Coming out in an all-male school isn't the disaster you might expect.Sophia Luu

I came out as gay at the age of 13 on Facebook, the night before a school ski trip. Well, actually, I came out as bi – as many people do, being under the impression that feigning an interest in the female anatomy might somehow alleviate the shock to my friends that one of their number was batting for the other team. The responses I get when I tell peers at Cambridge my coming out story is one of disbelief: firstly because I actually had a concept of my sexuality at all at such an early age, and secondly because I could not possibly have picked a worse moment to announce my affinity for the eggplant emoji to the world – an all-boys' grammar school. In Northern Ireland.

It’s true, there were times at which I was faced with homophobia, and not always from students. At an interview for head boy, I suggested homophobic bullying was an issue I would like to address. Our Principal responded that this was infeasible, as they "didn’t want to promote certain orientations." The Vice-Principal and I exchanged a shocked glance. I’m still proud of my response to this day: “I didn’t realize we lived in Putin’s Russia!” Needless to say, I was not offered the position of Head or Deputy Head. Another time, our class was told flat out that same-sex marriage was just a vehicle for ‘Cultural Marxism’ – lacking the vocabulary and the courage to speak out against this particular teacher, I stayed silent.      

“Was I even gay enough for Cambridge?”

While there was always a certain amount of ribbing and jokes, I’m very happy to say that my school experience was largely an enjoyable one. I would even suggest that my coming out at such an early age helped alleviate any homophobic attitudes that might have persisted had my friends not been forced to confront the issue that early on – once I got to the stage where I was comfortable enough to chat about banal things like celebrity crushes, the idea of me being bullied for being gay seemed almost strange. The one person that I couldn’t escape, however, was myself.

All stereotypes aside, put a young, gay, hormonal teenager in an all-male school that focused so much on rugby that the gym received more funding than certain subjects (Latin), and that unfortunate young man is going to fall in love a lot, or at least think he has. At the tender age of 13, I fell for one of my friends, and was convinced that this was it, love had finally knocked on my door after just a decade of waiting, and that we would get married (when it was legal) have children (again, when it was legal), and live together forever (I’m pretty sure that one is legal in Northern Ireland, right?). Long story cut short, several unrequited love poems later – alas, the days before Crushbridge! – and I think it’s safe to say that I scarred him for life. Or at least most of Year 10, which at the time felt like life. It’s a testament to the kind of person he was (or perhaps, the quality of my chat) that when we eventually left sixth form, we were firm friends.

But these were mere speedbumps on my road to full on, out Queerdom. By the time I left school, my sexuality had become so blasé that I once found myself in a gay bar, with my (straight) best friend, employing the ‘have you met Ted?’ chat-up line from How I Met Your Mother. The real shock was, ironically, coming to Cambridge afterwards. I had become so used to being the only gay in the village that I had adopted that mantle and made it my own – as a way of dealing with both a lack of romantic options and navigating my identity in a heteronormative environment. The shock of being surrounded by people so much more confident, more outgoing, so much gayer than I, sent me for a spin. Was I even gay enough for Cambridge? I still, to this day, haven’t been to Glitterbomb or its predecessor, Kaleidoscope – and not just because CUSU LGBT+ tells me I shouldn’t.

At school I became accustomed to the heteronormativity of it all – I wasn’t one of those gays, I didn’t fly my rainbow flag wherever I went, I didn’t have a particularly bold fashion sense (unless you count the brief period that I took to wearing denim vests, but that’s another article). My own internalised homophobia became a tool for me to gain acceptance. I would stand up against homophobia when I saw it or heard it, but I didn’t feel the need for a gay community: Why did I need a separate community? Surely the whole point was integration, not segregation. It took coming to Cambridge and being confronted with people so amazing, so talented, and so, so gay, to make me realize: although I don’t really feel a connection with the LGBT+ community, there are people in Cambridge that really depend on it, and there’s nothing wrong with that. My experiences at school have undoubtedly made me who I am today, for better or for worse – but that doesn’t mean I can’t change