Iowa State community shares their stories on National Coming Out Day

National Coming Out Day is an annual holiday observed Oct. 11 to “celebrate coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer,” according to the Human Rights Campaign website. 

Madison Mason

National Coming Out Day is a staple day of celebration within the LGBTQIA+ community, and holds major importance for individuals who have come out, those in the process of coming out and those who are still in the closet.

At Iowa State, there is a queer community that takes pride in celebrating days like National Coming Out Day, and those at Iowa State who aren’t a part of the community have the opportunity on this day to hear people’s stories and gain a new perspective.

Here’s a few inside looks at people from Iowa State who are celebrating National Coming Out Day by sharing their stories.

Railene Snyder, a freshman in animal science, goes by she/her and they/them pronouns. Here is their story.

Snyder recalls being around 12 years old when they came out during eighth grade. They wanted to come out to their mother, who they weren’t living with at the time, and proceeded to do so over text.

“I just texted her saying that I was dating a girl,” Snyder said. “And she just responded back, ‘Oh I knew that already.’”

Snyder said later on their mother sent them a Hallmark card in the mail saying things like, “I’ll love you forever” and “It doesn’t matter who you are.” Snyder said after their coming out experience, they grew closer to their mother and stopped hiding who they were from her.

Snyder said around the same time they had come out, their partner at the time was also coming out. Snyder’s partner had a different experience and didn’t receive a positive reaction from coming out like Snyder did.

After coming out, Snyder said they had a freeing feeling, like they could be unapologetically themselves.

“It seems easier to just exist as a person,” Snyder said. “If I’m not scared of my identity, other people won’t be.”

Antonia McGill, a junior in women’s and gender studies and psychology, goes by she/her pronouns. Here is her story.

McGill said she has had the opportunity in her life to come out a couple times, after processing and exploring her queer identities. Throughout her life, she has come out as asexual, bisexual and pansexual, all of which McGill said have helped find out who she is.

McGill said her first identity was asexual, after exploring the part of her life where she had a lack of sexual feelings, unlike her friends and peers. When she found a term like asexual on Tumblr, she identified a lot with the term. However, she explained she received not only a bit of backlash from her family, but also the LGBTQIA+ community.

“Honestly, when people come out as ace, people usually don’t make a big deal out of it,” McGill said.

When it came to telling her mother about her first identity, McGill said it wasn’t really what she planned, revealing she was asexual during a conversation about her mental health, which turned into screaming match. The argument left a very confused mom and a lot of explaining for McGill to do, due to the lack of representation of asexual people in the media.

While McGill identified as a heteronormative asexual person, she came out as bisexual by changing all the icons on her social media to the bisexual pride flag just a year later. During this time she was showered with support, which was a bit bittersweet.

Previously, when she had singularly identified as asexual she had been seemingly shunned from the community, but when she identified with a more well-known sexual orientation, she was praised.

“People told me that I wasn’t gay or that I didn’t fit in the spectrum,” McGill said. “But when I came out as bisexual it was different. People kept saying to me, ‘I knew you weren’t straight.’”

However, bisexual wasn’t the last of the coming out series McGill had made for herself, because she came out as pansexual not long ago.

McGill said this was a different coming out story because it was a soft claim to her identity, and she only told the people closest to her, like her friends and therapist. She said she didn’t feel the need to announce her pansexual identity to everyone because it was just who she was and she finally found the label for it.

“My coming out was very casual, because I felt like I had been straight passing most of my life,” McGill said.

McGill puts a lot of importance on her multiple queer identities due to the lack of representation. Even now, she said she still struggles to find her queer identity through her gender. However, she said she is hopeful to have the success she had with sexuality to figure out the coming out story for her gender as well.

Carissa Buseman, a junior in psychology and child, adult and family services, goes by she/her pronouns. Here is her story.

Buseman said coming out wasn’t really a one-time thing; she feels like she comes out multiple times a day. The first time she came out was the summer after her freshman year of college.

Buseman went to a private Christian high school, was raised with Christian values and was a camp counselor for a church camp. She said she grew up with the idea homosexual feelings were wrong and sinful, and grappled with internal homophobia, as well as homophobia in her community. This aspect of her life was the hardest to deal with when she was coming to terms with her sexuality.

Buseman said she struggled with deciphering her feelings her whole life, but one moment stuck out to her the most.

“My ‘aha’ moment — which not everyone has an ‘aha’ moment, but I had an ‘aha’ moment — was Father’s Day when I was with my somewhat homophobic father,” Buseman said. “I went to church with him like a good little Christian daughter should. And the new worship pastor’s daughter was singing at church that Sunday, and I felt like I was sucker punched. I realized that I had feelings for her.”

Buseman realized she couldn’t shove these feelings away, because they weren’t going away — it wasn’t a phase. She said she then came to identify as bisexual.

During the summer after her freshman year of college, she came out to her friends over a video call and she said it was just as successful as she predicted. She said she was thankful for her core group of people who loved and accepted her, but the real trouble was coming out to her family, specifically her sisters and her mom.

Eventually Buseman came out to one of her sisters, who was open and accepting. Following that, she told a few family members here and there, but the big coming out was going to be telling her mother, because she knew she couldn’t hide this from someone she is so close to.

“I sat my mom down and watched ‘Love, Simon’ with her,” Buseman said. “Which is really basic, but the movie had such a powerful impact on me the first time I watched it.”

After the movie, Buseman said her mother was a bit uncomfortable, but she still came out to her mother while crying. Buseman recalled that being one of the hardest coming out experiences she had ever faced. She said her mother didn’t react the best due to lack of information her mother had about the LGBTQIA+ community.

