places that I occupied. Having a gay sibling, I assumed my family had already met some “gay quota” and so there was no possible way I could be queer too. As for my high school, LGBTQ+ issues weren’t addressed very often. There was a “Spectrum Club” and every once in a while the school would promote anti-bullying campaigns, but I didn’t even know a single out queer person until I was in grade 11. For these reasons, it took me a long time to accept my own bisexuality, and in fact, years later, I’m still working on it. However, a big breakthrough in my journey towards self-acceptance came during my first year at York University, where I studied film last year. At York, I lived in Winters residence, which is affiliated with Winters College, a college for AMPD (Arts, Media, Performance, and Design) programs at York. Arts-based programs are already traditionally LGBTQ+ inclusive, and living among many AMPD students allowed me to enter the year with the excitement of the possibility of being able to be open and proud as part of an inclusive community. And Winters did not let me down. Within days of Frosh week, I had met a handful of fellow queer women with whom I formed a quick bond. All of us came from various backgrounds and stages of coming out, but our little home away from home in Winters Res was a place where we could be free to express our queer selves proudly.
Rowan O’Brien, a film production student and fellow member of Winters was one of the first LGBTQ+ people I met during my first year at York. I asked Rowan about her own experiences with finding her place as a bisexual/pansexual woman in university, and she had a similar experience to my own.
“After being very closeted in high school and recovering from a bad case of straight-girl-crush, I decided I wanted to be out-and-proud in university,” O’Brien explained. “Despite this revelation, I spent most of Frosh week agonizing over how I was going to come out to my new friends.”
In the same way as Rowan, I spent my first few days coming up with “casual” ways to come out to my newfound friends. Coming out had always been an awkward part of my life. Having not met many other out queer people before university, most people I had talked to about my sexuality had been uncomfortable or uncertain of how to react. With York students, in my experience, it was different. Many LGBTQ+ students that I encountered in my first year at York were open and upfront about their sexuality, and all of them embraced me with open arms. Rowan also experienced that deep sense of community within the Winters residence. She says, “I was immediately accepted by my fellow Winters’ students and felt free to be my true self for the rest of Frosh, as well as the rest of the year. I made a lot of queer friends in first year, and was pleased to discover that what seemed to be every other girl on my floor was queer, thereby enhancing the sense of community at Winters for me.”
And Rowan and I aren’t the only ones who felt this way. Another one of the girls I met while living in Winters, a queer theatre student who asked to remain anonymous, told me she felt welcomed into the York theatre community, and particularly, the LGBTQ+ community immediately. Within the first few weeks of her first year at York, she felt right at home as a queer member of the York AMPD faculty and community.
Though my experience and the experience of most of my queer York friends revolved around the AMPD faculty and Winters college, there are lots of queer-inclusive things going on all across campus. Throughout the school year I was able to attend a handful of events run by TBLGAY, York’s official group for LGBTQ+ students. I took part in a rally during Frosh week, and even found myself at a queer Halloween dance event later in the semester. Some students, Rowan O’Brien and the anonymous student included, even took courses that were influenced or heavily attended by LGBTQ+ students. For Rowan, it was her Extraterrestrial Life course that helped her meet other LGBTQ+ students, and for Anonymous, a Women’s Studies course educated her on queer issues throughout its year-long run.
York is a school which embraces and celebrates diversity in a plethora of different ways. It has its flaws, but I am lucky to have experienced such an accepting community-feel in my first year at York. York has been an integral part of my coming out journey, and I hope I continue to feel loved and accepted so whole-heartedly by my community in the years to come. I am grateful for the students of Winters and groups like TBLGAY for making me feel included, and I hope I can help other queer York students feel just as welcomed as I have.