Coming out is a state of vulnerability that LGBTQ+ individuals uniquely experience, but nothing else would have made Mar Barrera ’20 feel like everything they do is more truthful.
“Things became a lot more clearer, things just make more sense, and I feel like everything I do by extension feels more authentic … I feel like I have a lot more to offer, honestly,” Barrera said.
Likewise, if Taylor Garcia ’23 had not come out, they would not have been able to be a “LGBT fountain of knowledge” for others stuck in the closet at their high school. If Kari ’23 was not open about her queer identity, she would be prevented from being “unapologetically” herself at Wellesley and elsewhere.
Their stories are complex, evolving and not without obstacles. Garcia, who identifies as lesbian, non-binary and agender, has been out as a lesbian for four years. They said it all started while they were in their high school’s production of “Assassins.” Initially nervous to be there, everything changed when a girl they knew sat next to them, even though they believed they were straight at the time.
“I had ‘straight blinders’ on,” said Garcia. “When we were in cross country together, I was like, ‘Oh, I should set her up with my guy friends because she’s so cool.’ Now I’m like, ‘Taylor, you idiot!’ We became friends within the first week of rehearsal. I was standing very close to her because we were all gathered in this very small room, and I was like, ‘Oh, I kind of like standing next to her. I should stand closer to her.’ And then I was moving closer, moving closer, and I was like, ‘Shit, this is not straight!’”
The realization dawning on them, Garcia took a series of online quizzes to determine if they were gay or not. There is a saying that if you are turning to online quizzes to check if you are gay, you are probably gay. Regardless, it took them a while to come to terms with their LBGTQ+ identity. Because they originally believed that coming out was a necessity, they soon came out to their friends, school and family, with which they had varying degrees of success.
Kari, who identifies as queer and bisexual, had a different coming out experience. Due to the circumstances of her life, she “didn’t really see any point to not coming out.” However, she wishes that coming out wasn’t seen as such a necessity for the queer community, which has influenced how she came out to to her parents: “And then I forgot that I hadn’t officially come out to my parents, and I was at this event over the summer where I had to preach a five-minute sermon … In it, I was talking about how, as a queer woman of color, there are a lot of people who don’t want me to exist, and I just threw that in … And then I forgot that not everyone knew that about me, so I got back home [from the event], and my mom was like, ‘So in your sermon you said you were queer. So what does that mean?’” Kari said.
Although Kari recognizes that her ability to forget when she has not come out to a certain person is an “immense privilege” due to her accepting family and home community, she has faced certain obstacles as well. One example is bearing the burden of heteronormativity, rendering her unable to talk to her straight friends about her attraction to or relationships with girls. Also, biphobia has made her feel like it is less valid to say, “Oh, I’m so gay, I love women” when she is dating a man.
As a senior and the president of Siblings, a closed org for trans and non-binary students, Barrera is visibly out within the Wellesley community. Identifying as non-binary and queer, they have faced unique challenges that cisgender students on campus do not experience, such as microaggressions geared toward the transgender community, misgendering and being referred to as their deadname, their birth name that they no longer go by. For example, when they lived on the second floor of Beebe their junior year, where they had to use a shared bathroom “for women,” they were always stared at because their gender presentation was “too masculine” to be palatable to the average Wellesley student.
“Wellesley is not an ideal place to be non-cis at … A lot of the women’s empowerment movement fails to recognize the reason why … we are at a ‘historically women’s college’ is because of misogyny. At its core, misogyny affects a lot more people outside of the realm of cisgender women … Anything that removes the binary is going to promote empowerment of everyone … A lot of tropes like, ‘Wellesley women doing blank’ [exist], and I’m just like, ‘Cool, I don’t really belong in your space that you’re creating. I think … to admit all the ways in which you yourself perpetuate and reinforce the gender binary is really hard for people,” Barrera said.
Garcia has faced their own hardships throughout their coming out story, especially with being non-binary. Growing up in a socially conservative and wealthy place, being a middle-class, non-binary person of color made much of their high school experience difficult. They are thankful that they never came out to their family as non-binary due to their old-fashioned parents, who have “a very strict idea of what gender is.” As Garcia matured, they realized that coming out wasn’t always necessary:
“When I was figuring out my gender identity, I was like, ‘I’m going to keep this on lock for like three years, and then maybe I’ll come out to some people. I don’t know. I’ll come out when I feel like coming out.’ And I feel like that’s the attitude you gotta have. I definitely felt a lot of pressure to come out to be representation for people who were in the closet, but now I’m just like, at the end of the day, the only person you have is yourself … If being in the closet is comfortable, then be there,” they said.
Where Garcia and Kari’s coming out stories collide is in their improved experiences upon arriving at Wellesley. Wellesley has been Garcia’s “getting-better moment,” as they have been able to have so many things they didn’t have at home, such as a multitude of queer friends, a girlfriend and being surrounded by people who (mostly) use their correct pronouns. As for Kari, she usually assumes that a new person she meets at Wellesley is queer, and is surprised whenever that person in question is straight. She enjoys the liberating feeling of being at a school where the majority of students are part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Despite the numerous challenges Barrera has experienced being openly transgender, they still found a strong sense of community within transgender groups on campus, particularly Siblings. They think the biggest contributor to their ability to heal and to come to terms with who they were was “community and being in a space where you’re removing a lot of forms of structural violence and microaggressions … Also seeing people who are happy and living their true lives. It [makes you think], ‘Oh, I can do that too.’”