She said her mother said something along the lines of, “Are you sure you’re not just sexually naive?”

After a lot of work, Buseman said her mother has made progress. While her mother still doesn’t understand every concept and still questions a lot of things, Buseman said her mother loves her regardless of her queer identity.

“I like to say that I’m 80 percent out, but it’s better than it was before when I wasn’t out at all,” Buseman said.

Trinity Dearborn, a senior in women’s and gender studies, goes by they/them and ze/zem pronouns. Here is their story.

Dearborn has struggled with figuring out their gender identity. While they consider their sexuality to be fluid, they found gender to be fluid, too.

Around seventh grade, Dearborn said they found their gender identity when learning about the term “agender” on Tumblr. Agender described their discomfort in identifying with any gender. Following accepting themself as agender, Dearborn said they wanted to tell everyone about their new revelation without really thinking there might be consequences due to not being accepted.

“The thing is, neither my dad nor I remember how I came out, or [have] any recollection that it happened,” Dearborn said. “We know that it happened in seventh grade, but that’s all that we know.”

After telling their father, Dearborn said they came out to a few friends at school, and then the whole school came to find out and reacted negatively. Dearborn said after that, they just ignored their gender identity for a few years but still had a few friends who respected their pronouns.

When they were 15 years old, Dearborn said they decided to leave high school and graduate early. Dearborn said they were forced to go to Iowa State due to their father working for the university, but said it ended up being a great decision because it introduced them to many opportunities.

One of those instances was when Dearborn met Brad Freihoefer, the director of the Center for LGBTQIA+ Student Success at Iowa State. Freihoefer had been the first openly gender nonconforming person Dearborn had ever met. They said they were excited they not only had the opportunity to meet someone who also used they/them pronouns, but also someone who used them in their professional setting.

Dearborn said they have had a lot of support within their chosen family and their queer community, but they still struggled with family on the subject of gender identity.

Dearborn described a setting of being out to dinner with their dad, two aunts and uncle. Their dad had gone to the restroom, and Dearborn said they decided that moment was the time to confront their family about their gender identity.

“I told them that I use they/them pronouns, and that it had been six years since I started using those pronouns, and I asked them to use them too,” Dearborn said.

Dearborn said their uncle asked what would happen if they didn’t use Dearborn’s pronouns. Dearborn told their uncle, “Then you don’t respect me,” to which their uncle said, “Then I don’t.”

After that Dearborn said they cried, and their family finished dinner in an awkward silence. Dearborn said this instance was one that made them lose respect for their family, and where they knew their biological family didn’t care about them.

Dearborn said they have a family of their own within the queer community at Iowa State, and is in their first relationship where their partner fully supports their identities.

“I used to be so nervous and anxious about my queer identities,” Dearborn said. “I think there was always this background idea that I could be attacked for who I am. But the idea of me being out, loud and visible, greatly outweighs that.”

Brad Freihoefer, director of the Center for LGBTQIA+ Student Success at Iowa State, goes by they/them pronouns. Here is their story.

Freihoefer is originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but mainly grew up in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Baraboo is where they said they grew an awareness of and were educated about sexuality.

Growing up with masculine, typical Midwest American expectations, Freihoefer said they were conditioned to a journey that they knew wasn’t theirs. Throughout elementary, middle and high school, they said they went through the motions, knowing there was something different about them from their peers. They were unsure of what, noting a lack of LGBTQIA+ visibility in their schooling.

When Freihoefer started college at the Minnesota State University, they said they started a different journey where they could explore different aspects of life they had been questioning for a while. They said they met some incredible people and heard other people’s coming out stories.

When Freihoefer visited the LGBTQIA+ center at Minnesota State University, they said their eyes were opened after finding a book about bisexuality and identifying with a lot of the identity.

“I think this is me,” Freihoefer said. “It echoes a lot of my past experiences and how I feel. It was my coming out to myself moment.”

Freihoefer said the queer community on campus became an open and accepting space that proved to be a positive in Freihoefer’s life. They got to speak to people and have open and honest conversations that helped them figure out who they were.

During this time, Freihoefer said they started dating a woman, simultaneously growing more confident in their identity and into who they wanted to be. Freihoefer then decided to come out a bit further and speak to their partner about their identity.

They said it didn’t go as well as expected.

“Two sentences later, our relationship was over,” Freihoefer said. “It was filled with horrible language and epithets, and I felt a lot of shame because I had never seen that side of this partner before.”

Freihoefer said they remember hurting the night following the breakup and receiving a phone call from their mother. They said their mother knew something was up, and Freihoefer made the decision to come out to their mother right then too.

Freihoefer said they felt they had nothing else to lose.

In response, Freihoefer said their mother was confused and maybe didn’t say all the right things, but in the end told them that she would love them no matter what.

Around a year later, Freihoefer met a partner at a local queer coffee shop willing to talk about consent and sexual identity, and helped them open more doors in their life.

With boosted confidence in their identity, Freihoefer said they began to identify with the term pansexual.

Freihoefer said they have seen growth in their family regarding their queer identity.

“I was exiting a relationship and my dad said something like, ‘this dating women thing hasn’t gone so well, have you tried dating men?’” Freihoefer said. “And we laughed.” 

Freihoefer said they believe that comment opened a door between them and their family, where their family could show they didn’t care who they dated, but that they were with a partner that they deserved.

Currently, Freihoefer is the director of the Center for LGBTQIA+ Student Success at Iowa State, where they can ensure a safe place for those exploring the world and themselves.

“I think about how I can be prideful everyday when I go to work, when I get up,” Freihoefer said, “I may hear some hurtful things today, but how do I continue to be bravely, boldly myself in all spaces and relationships?”