Coming out at MIT Though Frightening, Coming out May Be a Very Healthy Decision to Make
I “came out” at MIT three years ago. It was the beginning of my freshman year, I was seventeen, and very excited about starting my college career. I had just been assigned to a room with two other roommates. Since I didn’t see how I could share a room with two other guys without their knowing about my sexual orientation, I came right out and told them.
“Hey guys, I'm gay.”
Just like that, I came out. It was gutsy because one of my roommates was from a conservative Jewish family and the other was from an Asian family. I must have been very naive at the time because I don’t remember considering how they would react. Honesty is important to me, and there was no way I was going to pretend to be someone I wasn’t for the whole school year.
Their initial reaction was silence. Later they told me that they just didn’t know what to say in response to my disclosure. They never had any friends come out to them before, and they weren’t used to dealing with it. At the time, though, all I felt was relief because at least they didn’t run out of the room or tell me they didn’t want me as their roommate anymore.
Throughout the entire semester, they never had a problem with my sexuality. Sure, they felt uncomfortable at first, but that discomfort gradually led to a deeper understanding of who I was, beyond the surface of my being gay. They soon realized that I was as normal and as complex as any other person they knew. I wasn’t just their gay roommate. I was Kevin. That’s how it should be. Coming out and being gay should not be a big deal. My gayness does not define who I am just as my roommates’ straightness didn’t define them.
Sometimes, though, reality hits you in the face. Earlier this year, I received an anti-gay hate e-mail message sent by another student, who belonged to one of the fraternities on campus. While the incident is now very much in the past, I am still haunted by it and wary that it could happen again to another student.
When I received the e-mail back in March, I was extremely upset and hurt. I could not believe that I would get harassed at such a great and tolerant institution like MIT. So I channeled those feelings into something positive by taking action. I was not going to let the guy scare me back into the closet. I went immediately to the campus police and to the administration and reported the incident as a hate crime. Two months later, in May, President Vest and the Committee on Discipline suspended the student for three semesters. He will not be allowed to return to campus until February 2002.
The entire incident and my experience as an out student reminds me that, even at MIT, a lot of work still needs to be done to ensure all students are safe and respected. Homophobia exists, but we can all do something to make sure that those who make homophobic remarks are not tolerated.
Next week is Coming Out Week at MIT, in conjunction with National Coming Out Day on October 11. The annual event at MIT serves to encourage and empower every lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered person to make a difference by speaking out about who they are and standing tall. All of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered student and faculty groups at MIT will be sponsoring events throughout the week, so please drop by and say hello.
Coming out is an extremely frightening process. It takes a lot of courage, determination, dignity, and guts to take that step. I know because I’ve been there. As an openly gay student on campus, I encourage those students who are in the closet to think about it and consider coming out. Coming out might not work for everyone, but it can be a very healthy decision. There are a lot of resources on the Web and at MIT that anyone can look into to help make the coming out process easier.
And for those who are straight, over the course of next week and in your lifetime, you will have friends who will come out to you as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered. When they do, show them your support and stand up for them. It is people like you who will eventually make a difference.
Kevin Choi is a member of the Class of 2001.