Coming Out in Hostile Environments


Last week was National Coming Out Day and SPH’s OUTbreak celebrated with a 4-day long bake sale to support Ann Arbor’s Neutral Zone. The bake sale was stock full of eye-popping rainbow and stiletto cookies, piña colada cupcakes, and more. In addition to the colorful assortment of desserts, OUTbreak provided information related to coming out in the military, politics, communities of color, and religious communities. While “manning” the table, like last year, I was met with a mix of responses. There were my classmates who commented hesitantly, “I didn’t know you were…a part of this group…” or those that hovered with questions they hadn’t yet found the words for. But for the most part students and faculty alike were curious, friendly, enthusiastic, or just hungry.

However, it was at the table that I first heard of the vandalism incident that took place at Haven Hall last week. According to different reports, materials related to LGBT, feminism, ethnic and religious minorities, and progressive themes were defaced or torn down. I was surprised that this was the first I was hearing about it but not surprised by the act itself. Coming from Berkeley, supposedly one of the most liberal and progressive universities in the country, I remembered similar acts of hatred and ignorance to which the administration responded disappointingly. So I figured moving to the Midwest, it would only be a matter of time. Call me a cynic or a realist, either way I was right.

The incident called to mind SPH’s Student Life Survey last semester about the school environment –the one that they had to beg and bribe everyone to fill out –that made me reflect on my experience as a triple minority. It was a task to articulate the ever-present “deadly elasticity of heterosexist presumption” that colored most social situations, or the ways I’m othered in casual day-to-day interactions. The hatred-inspired vandalisms are easy to point to when trying to explain why campus life can be a hostile environment. But it’s the normative assumptions that distort most social exchange, the ones that go undetected or dismissed because people “meant well”, that are more difficult to explain to people coming from a place of privilege.

The vandalism incident during Coming Out Week reiterated that though the closet can be a lonely and oppressive space, the world outside is still hostile such that some people once out cannot stay out.  The homophobia and heterosexism that pervades our everyday life is a purposive and divisive tool, like all other ‘–isms’, that obstructs human solidarity. Coming Out Week served “to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions”, a self-defense of sorts against a university and a world that insists upon conformity regardless of a rhetoric of inclusion.

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