"I cannot be labeled"
Steven Ralston is a teacher of academic English at the TU/e Language Center and a board member of Compass. His coming out was twelve years ago, at the age of 42.
“I gave it twenty years and in the meantime society had changed. And once you turn 40 you also think: ‘If I’m not good enough now, then when?’. I am who I am. But it was really a relief to come out of the closet. I think I'm gay. But already at a very young age I fell in love with both boys and girls. At that time there was no internet and it was less easy to find a term that described my feelings. In any case, I think that sexuality, experience and identity are somewhat fluid and come and go in waves. Let's say that for now 80 percent of my feelings are for men and 20 percent for women. It used to be 40 percent for men, 60 percent for women."
“I used to be married and I was really in love with my ex-wife. Unfortunately, we broke up at some point. She was the first one that I came out to. A while later one of my children asked 'Dad, is there already someone else?'. That was the moment I came out to my children. Then I told other family members, et cetera. At work people knew that I was getting divorced. So after a while I was asked whether I had found a new partner already. Then I also told my colleagues."
No role model
“I see sexuality as something that can change over time. I cannot be labeled: I do not feel completely gay, but I’m certainly not heterosexual either. Am I bisexual then? I don't really believe in those absolute labels. Sometimes bisexuality is seen as liking both sexes simultaneously and sometimes serially. I experience it more as ebb and flow. When I became aware of my feelings, it was more difficult to define them than it would be now because of the lack of internet and it not being as accepted as it is now. Back then it was just easier to opt for a heterosexual relationship. In addition, I thought I could use it as a kind of switch: I turn on 'straight' or I turn on 'gay'. I didn't have a role model and there were hardly any. There was one gay teacher at my high school, but I couldn't really identify with him. Now there are many more role models. That might make it easier to come out."
“The response of my parents was quite neutral. My mother could accept it a bit better than my father. He is somewhat more conservative. We are originally from Scotland, where it is bit more conservative anyway than here in the Netherlands. My TU/e colleagues all responded very positively. But sometimes I hear the soccer players chatting with each other about the game in the locker room at the sports center and they still use the word ‘gay’ in all sorts of ways. Sometimes I want to say 'Hey, are you talking to me?' but that may be too disruptive. Or maybe they are afraid that I will hump them right away; another prejudice that still exists. When I see such silly behavior or when I hear people swear using words like ‘gay’ or ‘faggot’, I think; 'Boys come on, act like a man.' Perhaps it is something of this time and in some years they will swear using different words. But for now, gay or faggot is still associated with something negative and that's a shame.”
“Currently, I can genuinely say I don’t feel like having a relationship with a woman. I am not attracted to that now. And according to my husband it will not happen again and the 20 percent was a thing of the past. But I believe I was really in love with my wife back then. Like I am also really in love with my husband now."
"Chloe is my new name"
Bachelor’s student Applied Physics Chloe van den Heuvel (25) did not really have much hope for the future. There was a lack of social life, partly caused by a social anxiety disorder.
Chloe: “As a child, I was also diagnosed with autism, which I could only partially relate to. I think my challenges with social interaction also had to do with being transgender. Only a little over two years ago I realized that I am transgender. I have had those kind of feelings for a long time, but I couldn't really define them. I ignored and suppressed them for a long time. The change came when I visited a psychologist two years ago and shared my feelings out loud. I also started to express my emotions by drawing: for example, me as a woman and me as a man. It became clear to me that I really liked to see myself as a woman. I started to work on that. I watched videos of trans women on YouTube and I realized that I felt the same way.”
"Soon after I thought: ‘Oh shit, I know for sure this is who I am.’ ‘Oh shit’ because I also realized what this means. The thought of ‘what am I getting myself into’ crossed my mind. I intend to change a lot, including my genitals. Since the end of May I have been taking testosterone blockers. Pretty soon afterwards I started taking the female hormones (estrogen). I already see substantial differences: I have lost a lot of muscle in my arms, my neck is thinner and even my feet have become smaller. Or less broad that is. I now have size 42 and I can also buy shoes from the ladies' department. My skin has become softer and my breasts are growing well. In addition, the laser hair removal is very effective. It feels like everything is slowly starting to make sense. I have also become much more open and less shy since I take these hormones. For example, I now also go to drinks and activities from Compass. And I signed up for their event committee."
“Chloe is my new name, matching the woman I am and I have started to look like as well since my transition. My name was officially changed last April. For my family it was a bit challenging to get used to my new name; they had known me for so long under my old name, Peter. With friends it all went a bit smoother and at Compass I could immediately introduce myself as Chloe. ”
“My coming out was phased. My mother was the first person who I told, quite soon after I became aware of who I am. She has always supported me in everything, she really did a great job. She did find it difficult. Not because she was against it, but more because of what would be ahead of me. Then I told my best friend and sister; they also responded very positively. My brother heard it a little later and found it a bit harder. My father was the last one. He told me to do what felt right, but I heard his voice squeaking. He found it difficult but tried to suppress it."
