Just a few days after Christmas, Caroline and brother sat in her car while running errands. Music was playing from Caroline’s iPhone and her brother went to change the song. That’s when he noticed her phone’s background, a rainbow-clad image associated with LGBTQ pride. Without warning, he asked his sister, “Are you gay?”
“I never actually thought to myself, ‘I’m gay,’” Caroline remembers. In that moment, however, it became clear. Her television viewing habits included shows like “The L Word,” and she never really enjoyed the dates she went on with guys. While watching other lesbians on the small screen, Caroline began to wonder, “Am I so excited for this show because I’m like these people?” Or perhaps she was over analyzing her sexuality? “I was…pushing all of the thoughts aside completely so I was never really going to admit [I was gay] until I had to say it out loud,” she explains. “I was uncertain up until I was point blank asked if I was. And then I had to answer. And once I said yes, I knew that that was true.”
When Caroline finally admitted to her brother that she was, in fact, gay, he responded with an excited, “That’s so cool!” With her brother’s support, Caroline decided she would tell the rest of her family that night.
Caroline’s older sister was supportive but blindsided, while her parents had a hunch about their daughter’s sexuality. It was something they had discussed, Caroline later found out, when it became obvious to them that she didn’t take much interest in dating men. They welcomed Caroline’s coming out with open arms, reassuring their daughter that she could still get married and have kids even if she was a lesbian. “I was like ‘I know dad!’ But it was very sweet,” Caroline laughs.
Just a few weeks later, Caroline made her way to Valencia, Spain, where she studied abroad for a semester. Before her plane departed, she told her closest friends that she was gay. “It’s hard to tell people who’ve known you forever, because you feel like you were hiding something, but it didn’t feel like that,” she recollects. In Spain, she was very open about her sexuality. Other students with her would ask her if she had a boyfriend, to which she’d reply, “Oh no, I date girls.” Caroline admits, now, that this was a bit of lie. In truth, she hadn’t dated any girls yet. But her singledom wouldn’t last for long.
When Caroline returned to college the next semester, she began attending meetings with the Queer Student Union. “I was like, I’m 21, I’ve finally figured out why I’m stunted, I didn’t figure it out until kind of late, so let’s get this party started,” she recalls. Caroline also had to maneuver coming out to her sorority sisters. At first she kept her sexuality a secret from most of her sisters. When she went to QSU meetings, she simply told them she was going to the library. But when she got the chance to plan an event for the organization, she used the occasion to come out to her sisters and invite them to meet her new girlfriend. She sent everyone in her sorority an invitation to the event, sneaking in a line at the very end that read, “And by the way, if you’re wondering, I’m gay and my girlfriend’s going to be there and you can meet her.” Some of her sisters initially thought it was a joke, but their overwhelming attendance at the event gave evidence of their support. “It was a bunch of gay kids and [my sorority],” Caroline proudly recalls.
Since graduating from college, Caroline has resided in Richmond, Virginia, where she lives with her girlfriend of two years. In Richmond, Caroline feels comfortable holding her girlfriend’s hand in public and coming out to coworkers, but recognizes that moments of caution exist. “I don’t want to embarrass anyone or anger anyone that doesn’t matter,” she says in regards to coming out to people she predicts may not accept her sexuality, “But I’m pretty open to most people.” She also exercises discretion in certain areas outside of the city, including her girlfriend’s hometown. “We’ll go shopping out there after we see her parents, and we don’t hold hands when we’re walking through,” she admits. “It’s just 12 miles [outside of Richmond], but it’s a different, old school, simpler mindset out there.”
When Caroline reminisces about her life as a “straight” girl who tried to date and kiss boys, she compares it to two straight men kissing each other. “It’d be like, ‘What is this feeling, ugh!’” she explains. Since coming out, Caroline has felt more comfortable with herself both inside and out, confessing that before she left the closet, she’d worry that adopting certain hairstyles or clothing might give people the idea that she’s gay. “After I did come out it was like…if they think I’m gay they’ll be right, so I just did what I wanted,” she explains. “I’m gonna go watch roller derby. Maybe that’s a stereotype, but whatever.” Coming out gave Caroline a newfound liberation. “It was just a freedom to do whatever I wanted without people judging even though they might. I just felt like it didn’t matter.”