Last summer, Mike* sat in his basement – just weeks before leaving home for his freshman year at the University – anxiously drafting and re-drafting an e-mail to his mother while she sat upstairs.
The e-mail would confirm that Mike was gay – a possibility his mom had been considering for two years. After writing for nearly an hour and accidentally deleting his first attempt, he clicked “send” and sat nervously awaiting a reply.
He told his mom in the e-mail that it was OK to share its contents with his father. A short time later, Mike received a “polite” reply from his father telling him his sexual orientation was “just a phase.”
“It was really intense,” he said about two months later. “There’s always the worry that your family won’t accept you, even if you know that would never happen.”
He said he didn’t take offense to his father’s initial response.
“Right now, that’s what I believe (that I’m gay), and you just have to go off what you know,” Mike said.
What Mike doesn’t know is how to make his coming out easier on his mother, whom he said isn’t good at talking about it.
“I hope she doesn’t feel bad that I told her and then moved away,” he said.
Mike also has questions about how ask another guy on a date and how to know whom it’s OK to talk with about his sexuality.
He said he hopes he’ll find the answers to his questions at a University-sponsored support group for those who are just discovering, are curious about or are questioning their sexual identities.
Sessions are offered each semester by the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs.
“Coming out is something that all LGBT members have to face,” Kevin Correa, the office’s administrative coordinator said.
In this semester’s coming-out group meetings, Mike will likely meet John*, an LSA senior who just a few months ago began the process of coming out.
For as long as he can remember, John was trying to convince himself that while he had strong feelings for other men, he could only have a romantic connection with women.
“It was a voice in the back of my head that I intuitively knew I had to deal with, either by coming out to myself, or finding some way to find out for sure, sooner or later,” John said.
While he was growing up, John said he always assumed he’d eventually have a “normal” life, marrying a woman and starting a family. He likened his sexual experimentation with friends to “playing video games or watching TV, just something friends do to hang out.”
He even had a girlfriend for a few weeks during his first year at the University.
“I like flirting with girls, but I think it’s more likely than not that I won’t be in a relationship with a girl, and that doesn’t bother me anymore,” he said. “It used to bother me a hell of a lot.”
John said part of his apprehension to the difficulty of reconciling his sexuality with came from his Jewish identity.
“There it’s looked at as an act of immorality,” he said. “It’s just not natural.”
His greatest reservation was that should he decide to come out, he would lose his connection to the Jewish community.
“I wouldn’t be able to have a place in that religious world if I wanted one later, because I just wouldn’t be the same as everybody else,” John said.
In the end, his decision to pull away from the community was voluntary.
“I was really torn up about it, and I decided I just needed to cut myself off, at least for a little while,” he said. “Not read anything, not do anything, not think about it, just cut it away from my life, or at least until I can sort it out.”
But his attitudes about the relationship between his religion and his sexuality quickly changed with the help of a close friend who showed him a video of Orthodox Jews who were also gay.
“It’s a possibility for some people, so maybe I can just be a part of some of it,” John said. “I’ve tried not to violate this religious law that I haven’t believed in all my life, and I’ve tried to make myself try to conform. . I’m just finally realizing how free and good and liberating it feels not to (follow all the rules), I’m not interested in that.”
An only child, John has yet to share his sexuality with his family.
“They know I haven’t had a relationship with anybody for more than a couple weeks,” he said. “I’ve been saying I’ve been too busy, or I’ve been too into my personal projects or extracurriculars to let a relationship with a girl develop. Whether they believe that or not, I don’t know.”
John said he isn’t afraid of what his family will think or say when he does share his sexuality with them. He’ll do it when he knows he’s ready, he said.
“I don’t want to sit one of my parents down and say, ‘Hey, guess what? I like guys.’ It’s not worth rushing, and I don’t like making decisions when I’m emotionally charged,” John said.
Knowing he has a support system in the form of the coming out group will be a comfort when he does decide to come out to his family, John said.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he said. “To have people who are going through the same thing who I can talk to, it’d be nice.”
The 12-member group meets once per week for 11 weeks. The Office of LGBT Affairs, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, has been sponsoring the coming-out group since the 1970s.
“The purpose of the group is to help people who are looking for resources and assistance in living fully authentic lives,” Correa said.
John said the accepting campus environment at the University impacted his decision to come out by “a billion percent.”
“This school just says, ‘We want to help you figure out your identity and what’s best for yourself. Here’s the environment and any resource you could need, so go to it. Find out who you are, and live a happy life,'” he said.
While Mike said he doesn’t think his decision to come out was related to his leaving for school, he gives credit to the LGBT office and programs like the coming-out support group for making the transition to college life smoother.
“It’s a whole lot easier to talk about this stuff when no one’s judging,” he said.
*Names have been changed to protect the students’ privacy.
The top 20
Campus PrideNet recently named the University one of the 20 best campuses for LGBT students based on the resources and support that the University offers. Here are some quick facts about the LGBT office and the services it provides:
– Michigan was the first college in the country to have an LGBT office, established in 1971. Most universities didn’t create the offices until the 1990s.
– The criteria used to evaluate the top 20 schools include active recruitment of LGBT students to enroll in school, the variety of LGBT-related courses offered and whether campus police are trained in LGBT sensitivity.
– Oct. 11 is National Coming Out Day, and the LGBT office will sponsor many events during the week leading up to it.