First of all, the purpose of this blog post isn’t for any therapeutic reasons. I’ve come to terms with my sexuality and am an out and proud lesbian. I’m helping a friend with a project they’re working on and in realizing that I would be writing my experiences down anyway, I thought it would be better to just get it out there. I’m not afraid of telling my story. I wasn’t bullied, I wasn’t abused. But if this helps any gay kids out there, whether going to Notre Dame or just in general, I can be happy. Plus, I’m bad at talking to my video camera to make an It Get’s Better video so I’d rather write. All opinions are strictly my own. - T
"It must have been so hard for you, why would you do that to yourself?"
That’s usually the first sentence I hear from LGBTQ people when I meet them here in New York for the first time when I tell them I recently graduated from Notre Dame. My first comeback in my head is always on the defensive, ‘Why wouldn’t I do that to myself? Notre Dame is a fantastic university and I don’t regret my time there for one minute.’ Then I remember that I don’t know these people. I usually just smile and say ‘I didn’t know I was a lesbian until my second year.’
Rewind to sophomore year of college, March 2009. One of my best friends had two of her friends from home visiting us at school. They were both lesbians and dating each other at the time. I became close to one of them, whom the day after she left, decided to ask me over Facebook chat ‘Soooo how long have you been gay?’ I was shocked/appalled/taken aback etc. ‘I’m not gay,’ I thought. ‘There’s no…possible…way?’ I got off the computer and sat in my dorm room contemplating this piece of information. I cried, I laughed, I reminisced, I screamed, cried some more. Three hours later, it all made sense. All the little signs. My ‘root’ story from when I was 5 years old. Why I was always so devastated when my best girl friends didnt want to hangout with me anymore. I ran downstairs into the room of my rectress (she was in charge of our dorm). I sat on her couch, shaking. She asked me what was wrong and because I had developed such a strong bond with her even though she was 30 years my senior, at that moment I didn’t care about the Catholic implications of what I was about to tell her. But I finally spit it out, at the time saying I was bisexual. Her response? ‘Oh honey, I don’t want to upset you, but I already knew’ Uh what. More on that later. But after venting to her for another hour and having her patiently listen to me as I was listening to myself ‘discover’ myself for the first time - it was…enlightening. She did more for me that night than she’ll ever know, and I’ll always be thankful for her kindness and trust. She always made sure I felt comfortable and that no one would mess with me in the dorm. I was one of her most cherished residents. Being gay didn’t change that for her. [Mind you, she was the ONLY rectress who WASN’T a Sister, so I was really lucky]
A few weeks later, I was in my first ever lesbian relationship with the only gay person I knew at Notre Dame and she technically had only come out as bisexual as well. Yes, I definitely rushed into it, that I can acknowledge. But it felt so good to be with someone I wanted to be with and who wanted to be with me too.
Then came the hard part. Coming out to all my friends at school. I ran in different circles - I had my business crowd, marketing specific crowd, boxing crowd, hispanic crowd, conservative Catholic crowd etc. Basically, I knew I was going to have to come out but had to tweak my story based on the crowd I was going to tell. I told them all, one by one (well the Hispanics spread it amongst themselves so that made my job easier) and about 80% of them said the same thing, ‘Yeah I knew that already, so what?’ Instead of feeling instantly relieved, I was frustrated. I would tell them ‘WTF, YOU KNEW AND YOU DIDNT SAY ANYTHING?! I COULD HAVE KNOWN I WAS GAY EARLIER?!’ And they would just shrug and say it was just something they had surmised. Go Figure. In everyone I told, only one girl stopped being friends with me because I was not straight. Which honestly is a completely surprising statistic. We had a screaming match about ‘my sin’ (can you guess what crowd she ran in?) and how she was worried about me going to hell etc across the quad. Very public. Very ugly. Something I’d never like to repeat again. But it made me learn how to deal with those types of people in the future. My answer? Don’t deal with them. Don’t get angry at them. Foster your anger towards the positive; the majority of other human beings who are on your side and love you. They’re the ones your energy should go to, not the negative ones. Plus, her loss. I’m awesome.
