There is no room to breathe

A closeted LGBTQ+ student speaks out

The college scene, as it could be called, seemed to be perfect for me. To preface, I am currently in my first year here at UCD, and the past year has been the most overwhelming experience I’ve had in a long time. I assume most of us feel similarly about this. No matter the situation you are in - away from your family, alone, with friends, family, or any other option - there is a sense of being alone that follows us all during this pandemic. The days have started to mesh together, everyone looking towards safety, running in a never-ending race to the finish line that no one can see.

College excited me. The idea of being on campus and making friends who are far away from my family, who didn’t know anyone I did so I could freely be myself was something I was incredibly hopeful for. Being in the closet is suffocating during this pandemic (it always is, but the virus has added extra battles in this game of life). Who are we meant to talk to stuck at home when no one knows? During this pandemic, unlike others, I have been fortunate to have a few friends who support my identity. But they do not live with me. They are not the people in my home who see me twenty-four hours of a day. There is no running off to campus for the day, meeting up with friends who, hopefully, with open arms, would accept me. 

I had looked at college as a way that I could finally obtain freedom after all this time. The pandemic changed this: There is no visiting the campus to meet up with friends I have made, escaping from the suffocating feeling at home. There are only phone calls in your bedroom instead of meetups, with hushed conversations that are far and few between. Having to censor yourself is exhausting. Watching over your shoulder, scared and confused because you are at home, and you may care about those around you, but they do not know - maybe you know they won’t support you, maybe it’s just that you haven’t fully accepted yourself yet, or something else entirely. Either way, they don’t know, and you’re isolated from your friends. Friends who accept you - call you by the name you like, or who know the person you’re seeing. People who accepted you and you don’t have to hesitate around are too far away. 

It felt like I had succeeded but had not won. College is a feat and a half, and part of the reward would have been the newfound autonomy.  

College is a stressful time, what with maybe being employed on the side, having personal issues and struggles to deal with. The idea of getting out of the house is important, it gives you time to think without feeling locked up in a small area by yourself looking at the same walls. With the virus, being able to go out with friends or being able to take that space you may need for time to yourself is impossible. 

That space doesn’t exist, there is no room to breathe. 

How are we meant to keep who we might be dating hidden when we cannot go to see them? Instead, it is phone calls that if your parents knew about, a lengthy conversation would have to occur. What do you do when you go by a different name than given at birth, a different set of pronouns, when you can’t keep it hidden by only hearing it outside of the house, far away? It is so much harder to keep a secret when your social life happens in the same house where parts of you are not meant to exist. 

Simple things may become nerve-wracking. Before, I could watch shows, movies, or videos without the worry of someone barging in because, fortunately, both my parents would be at work and I could watch what I wished. Nowadays, I have to make sure the way I sit doesn’t make my laptop screen visible. I double-check to make sure my phone is locked, and the laptop turned off when I leave to go to the bathroom quickly. There is no room for error.

I consider myself lucky to have my friends who support me, and who know I support them. Some tutors have been fantastic: reminding students to email them if they go by a name that is not registered in the system or asking about pronouns. It may seem small, but everything becomes a lot bigger when support feels like a luxury. But that doesn’t change how debilitating this experience is, how tired you become trying to balance two lives that were never meant to mingle, and now are in the same home. We are one text away from being discovered and that follows you every moment of each day.