The Closet Was Not a Happy Place

Prior to National Coming Out Day, members of the NCC community share stories of anxiety and acceptance

Myra Saturen,

Nine days before National Coming Out Day, Northampton Community College held its own Coming Out Day on October 2. Four panelists, Dr. Manny Gonzalez, director of international programs; Brad Carlisle, alumnus and current NCC student; Dr. Gloria Lopez, dean of students; and Alex Rolón, associate professor of mathematics; talked about their varied experiences.

Calling the LGBTQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning) an invisible community, Gonzalez said that "we are your neighbors, friends, doctors, teachers, and lawyers. We are here."

Each panelist had a different story to tell. "I never came out," Gonzalez said. He always recognized his sexuality, as did others who knew him. In fact, when he told his mother he was gay, she responded "tell me something I didn't already know."

For other panelists, coming out proved more difficult. Having grown up in a highly religious Roman Catholic home, Brad Carlisle received disparagement from a close family member, who disdained his preference for "girl" activities over "boy" ones. He struggled at first with his attraction to males, but acknowledged it as a college student. "The closet was not a happy place," he said. After a difficult period, he and his parents made peace. Later, still not "out" beyond his family and friends, Carlisle decided to be more open, prodded by a night-time dream of paralysis and death.

Coming out took Lopez ten years. Her greatest struggle involved accepting herself. Aware of crushes on girls since elementary school, she focused on religion as a distraction. After many arduous years, she arrived at an acceptance of herself and a way to reconcile her spirituality with her sexual orientation. She concluded that "I am gay and nothing is going to change that." Prepared for her family's possible rejection and determined to live her life true to herself, she approached her relatives when she was 25. To her surprise, her family accepted her revelation with understanding.

Rolón often hears people referring to homosexuality as a "choice." "I chose to be straight," he said, even marrying a woman, to whom he was wed for years. Although he knew he was gay since the first grade, he assumed a heterosexual persona through a yearning to please his parents. Eventually, he realized that he could never be happy living to please other people. Falling in love with a man and moving in with him, Rolón experienced happiness for the first time. Telling his wife and later, his children, set him on an emotional roller-coaster, especially concerning his teenaged daughter. Using his math background, he used analogies to help his children comprehend his faithfulness to himself.

Although American society and some religious denominations have become more accepting of LGBTQ people in recent years, coming out is still a fraught process, the panelists made clear. Comments such as "that's so gay," equating "gay" with stupidity, are hurtful. Stereotypes of the flamboyant, artistic gay man restrict perceptions. The assumption by many heterosexuals that others are heterosexual too creates a sense of isolation for gay people. "Straight privilege" is what Rolón calls this automatic pilot way of thinking.

With all the challenges of coming out, being who they are has brought peace of mind to all of the NCC panelists. "Living in the closet is exhausting," Rolón said.

The panelists praised NCC for being a safe space. "I am proud of NCC for being welcoming and accepting toward LGBTQ people," Gonzalez said.