by Alyssa Matesic
For two undergrads, coming to NYU didn’t just mean attending college. It meant challenging the faith of their childhood, discovering their identity and finding a haven from the judgment of their families. Coming to an unfamiliar city, the two have used the blank slate to realize and embrace their sexual orientations. Though to each other they are strangers, the resemblance is unmistakable. This is their story.
Names have been changed to maintain the privacy of the individuals.
“What were you doing in your room?” Jacqueline’s mom asked when she saw her walk out with a girl — Jacqueline’s best friend. They were 15 years old. Sometimes Jacqueline could get a kiss on the cheek and other times a kiss on the lips if she turned her head at the last second. Like today, in her room.
“Nothing,” Jacqueline answered.
“No. What were you doing in your room?” her mom asked again.
Fuck, Jacqueline thought. “I just kissed her.”
“You know that’s wrong, right?”
It was a sin. An abomination, completely opposed to the Christian belief system Jacqueline had grown up with. Jacqueline and her mom sat down in her room, crying.
“I’ll pray with you,” her mom said. “Think about your actions. I hope you repent.”
From then on, Jacqueline locked her door, especially when she was “Googling queer shit.”
She had tried to be straight. She had prayed. But none of it had worked. During her last year in Singapore before she moved to New York City freshman year, Jacqueline was still battling internal homophobia. In Singapore, everything queer is kept hush-hush. You don’t often see girls holding hands.
In her college application essay, Jacqueline wrote about why she didn’t like wearing skirts and admitted she was pretty masculine. Her school counselor knew something was up when she read it.
“You’re trying to say something,” the counselor said. “Tell me what you want to say,” she said, sitting Jacqueline down and looking straight into her eyes.
“I think I’m gay,” Jacqueline admitted.
That was the first time she said it — the first time she accepted it. The counselor then helped Jacqueline with her NYU application.
Sophomore Gina didn’t have that same, sudden moment of realization. She knew she had always been attracted to the female body, and she had kissed “like a million” girls at parties. But she identified as straight when she came to NYU.
Her second night at NYU, she ended up at in Third North “basically having sex in the shower” with the cute lesbian who lived across the hall. The two went back to Gina’s room in Founders that night.
“And she hasn’t left since,” Gina said.
Gina and her girlfriend have been together since and she now identifies as lesbian. She decided to get a pixie cut this past summer.
But Gina’s strict Catholic parents didn’t know about her relationship or her orientation. They did know that she had had a confirmation and first communion. Her family went to church every Sunday. But Gina felt Catholicism had been shoved down her throat. Her mom still tries to get her to pray the rosary every night.
“I never got the sex talk growing up. My mother briefly talked to me about what a period was. I wasn’t allowed to use tampons because my mother probably thought it would take my virginity or some shit,” Gina said. “And people ask how I didn’t realize I was gay until I came here.”
When Jacqueline arrived at NYU last year, she cut her hair short too and embraced the LGBTQ community. Her bedroom door, a door she had kept closed at home, instead became an open platform to express herself. A signed pledge posted on her entrance in Carlyle Court officially marks it as an LGBTQ Safe Zone.
Now, she’s Vice President of the Stern LGBT Pride Corp, an Outspoken Peer Educator at the LGBTQ Center and a Co-facilitator of a club within the LGBTQ center called Shades. Jacqueline also started her own organization, Etcetera NYC, which aims to support queer Asian women — and other gender variant people — through social events and art promotion.
Religion still conflicts with her identity, but she doesn’t want to completely forget it. Recently, in Union Square, she bought a small silver ring with an engraved cross.
“I got this to remind myself that I might not be religious, but I still want to be thinking about God and Jesus occasionally,” Jacqueline said. “I just don’t want them to disappear out of my life.”
When talking labels, Jacqueline said she considered herself a homoromantic asexual. She tends to be attracted to people who identify as female and likes acting romantically with them — holding hands and kissing — but she isn’t necessarily interested in sex. She also labeled herself as queer to cover the other aspects of her sexuality, a word she said means different things to different people.
“Queer is like a label for no labels,” Jacqueline said. “Queer is literally just saying ‘I’m not normal, I’m deviant.’”
Her mom had wanted Jacqueline to come to NYU to start a new life — a straight life. If Jacqueline stayed in Singapore, her mom had reasoned, she’d continue pursuing that girl. So Jacqueline promised she’d be straight.
Her mom still sent emails during her first semester at NYU: “Hey Jacqueline, how are you doing? Are you normal yet?” But Jacqueline hadn’t come here to be normal.
For Gina, her parents never said she couldn’t be gay but it was always implied. Last summer as Gina was working seven-hour days with her mom in a Chicago restaurant, coverage of Russia’s anti-gay abuse came on TV. In Croatian — Gina’s first language — her mom said, “They should do that here, they all just need to burn.”
“This sounds really fucking awful, but I’m frightened that if I tell them now, they won’t pay for my school. That’s constantly in the back of my head,” Gina said. “Some days I just want to spit it out, other days I’m just like, ‘They’ll fucking disown me in a second. I don’t know where I’ll go.’”
For now, Jacqueline is actively diverting conversation with her parents about sex and relationships. She only uses gender-neutral pronouns, and she told her mom she was asexual.
“My identity is so multifaceted, and she just doesn’t understand,” Jacqueline said.
When Gina’s girlfriend visited Gina’s hometown over winter break last year, they had to keep their relationship secret. But at NYU, they embraced it. The two are now roommates in a Gramercy studio, where Gina says they mostly keep to themselves. She’s sure the neighbors hear them occasionally, but she doesn’t care.
“It’s like an escape. Over the summer, I couldn’t wait to get back. I’m just fucking angry and crying to myself all the time [at home],” Gina said. “Coming here, it’s just easy.”