When I was in college, there were moments when I thought I knew who I really was, but I was afraid to embrace the idea that I might be “different” from others, or that I may not be exactly what I thought was expected of me. I was scared to open up and explore my sexual orientation and gender identity, and to let others in on my struggles. As I had done in my earlier years, I went through my college years hiding my true self, and as a result, I excluded myself from enjoying campus life and being a part of my university, all because I was afraid. I was scared that my family and friends would leave me; afraid I would be treated differently, and even afraid of being hurt. It wasn’t until I graduated that I began to deal with my identity struggles, embrace my true self and live out loud in a way that best represented who I was. I know that many LGBTQ students feel this way. I can honestly say, if I could have a do-over, I would change some things.
Now, as an out, visible transgender identified person, with much more life experience, I can reflect on my college days, and instead of wishing I known more, and come out earlier, I decided to write my much younger, closeted self a letter of encouragement.
Dear younger, struggling, closeted me,
First and foremost, you will be okay, and even though life may feel overwhelming and scary at times, have patience and go easy on yourself. You are doing the best you can, and that is enough. Keep getting up every morning, dust yourself off when you stumble or fall, and know that it will, in fact, get better. Always remember you get to decide who you are, how that is expressed and what the timeframe for change is. There isn’t a deadline or even a finish line, for that matter. Sorry to tell you, but you will always be evolving and growing, but you will soon realize, that’s the richness of life.
Slow down and enjoy the journey. College is a great time to learn and explore, and figure some things out. Don’t buy into to figure “it” all out, no one ever does. You won’t even be able to define what “it” is anyways, so just relax. Oh, a heads up, you will choose a major and never work in that field of study so enjoy the experience, and it will all work itself out. Take the classes that interest and challenge you. Keep your focus and learn as much as you can, and sometimes those 8 AM classes are the best ones you will ever take. And if not, be responsible and get up and go to class anyway. Just do your thing with confidence and don’t worry if you feel that everyone else in the class is talking about you because you may dress, look or act differently, or that it may not be “obvious” what pronouns you use or what gender you are attracted to. You will soon learn that nothing is ever obvious and never make assumptions because once again, everyone, including you, gets to identify themselves, not the other way around. And more importantly, your classmates are probably worrying about themselves and not noticing you.
Trust people. I know this is easier said than done, but you will find many people are far more trustworthy than you give them credit for. It’s your defense mechanism that is clouding your judgment of others, and not everyone will run and leave if they know the real you. In fact, the exact opposite will happen for you. The trick is to show up to relationships, share a little more of yourself than you are used to, and help others to trust you. This will be challenging, I know, but taking a few steps outside your comfort zone and letting people in will be worth it. You’ll find the more you show up on an emotional level in any relationship, the trust will be reciprocated much more easily and more often. And, when the time comes to share your story of you authentically are, these will be the folks to lean into. They will have your back and will help you in ways that you may find unimaginable now.
Know the difference between authenticity and transparency. Take the time to figure out and know who you are. Believe in yourself and learn to love who you are becoming. That doesn’t mean you should show everyone, everything. You can be selective, and keep quiet, and that doesn’t diminish your identity or your worth, and you will know the time to be open. Go easy on yourself, and never think you “should” come out. Be visible, or speak up as I’ve been told, “Don’t should on yourself.” As you get older, this concept will make much more sense. Just because you don’t tell everyone your truth, doesn’t mean it takes away from your authenticity.
Ask for help. If you only remember one thing from this letter, I hope that it’s to ask for help. You will be happy that you did, and you won’t feel as lonely and isolated. Yes, it will feel risky and awkward, but asking for help shows your strength, not a weakness. You will find that there are others who are feeling similar anxieties and fears as you, and together, you will figure things out. You’ll be pleasantly surprised that asking for help will not only assist you but will make a difference in someone else’s life, too.
College is going to fly by more quickly than you think, so don’t rush through the experience. This will be the first time living on your own, and it will be scary at first, but know that you will soon grow to love it. This is the time to spread your wings and learn about yourself. While an education is important, growing and maturing is too. Take chances and don’t allow fear to make decisions for you. Whether you decide to live your truth out loud or not, is entirely up to you. Always remember, you are awesome just the way you are, you are enough and always will be, and your future is waiting for you.
Learn more about speaker Jeremy Wallace at campuspeak.com/wallace.