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Coming Out: The Abroad Edition

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I have always felt uncomfortable about the phrase “coming out” because of the inherent implication about there being a “normal” or “standard” sexuality, while others are regarded as “other” or “strange.” This past summer, I had to wrestle with this concept. I spent a lot of time thinking about my own sexuality. After many conversations with my closest friends, many of whom identify as LGBTQ+, I grew more comfortable with expressing a part of myself I never really felt I could. It was within this summer that I began to openly acknowledge my bisexuality to myself. As I prepared to travel abroad, I did a lot of thinking about what my bisexuality would mean for my abroad experience.

Ask Yourself: Who Am I “Coming Out” For?

For me, I knew that accepting my sexuality would not only have an internal aspect, but an external impact. Exploring relationships with people who my friends and family members had not seen around me would most certainly raise questions. However, I did not want to rush my sharing. I wanted to operate on my own terms, and eventually decided to be open when I felt more comfortable, and not based on what other people were doing, thinking, or generally expecting.
I decided not to have a grand-scale “coming out” moment because, for me, it felt like I would be sensationalizing my sexuality in a way I didn’t feel quite comfortable with. As I mentioned before, I did not want to have this part of my identity being compared to a standard – I wanted it to stand on its own. This was an important step for me to take as I prepared to go abroad.

Acknowledge Your Concerns, Do Some Research

As many of us know, hatred and bigotry exist worldwide. That being said, some countries are more LGBTQ+ friendly than others. This was something that factored into my decision about not only choosing a study abroad location, but also for what parts of my identity I’d have enough strength to express. London is normally casted as a progressive area, but I still had to do my research before finalizing my decision. I spoke to trusted LGBTQ+ friends who had travelled here about their experience, as well as doing an extensive Google search and reading forums.  After my research, I still had small concerns, but I felt pretty comfortable traveling to London.
I also did research on the resources on my campus, specifically. Queen Mary has an LGBT+ society, and I attended a mixer when I first arrived where I got to meet kind people from everywhere in the world who offered support and guidance. As well as on campus resources, the Institute for Study Abroad has resources for students who are nervous about what they experience may look like as an LGBTQ+ student. Being in contact with the program about possible concerns or fears could be extremely helpful.

Preparing for Questions

I felt that I had been in a liminal space, transitioning from one Rachel to another. I felt the need to explain myself and to validate my experience. I received a lot of questions from friends and family members who I had spoken to about my bisexuality, many about how I “was straight just a few months ago.” However, I realized soon enough that responding wasn’t actually necessary. Some days, I had enough energy to talk about my feelings and decision to be more expressive in London, and some days I didn’t. It is okay to not answer questions about your sexuality if they are being hurled your way, and also okay if you feel like you don’t have everything “figured out” yet. Each individual’s journey, no matter the pace, journey or destination, is valid and important.
Exploring this newly recognized part of myself felt like something I wanted to delve deeper into while in London.  I’ve met cool, kind people with similar experiences who have served as a great support system. However, this may not be the case for everyone and this is understandable. It is just important to remember that you have the right to set your own terms when it comes to your “coming out” abroad experience!
Rachel Godfrey is an African American Studies and Science in Society double major at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. She is currently studying abroad with IFSA-Butler in England at Queen Mary, University of London for the Fall 2017 semester. She served as an International Correspondent for IFSA-Butler through the Work-To-Study Program.