The importance of community to an LGBTQ+ student

23 Jun 2021
By Jennifer Steadman, Higher Education Communications Executive at Unite Students
Going away to university is many students’ first chance to live independently and discover themselves - something that can be a lifeline for young LGBTQ+ students. But what about ‘commuter students’ who live at home during their university years?

For Pride Month, a third-year student - who wishes to remain anonymous - shares his experience of being an LGBTQ+ commuter student: living at home with his parents, finding acceptance from his university peers, and the importance of community and belonging.

In an ever-more progressive world, more and more LGBTQ+ people are able to express themselves confidently, and past generations’ outdated ideologies are looked upon with increasing scepticism. However, despite the huge amount of progress made towards equality, there are many LGBTQ+ people who still live in fear of not being accepted and viewed as an outcast.

I’m a gay man. I’m almost 21, having just done three years at university in Manchester. I was 11 when I first realised I wasn’t ‘normal’. I had a sheltered upbringing, with my parents enforcing what they thought was ‘acceptable’ and filling my head with antiquated expectations for the future. I must find a girlfriend, get married, have kids, and then teach my kids exactly the same ideology. I was supposed to be attracted to girls - but I just wasn’t. In fact, quite the opposite. 

To meet my parents’ expectations, I tried to force myself to be straight, even making up crushes in a desperate attempt to make myself feel genuinely attracted to them. I spent years trying to change myself before eventually accepting that I was who I was, and not only could I not change myself: I didn’t need to. I wish I could apologise to my younger self for all the trauma I caused by trying to make myself ‘fit’. Yet, I’m still not able to tell my parents the truth - the only family member who knows is my cousin, who I have the utmost trust in.

It may seem odd that I chose to live at home during my university years but, living near the university and wanting to save money, it seemed like a sensible choice. Unfortunately, this meant I missed out on many of thrills that students typically enjoy, and there are definitely times I’ve wished I put experiences before finances. To anybody in my position, moving into accommodation is something you should consider; in hindsight, it gives you a lot more personal freedom and you’re unlikely to have to worry about living a double life on a day-to-day basis. It really does take a toll on you.

University is strongly associated with independence, and I wanted to be myself and not have to hide from my peers. So, when I heard them supporting the LGBTQ+ community, it finally gave me the confidence to open up to my friends. For the first time in my life, I felt accepted. Even if I wasn’t fully able to live the life I desired, I had overcome a significant obstacle by coming out to my friends.

While I was with them, the huge weight I had carried was lifted off my back. I cannot imagine having to go through university the same way that I went through school, and the respite offered by being able to express myself really cannot be overstated. I’d never had this in school or college, which caused me a great deal of stress and made me miserable - whereas I’d say that my improved happiness at university contributed to my good grades on my course. However, staying at home meant that I had to be careful not to let my “university persona” seep into my “home persona”. 

One thing that I would say to anyone is that your friends should be your utmost allies; your family cannot be picked, but your friends absolutely can. I remember my dad reeling in disgust at the sight of a gay couple kissing on TV, and I was so paranoid about losing my friends in case they harboured similar feelings of revulsion. However, I made it my goal to tell them. Friends should care about you and be your support network; if anyone cut me off or didn’t accept me for my sexuality, then it wasn’t a loss worth mourning. I still feel warm when I think about the joy and relief I felt when they accepted me, and the importance of establishing a support network is something that I would stress to anyone in my position. It isn’t easy at all, but it provided a whole dimension of support that I was never able to access beforehand. There is no shame in coming out over text message, if that’s how you feel most comfortable.

Going forward, I’m continuing my battle for independence. I aim to fully move out within a couple of years. Because I’m still not totally free – I still feel I have to hide who I am in the house. However, what I can take solace in is the fact that I have friends who love me and will be there with me on the journey. Perhaps I will one day gain the confidence to come out to family. But I am more free for having gone to university and been accepted by my peers, and that feels important.

If I could repeat university again, would I do things differently? Sure. I’d probably stay in student accommodation or, at the very least, attend more social events than I did. However, there are also things I wouldn’t do differently – such as being honest with my friends and being able to live as I truly am. I’ve had to deal with my fair share of struggles but being able to come out of university not just with good grades, but the knowledge that my friends love me, is an unparalleled feeling in my life.

If you need to talk to someone about any of the issues raised in this blog, you can contact Student Minds or Switchboard for support.

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Jen Steadman (she/her) is a Higher Education Communications Executive at Unite Students. Prior to this, she was the inaugural Editor of GSL News, covering the student experience for the higher education sector.