Coming Out: University of Iowa students share their stories

Three University of Iowa students share their experiences and insights about coming out, being outed, and community.


Illustration by Kate Doolittle

Jenna Post, Arts Reporter

On the night before my first day of high school, my mom said her church warned her of the mandatory health class I was enrolled in, saying it would teach us that being gay is OK.

My teacher never told us that. In fact, one time my teacher split us up by gender for girls to describe their dream man and boys to describe the perfect woman. I never did figure out what that activity had to do with health, but it was an activity that would have received my mom’s stamp of approval, had I told her about it.

I didn’t tell her about it. Instead, I thought about her church’s warning as my friend Drew, who was out of the closet at school, tried not to laugh as he locked eyes with me from the boy’s group.

At the time, I was equal parts jealous and happy for Drew. I wanted to come out to my friends at school too, but I was afraid that if I did, my parents would find out. Two years later, my fear came true.

This past Sunday — Oct. 11 — was National Coming Out Day. Although this annual occurrence is why I’m sharing my story, I don’t think my experience was really “coming out.” It was more like the closet door was kicked in on me while I cowered in the corner.

By my junior year of high school, I had come out to a handful of friends, which thankfully went well. Two of my friends were brothers whose mom went to the same church as mine. After one brother was grounded, his mom went through his phone and found our chat.

She read some messages I had sent to him, then messaged me from his phone, pretending to be him. I wasn’t expecting to be catfished by my friend’s mom, so I replied how I ordinarily would have until she admitted who she was and told me she was going to tell my mom everything.

The fear was overwhelming and immediate. My limbs froze, my heart pounded painfully, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Part of me thought I was going to die right there and that dying might be a preferable alternative to being outed.

Though, that was not the worst part. In the long run, it was having the choice of how and when to come out taken away from me that affected me the most. Deciding how and when was something I’d agonized over for years. I’d find the perfect time and the perfect thing to say and hope for the best.

I bit my tongue when I dealt with homophobic jokes and comments, only comforted by the knowledge that one day I would be ready to have a real conversation with the homophobic people whom I loved that had hurt me.

But that never happened. Instead, while I was at school, my mom had a meeting with her pastors. When she came home that day, I thought maybe I could tell her myself, despite not being ready.

Instead I was lectured and punished for hiding my sexuality, even though it was being proven before my eyes that my coming out would’ve been received just as I had feared.

I’ll never be able to change the way things happened, but what I can do is stress the importance of having the choice to come out.

Being able to emotionally prepare and having the opportunity to think about what I wanted to say would’ve changed everything for me.

Having that taken from me was violating and, frankly, traumatizing. I have never experienced fear as intensely as I did when I was outed. Afterward, I was depressed and lost friendships because of it. To this day, I constantly wonder how things would be different if I had been able to come out on my own terms.

However, there is a silver lining. Since my outing, I have met other LGBTQ people who have gone through similar situations. Bonding over our shared experiences made me understand what marginalized solidarity really means, and that there will always be people who understand you if you look hard enough.

In 2020, 84 percent of LGBTQ youth sought counseling. Twenty-three percent of those who were unable to receive counseling said it was because they struggled to find a provider who was competent in LGBTQ issues.

Savannah DeGroot, a fourth-year anthropology major at the University of Iowa, said finding community with other LGBTQ people is one of the most important things to do.

“There’s something different about being in a space with other queer people, especially those who share the same identity as you,” DeGroot said. “You can really talk about those experiences and look to people for guidance and advice.”

DeGroot’s sexuality was met with acceptance and support from those closest to her, but she still struggled to find the courage to come out.

“I think it’s important to recognize that no matter how smoothly your coming out goes, it’s still terrifying to each person, no matter what the end result is,” DeGroot said. “That’s why we need a day to recognize the struggle that it is to come out.”

She said she ultimately hopes the expectation to come out will fade away and that being straight isn’t assumed as the default.

“We should just be able to exist without having to have that fearful time [of coming out],” DeGroot said.

Sabrina Muñoz, a fourth-year elementary education major at the UI, decided to come out to her parents so her mother would know that comments she had made about LGBTQ issues were hurtful to Muñoz. Her father was immediately accepting, and her mother worked toward acceptance over time.

Muñoz said her coming out experience was made easier by her friends, who supported her while her mother came to terms with Muñoz’s identity.

During her freshman year at the UI, Muñoz joined the All In Living Learning Community, an LGBTQ-friendly student housing community.

“Off the bat, we all knew some of us weren’t straight and some of us weren’t cis. It was a really fun group to be around that made me more open about my sexuality,” Muñoz said.

No matter one’s stage in the coming-out process, National Coming Out Day is a reminder of what LGBTQ individuals face to proudly be themselves.

Although my coming out experience was far from what I hoped it would be, I have been able to use my story to assure others who have had upsetting coming out experiences that it’s not the end of the world. My mom and I are fine now, I made the closest friendships of my life by bonding over being LGBTQ, and, most importantly, I get to be myself in a way that I never could in the closet.

For those searching for community or help with LGBTQ issues, the university offers a variety of resources, including LGBTQ-focused health care resources, and statewide organizations.