by Nadia Pappalardo, staff writer
October 11 marks the 23rd anniversary of National Coming Out Day. Stories about coming out range from complete and utter rejection from loved ones to submergence in love and acceptance. The Echo decided to reach out to the Wilson community and simply ask, “What’s your coming out story?”
Senior Jay Sorensen graciously shared their story with us. Funnily enough, Sorensen was born on the very first National Coming Out Day.
“T’was in the stars,” says Sorensen.
Sorensen sees themself as a beacon of hope for people from their hometown to come out and be whoever they want to be. When Sorensen came out to their parents and dearest friends, they had positive feedback and support.
“I was lucky that I had a safe home to go home to, a group of friends that had my back,” says Sorensen. “When I say lucky, I mean I had the privilege of being supported.”
Unfortunately, Sorensen and one of their friends were the only two openly queer students from their high school and could see that many students were far too afraid of ridicule and mockery to come out themselves.
“In high school, everything was life and death. It sucked,” says Sorensen. “No one beat me up in the halls, threw shit at me–but that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean [their comments] still didn’t hurt.”
Since graduating from high school, Sorensen has had four or five students come out to them over e-mail and Facebook. They have all been eager to talk to them about their experiences and this brings Sorensen much joy.
“If I was to talk to my fifteen-year-old self today, she would say don’t come out,” says Sorensen. “It was too scary. But I fucking survived–a lot of kids don’t.”
Dean of the College and Vice President for Academic Affairs Paula Garrett was not as fortunate as to have such a smooth ride coming out to her parents or even identifying herself as gay. Coming from a strong Baptist family, homosexuality was a topic that Garrett’s parents never discussed.
“Not that it was wrong,” says Garrett. “It just wasn’t a conversation.”
It wasn’t until Garrett was in graduate school that she realized that she is a lesbian. Garrett was doing some research on nineteenth-century women’s literature and found some rather sensual passages that tipped her off to the option of homosexuality.
“All of a sudden, through the lens of history, there were these corsetted women that were sensual in each other’s lives. And that’s when I realized ‘Oh my God, I think I’m gay!’” Garrett said.
When Garrett came out to herself, she had already been married to her college boyfriend for five years. When she decided to come out to him, he wanted to continue to stay married and keep her news quiet. They were divorced within the next year.
Garrett’s experience coming out to her parents was even more difficult. At first, they supported her in the only way they knew how in relation to their own personal beliefs. They sent Garrett informational text on how to get through her “phase” and money for therapy.
After many years of Garrett trying to get her parents to understand and support her identity, she realized that she did not need their acceptance to be happy herself.
“As much as I wanted their approval, I realized I didn’t need it,” says Garrett.
Six years ago, Garrett and her partner, Physical Education and Outdoor Leadership Professor Donna Read, had their commencement ceremony. Garrett’s parents did not attend.
Soon after Garrett and Read took jobs at Warren Wilson and decided they wanted to have a baby together. The move to Wilson made it so that Garrett was only an hour away from her family.
After Garrett and Read had their son, things became easier between Garrett and her family. Garrett’s parents are now inclusive of Read and are simply smitten with their grandson. Today, Garrett’s family is completely accepting of her life choices.
“I want someone to look at my 83-year-old Baptist dad and tell him his daughter is an abomination,” says Garrett. “He would flip out.”