Being in a homosexual relationship at Notre Dame, in retrospect, was one of the hardest things in my life. We were accepted amongst our friends and things were fine. But stepping out of our comfort zone and walking down the quad holding hands, or sharing a kiss outside of a classroom - all those things that are accepted with heterosexual couples were completely taboo for us. We would get really intense stares while holding hands, some guys even chiding us. Girls would look with disgust. Kissing her as I dropped her off at her classroom was met with gaping mouths, whistling and ‘Oh looks at those lesbian chicks.’ It was humiliating. But we made sure to do it anyway. The next semester, we made it a mission to stop caring about what other students might think and just be in our relationship our own way. Screw the culture, screw their dogma. We were going to be happy and we were going to show it. And boy was it hard. Our gay friends saw what we were doing and applauded us. They kept talking about how we were the only ‘normal’ and ‘out’ gay couple on campus that could care less about what people thought. And how much they wished they had what we had. But to be perfectly honest (and I’ve never told anyone this), I was hiding behind a fake smile the whole time. Being the ‘perfect gay couple’ had taken a bigger toll on our relationship than I had imagined. Every day I would think about how much I hated being in that relationship and how much I wanted out. But I didn’t want to let down the community. I wanted to be a leader for them. I just didn’t know how much longer I could take it. I was miserable and out of love. She could tell something was off but it took all of me to try to convince myself that I loved her at the time. Looking back, I feel bad about my dishonesty - my caring of what others thought had transferred from the entire student body population to this small group of people.
Now, with the heteronormative crowd - people would tell me how lucky I was to be in a same-sex relationship. I was able to bypass parietals (otherwise known as the curfew for being in an opposite sex dorm) to be with my significant other. They would tell me that they wished they were gay. But everytime they said that, I made sure to look them in the eye. If you really meant it, you would look me in the eye and say to me that you really wish you were gay. But none of them could every look back at me. They’d shy away and look at the ground. Don’t say anything you don’t mean. Especially when you don’t know the hardships that surround it and what we had been struggling through.
The chiding, the whistling, being referred to as ‘those lesbo chicks’ continued. I tried to drown them out. But there were particular instances where I couldn’t. One is described below:
Women’s boxing party, fall of 2009: I was still in a relationship with my girlfriend at the time. Since both of us had participated in boxing, we were celebrating our victories of the night with our other boxing friends, male and female. We made out a bit, kept giggling/touching - i.e. were being annoyingly adorable. We were out to everyone - but of course, it’s not the norm so people paid extra special attention to us. Including one boy known as Nick. He came between the two of us and not so subtly insinuated that he ‘wanted in.’ In other words, could he be part of a threesome with the two of us. We looked at him appalled but not shocked. This wasn’t the first time we had been asked this question. I found myself not getting angry at that question anymore (which I’ve now come to realize is sad) - instead I became frustrated by societal norms and what males thought was perfectly okay to ask two lesbian girls. I sighed because I had lost hope in the Notre Dame culture where I was expected to respond positively to an act that in his mind was completely normal. He grabbed my ass twice that night. I’ll never forget how scared I was that he would corner us and take us upstairs by force. Needless to say, we left soon after.
My senior year of school, I decided to join the Core Council. The Core Council is the only recognized collective of LGBT students combined with staff to try to make a difference and to be there to help other LGBT kids who were struggling with coming to terms with their sexuality in one of the most closeted campuses in America. No it is not a club. It is the University’s ‘answer’ to addressing LGBT issues. A committee that you must APPLY to be a part of. 10 people including the staff. There are other unofficial LGBT clubs on campus but that’s the major issue, they’re unofficial. These clubs have been struggling since 1997 to earn official recognition as student clubs so that they can get student funding just like every other club on campus. The university turns their despair into a huge cover up -> ‘You have the Core Council, that should be enough.’ Even being on the Core Council, I felt useless. Like I could be doing more but was constantly being stymied by the administration about what we were ‘allowed’ to do or not do. The frustration was equally felt by the staff that were a part of the group but they too couldn’t push harder for fear of losing their positions. All they could do was be our allies, which helped. But the struggles are still being felt, even now that I’ve graduated and moved away from tiny South Bend, Indiana. Though I’ve physically moved away, I still feel their struggle and try to help them in whatever way I can - maybe to let them know that they’re not alone in their fight.
My time at Notre Dame wasn’t all marred by negativity. The majority of my time at Notre Dame was positive. I made a lot of really good friendships and memories there. I also met a lot of amazing LGBT activists. Fantastic individuals who are doing so much for the LGBT community and doing what they can for current students. Having now graduated, I see it is a lot harder to get LGBT alums engaged in current affairs. Some of them have become jaded towards the University and decide to look at their time at Notre Dame with disdain due to their experiences. I feel for them, I honestly do. And I wish there was a way we could reach out. But I respect their opinions and decisions.
So thank you Notre Dame. Thank you for teaching me what discrimination looks like when it has nothing to do with the color of my skin. I refuse to let more and more LGBT students on campus be affected by this. The 4 to 5 Movement is growing, I’m sure you know that. The Core Council and its responsibilities is growing, and I’m sure you know that too. I’ll always hold a special place for you in my heart. But dammit, it’s time for change or you’ll get left behind with a progressive student body who grows to resent the administration.We need to move forward with the direction of change and keep fighting the good fight for LGBT rights.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Equality For All.
Class of 2011