Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Why going to a LGBT-friendly university was so important for my mental health

A Student Minds volunteer writes about her experience of coming out at university, and the importance of finding support that works for you. 

Going to university
I came out to friends just before I went to university and luckily most of them were really supportive - many of them had already guessed anyway. I had told my mum, though she didn’t quite believe me yet and was uncomfortable about the whole thing. As for my dad, making jokes about gay people was one of his pastimes, so I was far too scared to tell him. In a way I was happy to leave home so I could be the person I wanted to be without those pressures.

Meeting people who made me feel comfortable
In my first few terms of university it was actually quite difficult to know when I should tell people I was gay. I still felt a little uneasy and wanted people to get to know me for who I was before I got labelled as a lesbian. It was awkward when I was trying to make friends, especially when I got invited to a girly films and pizza night. Everyone was talking about the guys they fancied in the college. I felt so out of place and isolated because I thought I’d shock the room to a halt if I started talking about the women I liked. But soon enough I found people I did want to be friends with. The course mate that hit on me during fresher’s week became my best mate and I got involved with the LGBT group and made friends through their socials. Pretty soon everyone just sort of knew. In time, I lost the feeling that I needed to explain myself to everyone I met and just let people guess through the pronouns I used and the stories I told.

Going back home to family was challenging
The hardest bit was going back home for the holidays, and knowing whether or not to tell family I had a girlfriend or whether she might even be able to visit. I had a couple of girlfriends at uni and both of their parents were really welcoming. But this made me feel guilty and upset that my mum was more awkward and I couldn’t introduce them to my dad. My mum did let me have girlfriends stay, and even tried to talk to them for a bit, but it was incredibly tense and I knew it would have been completely different if it was a boyfriend I was bringing home. I eventually told my dad too, and the way he reacted I would never want to have introduced him to a girlfriend.

Feeling unaccepted by my parents was one of the major stresses (among others) which contributed to me having a number of breakdowns. There was self harm, suicidal thoughts, self-destructive behaviour, and constantly telling myself I was a “selfish arsehole”. I drank myself through university, and used sex and alcohol to legitimise myself.

But this year things started to get better. I went to counselling and realised I needed to talk to my parents. As I became more comfortable in myself I grew the confidence to talk to them and tell my parents how their actions made me feel. It turned out they were actually both quite ashamed about how they reacted and it took a series of conversations and most importantly time to clear the air. Now I can talk to my parents about girlfriends or LGBT related things and it feels okay. This year my mum even got involved in Pride and I would now be quite happy to introduce someone to my dad should the time come.

LGBT-friendly university settings are important
I’m not going to lie: There is still discrimination about being LGBT. People occasionally shout at you in the street. People might ask you to stop kissing your partner because they think it’s more important they’re not offended than for you to exercise your human rights. But university was generally a supportive and liberal environment for me to come out in, and that was so important. I was surrounded by like-minded people and friends who I could vent to and even laugh about any injustices that still sadly exist. And it was this which gave me the confidence to be myself, to be comfortable enough with who I am to have those much needed conversations with family or friends back home. And these supportive networks still exist after university; the movement to reduce stigma around LGBT issues is an inspiring thing to be a part of, and becomes a support in itself.

I have written this anonymously for my parents' sake because they have really have worked to challenge their initial prejudices over the years. 

At Student Minds we recognise that the student LGBTQ+ community can be under-represented at times and may be at risk of experiencing mental health difficulties at university. 
If you would like to find out more, or find further support you can find more on our LGBTQ+ webpage.




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