“I didn't really come out openly at the university. Also because I don't know many people here; I have always had a rather closed personality. I started to wear women's clothes but I first picked the quite neutral things. Now that I look more like a woman, it is also more obvious. For a while I heard some comments. People did not realize that I am transgender and thought that I am gay and made comments about that. My mother says that people do stare at me a lot. At Lelystad train station, I was called ‘filthy faggot’ by a group youngsters. Another time a group of children called me ‘dirty gay’. I usually say nothing and often think ‘never mind’, especially the first time when the situation was quite dark and threatening. The second time I was more disappointed; that children already think this way."
“I like women, so now I am a lesbian. I already liked women before I was conscious of being transgender, but I closed myself off. It felt wrong to have a relationship that way as a man. When I realized that I was transgender, I noticed that the crush I felt at the time for a certain girl was partly jealousy: I also wanted to be like her. Now as a woman, the idea of being with a woman feels better. Especially since I got those hormones, I am more open to that. I do have someone in mind that I actually want to ask out this week. So, a girl as well, but she is not transgender. I only know her since the Intro this year. In that week I met a lot of new people because I joined the Compass introduction committee."
“In order to feel completely female, I want to get surgery. There are (long) waiting lists for most surgeries. But at least I have the approval from the hospital for the process and the hormone treatment already started. The surgery of my genitals and some things in my face (for example Adam's apple reduction or jawline correction) could take place mid-2020 the earliest. Even though it will be painful, I'm still looking forward to it. It is just something that I really want. There is still a long way to go, but I have hope for the future again.”
“A big dive into the unknown”
Bachelor’s student Industrial Design Nathan Pottier (20) came out as gay only a few years ago. Although it was not his first coming out.
"When I was 14, I first came out to my friends as bisexual, as back then I wasn’t completely sure if I preferred boys, girls or both. I was in my confusing teenage years. That first coming out was online, through a message. I felt this huge ball of stress in me when I sent that message as I was not sure what they would reply. I didn’t know people who came out of the closet, so it was a big dive into the unknown. But I got the kindest replies. They told me ‘We love you just as you are’ and ‘Oh Nathan, you think we didn’t know?’. But doing it digitally was a bit of an easy way out of course.”
“As I grew up in different countries, I felt I had to come out multiple times. I have friends in different places and attended different schools. First in Cambodia and Australia, later in Thailand and France, now in Eindhoven. Thailand was the second place I chose to come out, but in real life this time. At school in Thailand there was only one guy openly gay. So I didn’t have many examples and couldn’t check the mentality or what to expect too well. I came out to a friend and got an amazing supportive reaction from her. Those positive reactions had a snowball effect: I came out more easily after. When I was 16, I came out as gay to my parents. The reason I took so long to come out to my parents, was because I wanted to be sure about what I would tell my parents and bring the message with certainty. My friends knew by then as well that I shifted from bisexual to gay.”
“I told my dad first, who stayed silent for a bit after I said it. He told me I would probably face different challenges than he could help me with. At the time I was unsure if that meant he didn’t accept it fully. But later I realized he meant well and just meant it’s a different path than he had taken, so he wasn’t experienced in that field. My mom was quite emotional. But both my parents told me it’s okay to be who you want to be and they also said ‘keep your options open since you’re still a teenager’. I then thought ‘I have been through that phase already’ as in the last two years I have shifted from feeling bisexual to feeling gay. When I was still having bisexual feelings, I actually felt more attracted to the mentality of girls but to the male physique. I saw different forms of attraction in different genders.”
“After graduation in Thailand, I went to university in France, so again I was not sure how people would react. But I came out again and they were also positive. I don’t think I ever had issues with coming out: I have been lucky. Here I do know and see people having issues but I personally never had issues. I’m also in Lucid (study association of Industrial Design) and there I experienced great acceptance. And then again: I tend to keep my sexuality to myself. I don’t shout it at the top of my lungs. To give an example: my housemates came up to me to ask if I am gay, I didn’t go up to them to share it. And if it comes up in conversation I won’t hide it, but it’s not the first thing I tell people. It’s not that I’m scared of people judging but more that I’m not a person to stand out from the crowd.”
Still in the closet?
Compass is currently setting up a ‘still-in-the-closet group’. The idea behind this is to create a safe place for those who are still in the closet and want to talk to others about their feelings or are looking for support. If you would like to be in the group, you can contact Compass.