By Sakhile Vanqa
Well, we’ve all seen the coming-of-age movies where the students head off to college and become who they were ‘destined to become’. Each archetype from the jock to bookworm is projected on to the characters finding their spot in the college’s food chain. Watching all these movies as a kid gave others a reference—champions, if you will—for where they would fall when that day came. A champion I found they didn’t cast very often, or at least not very realistically, was the closet case. This is why coming out in college was arguably one of the hardest things in my life to do.
I was so used to having to look over my shoulder whenever I felt that someone may have had a hint of my orientation, that I didn’t really know how to be myself. I had no frame of reference. All I knew was that I wanted to finally feel comfortable around the people that mattered the most.
I had grown accustomed to wearing different masks depending on who I was around that it became so easy—I would discern their level of comfort, and from there figure out how I would have to carry myself. It’s something I had to do, coming from a nation where it is illegal for partners of the same gender to publicly display their affection for one another. I could never understand how Botswana could be that way when right across the border—South Africa, half an hour from the city I lived in—was one of the first ten countries to legalise same-sex marriage. You can see where my need to play ‘dress-up’ stemmed from.
My closest friends wherever I was knew about me, but it was something that was seldom discussed, and therefore not known by a lot of people. Being at Savannah College of Art and Design provided the perfect jumping off point, but I wasn’t entirely ready.
Whenever I was asked when I was going to get a girlfriend, my first reaction would be to chuckle and change the subject. All of the hiding began doing my head in!
Coming to CCAD meant that I had to go through introducing myself all over again, and begin determining who I could tell and who I had to be careful with. It was a process I had come to resent. I remember sitting outside The Litterbox at CCAD (see my last blog post for reference) with a friend in the summer of 2013 and telling her that “I was done.” I was done with changing the conversation every time I was asked when I was getting a girlfriend. Done with denying myself happiness.
Generally, people at CCAD have a very liberal stance on who you want to be as long as it’s constructive. I began to tell one person at a time and knew that word of mouth would definitely kick in at some point, so I had to brace myself for possible loss of friends.
It was a gradual process, and I looked to my friends for the support I needed when I was no longer feeling too excited about the whole “be who you are” lifestyle change. I was asked to work with a professor on an ItGetsBetter.org video for the Columbus Division of Police, which we worked on for months before finally premiering in June for Pride month. ItGetsBetter is an international nonprofit organisation that youth members of the LGBTQ community can use as a resource to come to terms with their sexuality. The police men and women were the inspiration that gave me my final push. I even invited my boyfriend I was seeing at the time to the premier. He was happy we could hold hands in public.
I went to the Pride festival in June after coming out and, although I had been to a couple of pride parades in Johannesburg and Savannah, I started to feel more comfortable with a part of myself I had been denying. I never knew what it meant to be a part of the LGBTQ community. I never knew what it was like to be gay. Apparently, Columbus is home to the second largest LGBTQ community in the United States, after San Francisco—duh—and I was now a part of it.
After seeing how people treated the LGBTQ community and experiencing the strong sense of community they have, along with an affinity for bright neon underwear, I’m going to say what I said to a professor after we shot video footage of the parade: “If these are the people I’m going to be affiliated with, then I don’t mind.”
Sakhile Vanqa is a junior majoring in Cinematic Arts who enjoys humor, cycling, and aspires to shoot for National Geographic.
The Life at CCAD blog brings prospective students and their families into ongoing conversation with CCAD students, admissions counselors, and financial aid staff—including occasional visits from other members of the CCAD family.