Whether the stories were funny, tragic or dramatic, each of the speeches at PRISM’s Coming Out Monologues had one thing in common — they were shared by incredibly brave students. Speakers took the stage in the Library Auditorium on Tuesday, Oct. 6, and Thursday, Oct. 8, to share stories of how they came out to their family, friends and even to themselves.
“The Coming Out Monologues invariably proves itself amongst the most impactful programs on campus,” said PRISM President Ryan Eldridge, a junior political science and women’s and gender studies double major. “By an unprecedented turn of events, at the 2015 Student Activities Programming Awards last April, the monologues were recognized for TCNJ’s Legacy Program of the Year.”
PRISM is the College’s first queer-straight alliance and aims to create a safe space for students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, among other sexual orientations and identities.
“Growing up, I always knew I was a little different,” senior marketing major Mike Brown said. “I never really thought much about it… until sixth grade. I remember watching a music video and I distinctly remember thinking about whoever the guy singer was, ‘Wow, he’s really cute.’”
Immediately afterward, Brown tried to rationalize his feelings.
“Why did I just think that?” he asked. “No, he’s not cute. He’s good looking, don’t get me wrong. Objectively, he’s a nice looking man. But he’s not cute. I don’t know why I thought that.”
That thought stuck with Brown, as it was the first time he ever acknowledged another man in a more sexual way. He knew, though, that identifying as gay was not fully accepted in society.
Fast forward seven years: Brown was about to start his freshman year at the College.
“That’ll be a fresh start,” he thought. “I’ll just outright be gay and everyone will love me and they’ll have to accept it. And then on move-in day, I was like, ‘Oh, God, I don’t want to be gay.’”
Brown worried that he wouldn’t make friends and that his roommate would be disgusted by him and request a room change. But after coming out to more and more friends, Brown realized he could truly be himself at the College. He began talking to men and met his boyfriend, who he is still dating today.
Abbey Moor, a freshman special education and women’s and gender studies double major, spoke about her experience coming out to her family — specifically her twin sister.
“‘You realize how nervous I was to tell you?’” Moor asked her twin.
“Yeah, I know,” Moor’s twin said. “I read it on your blog.”
While each monologue was personalized, many of the students commented on the sense of community they found through their friends here at the College after they came out.
“It was never the problem I thought it was going to be,” sophomore women’s and gender studies major Rosie Driscoll said. “I began to call my freshman floor ‘home.’”
Simply speaking wasn’t enough for some students who chose to include songs in their monologues.
Senior nursing major Jordan Stefanski performed an emotional rendition of Bette Midler’s “The Rose,” encouraging students struggling with their sexual orientation that they can find happiness and acceptance.
“Just remember in the winter, far beneath the bitter snow lies the seed that with the sun’s love, in the spring, becomes the rose,” he sang.
Stefanski said he decided to apply to the College when he saw the Queer Awareness Month banner outside of the Student Center during a tour. He took a picture of it, then posted it to Facebook with the caption: “I’m home.”
Senior English major Lisbeth Wimberg introduced her monologue with a remix of the theme song from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
“Well, this is a story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down, and I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there. I’ll tell you how I figured out that I’m bisexual,” she sang.
In her monologue, Wimberg shared the story of how she came out to her older sister on a street in Philadelphia.
“We were trying to have intellectual conversations, so I was like, ‘You know, I really just can’t tell if I’m attracted to men because I’m supposed to be and that’s what society wants me to do, or if I’m attracted to women because women are so oversexualized in the media,’” Wimberg said.
“Are you coming out to me right now?” her sister asked.
“No,” Wimberg said. “I mean, maybe. I’m just trying to have a conversation!”
After Wimberg started dating her girlfriend, her mother asked if the two girls were “BFFs at school.”
“No, Mom,” Wimberg said. “She’s more like my GF at school… and everywhere else.”
Ultimately, the monologues served as a platform for openly-queer students to share their experiences, as well as a source of hope for students who might not be fully out yet.
“As we acknowledge our history, we must also turn our gaze to the future,” Eldridge said. “There is so much work to be done both within and beyond the borders of TCNJ’s campus.”
The Coming Out Monologues were part of Queer Awareness Month, which includes other events, such as Queer Ball and Big Gay Bingo.
*This story was originally published in The Signal.