For a lot of students, coming to college represents an opportunity to make a fresh start and reinvent themselves the way they want to be seen without the expectations of who they are at home. This week, I talked with Alexis Rudy, a junior at Pomona College. She is open with her bisexual identity at school but hasn’t yet brought her college self back home to Ohio.
She said that in her hometown of Columbus, being queer is pretty widely accepted, but being openly queer comes with a stigma that doesn’t exist as much at college in California.
“No one ever said it was wrong, but they were definitely like ‘you’re one of the gay kids.’ It was this weird balance between being kind of okay and not being okay, in this gray area.”
Alexis never fully came out in high school, partly because she says she didn’t come to terms with her sexuality until her senior year when she began dating one of her closest female friends.
“All of our friends knew, but at the time neither of us were ready to come out, so we kind of just kept it secret. We’d been best friends forever, so no one really questioned it.”
Alexis says she didn’t want to make a big deal out of coming out to everyone, so she kept her relationship under wraps until she left for college.
“It was kind of perfect timing in that I came to terms with (my sexuality) the end of my senior year, and then by the time where it probably would have been a good time to talk about it, I went to college. And here at Pomona, it’s the most casual, normal thing in the world. I can talk about it and no one will think twice. So at that point, I kind of took it with me to college and never really mentioned it back home because the few weeks that I’m home out of the year, it doesn’t come up.”
Alexis’ dad and one of her brothers know she’s bi because they asked her about it directly. She says she’s not actively trying to hide her sexuality, and that she’d be open with the rest of her family if it came up naturally. With her mom, though, Alexis worries that telling her would lead to an onslaught of questions.
“I knew as soon as I’d tell her, she would assume every friend I was hanging out with was a love interest. I don’t think she understands how to separate the two, and how it’s just a normal part of life where I’m romantic with some people and friends with others.”
She says that being out in college is much easier because people don’t think of being queer differently from being straight. People talked about going out with girls the same way they talked about going out with guys.
“I just wanted to be myself, so as soon as I saw that it made no difference, I started to talk to my friends about it, and talk more casually about who I was attracted to and what I was interested in. I think it was so much of a defining factor back home, whereas here it doesn’t matter at all, and I love that. Even though it’s such a big part of me, it’s almost like it has no part in me because it’s so normal.”
Alexis says it was hardest to come out to her volleyball team because she was worried that her sexuality would ruin the team dynamics. But once she heard her teammate talk openly about being with another girl, Alexis began to accept the idea of coming out more easily, and on one night out kissed a girl in front of her teammates.
“Probably half of my team came up to me immediately and was like ‘oh my god, Lex, what are you doing? We did not expect this, you have to tell us what’s going on!’ From their perspective, it was definitely them being super hyped for me in a funny way that I was hooking up with someone but also they had no idea that I was bi, but in the moment I was like oh my god they hate me.”
Alexis was afraid she had ruined her social life, but within a day she talked to all my teammates and found that none of their excitement had to do with being angry she was gay. It was just another part of her personal life that they wanted to find out about.
“The transition from being so incredibly uncomfortable to being super chill happened really quickly, and I’m really lucky for that.”
Alexis says she feels like her persona at school encompasses her identity more fully than at home, where everyone calls her the pet name Lexie. At school, she goes by just Lex.
“I don’t think I would ever take away my identity as Lexie at home, just because my role in the family is that I’m the little sister, and that’s what my family has always called me, and I very much enjoy that. But I think that I do want to bring a girl home, and wear my baggy jeans, and wear my super beat-up sneakers and not have everyone think that I’m making a big fashion statement or making a big social statement. I think that who I am at school is much more all-encompassing of who I am, and I just want to bring that home.”