Coming out: Students discuss transition to college, LGBT community


Photo Illustration: Tomhas Huhnke/Iowa State Daily

With a new school year ahead, various transitions and the struggles of staying authentic, starting a year at college and identifying as part of the LGBTQA community is can be incredibly difficult.

Danielle Ferguson

His hands shook uncontrollably.

His breathing was heavy.

He was trying to not get emotionally wound up, but he couldn’t help himself.

Adam Guenther, fifth year senior in animal science at Iowa State, was driving back to Ames from Omaha, Neb., knowing he was going to tell his mother he was gay.

“Oh, yeah, I was nervous,” Guenther said.

A drive that would normally take him two hours took him four because he was shaking so much.

“I had to keep stopping,” Guenther said.

Guenther was driving back from his internship in Omaha last summer. He was about to meet up with his mom to move into his Frederiksen Court apartment.

“She was checking into our hotel when I called her letting her know I was in Ames,” Guenther said of that August 2013 day. “She said to come meet her there and we would go to Frederiksen to pick up the keys and pulled her alongside and just told her. That’s how it went.”

Her reaction, he said, was one of surprise. He later called his twin brother Tyler, who also reacted a bit surprised.

“They were very accepting,” Guenther said. “They understood. They were proud that I was being open and honest about who I was as a person. That was great.”

Coming to terms with the fact that he was gay wasn’t an instantaneous moment, Guenther said. Throughout middle school and high school, he said he could feel something different about himself. He still wasn’t sure if he was gay or not when he first came to Iowa State in 2010.

“It was probably around late sophomore year or early junior year that I knew that I was probably going to come out soon, but I wasn’t coming to terms with it,” Guenther said.

By the time fall 2013 rolled around, Guenther accepted his identity and began investigating services offered at Iowa State.

He went to the student counseling center and then met with Brad Freihoefer, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Student Services.

The services, Guenther said, made coming out a bit easier for him.

“It ended up being very inclusive and having a lot of resources and everyone’s been really supportive,” Guenther said.

Freihoefer knows that both coming out and discovering one’s gender identity are big steps. That’s why he said LGBTSS tries to be open to as many students as possible.

The LGBTSS provides a safe place for any person at Iowa State to explore aspects of his or her sexuality or gender identity, Freihoefer said.

“Everyone does gender differently,” he said.

Freihoefer uses a swimming pool analogy to describe coming out. Different people prefer different depths at which to jump in.

Guenther’s mother was happy he decided to jump in and be open with her, but he said she was also concerned for his safety.

“They did have concerns about how people will perceive me now in college and society and my safety, which are completely valid reasons,” Guenther said. “That’s why there’s always going to be problems with [the] LGBT community until those are addressed.”

There are many different aspects of the LGBT community, Freihoefer said, and there is more than one option for students and even faculty or staff to seek consultation.

Emma Molls, librarian and member of the LGBT Faculty and Staff Association, said coming out in college wasn’t as difficult as she thought and that multiple organizations on campus are beneficial.

“In fact, it was being in college that made coming out not difficult,” Molls said in an email response. “When I got to college, I met people who, to put it simply, were not me … This is why having multiple LGBTQA-plus organizations on this campus is so great — a reminder that our community is made up many identities, each as diverse as the individuals who claim them. I think all of this makes — for some — college a great time and place to come out.”

In addition to the LGBTSS, there is the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Ally Alliance, of which Guenther has taken over as president.

“Within the LGBT community, we’re very diverse in ourselves,” Guenther said. “We have gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender members, among all the other types of identities that fit in between, outside or around those four pillars of the LGBT community.”

The LGBTAA is an organization that features events such as Pride Week in April, Coming Out Week from Oct. 6 to 11 and the drag shows. Guenther hopes to keep the LGBTAA meetings educational and fun.

“Like many different minority [and] multicultural groups, there are hurdles and obstacles that students face,” Guenther said. “Having that support and that need to stay in college and know that you have other students like you really fosters those students to stay here at Iowa State and be successful students.”

Freihoefer said some students are nervous to come out because they might face discrimination.

“Students risk everything when they come in [to LGBT student services],” Freihoefer said.

Part of taking that risk, Guenther said, is first coming to terms with your own sexual orientation or gender identity. That process is different for every person, Freihoefer said. After coming to terms with it yourself, you can then begin to let others know more about yourself.

“If you can’t understand it, you won’t be able to convey it to other people,” Guenther said. “It took you a while to come to terms with how you perceive yourself in your own identity. They’re not necessarily going to always understand or accept you right away either. It’s a process for them to understand and adapt.”

Guenther encouraged students who are debating their sexual orientation or gender identity to use the resources available to them on campus.

“With books and the Internet, there really is no barrier to the information that you can get on getting the help you need to come to terms with your sexual orientation or your gender identity,” he said. “Coming to terms with it and letting everyone else know about it makes it open and acceptable. They can accept you more as your whole person and not just a fraction of it.”