- 15 Sep 22
Leaving secondary school for college can be a scary enough time without feeling alone in your journey of self-discovery. But you don’t have to be isolated – there are societies and services on-campus to help.
For many young people across Ireland, college is the first toe-dip into adulthood. It is a moment in life that can be exciting, daunting and extremely confusing, in more or less equal measure. How do you live away from home? Cook a nice meal? Make new friends? Are you sure you’re straight?
Yes, it’s true: for a lot of young people it is a confusing and disorienting time. But for some students, there’s a lot more to learn than the correct temperatures for laundry!
“Starting college is an opportunity to discover new people, places, and experiences,” says Sinead Keane of BeLong To. “For some people, this fresh start can feel like the right time to come out as LGBTQ+.”
In an ideal world, that’s be perfectly straightforward. But it isn’t always, especially if a student’s home situation has been conservative and restrictive.
“Figuring out if you’re LGBTQ+ can be confusing,” Sinead adds. “Some people fancy people of the same gender, a different gender, or more than one gender. You may be discovering you don’t fit the gender assigned at birth. It’s ok to take time to figure out what feels right for you – you know yourself best.”
In a lot of cases, leaving a small town for college, and meeting an array of new and interesting people can lead to self-discovery. For people like me, this meant understanding that you don’t only have to be gay or straight – there’s more to it than meets the eye. This is where student services and societies come into play.
Qsoc is the LGBTQ+ society in Trinity College, Dublin – which has helped students Rachael and Tig to figure out their identities and sexualities.
“I first joined Qsoc in 2020 after coming to the realisation that I’m not cisgender, nor am I straight,” says Tig. “Stepping into the queer scene in college was daunting, but it was really amazing to not be stuck in those heteronormative places anymore. For the first time in my life, I felt free to explore who I am, without fear or trepidation. Qsoc was invaluable when I was discovering my sexuality and my gender identity – I was surrounded by other queer people for the first time in my life.”
“It’s really nice to talk to people who understand what you’re going through and who’ve had similar experiences,” adds Rachael. “I remember being nervous to join Qsoc because it was like admitting to myself that I was gay – but it was the best thing I could’ve done.
“I’ve always found Qsoc a very welcoming society, that’s why I ran for committee. This year I’m the chairperson of the society, and I want to make sure any first years now coming into Qsoc, whether they’re out or questioning, feel welcome and accepted.”
Societies like Qsoc exist in colleges all over Ireland, often with very active social media, so you can message them with questions, or check them out before attending. Alongside societies, another important element of queer life is seeing proper representation on campus. Seeing happy queer people around you can make the thought of coming out far less frightening.
Openly queer lecturer, Declan Doody, has taught numerous students from every path of life, and also acts as supervisor of the LGBTQ+ society.
“Working in an academic environment and with young people, I can see how much the community has grown and the reach it has,” says Declan. “College and LGBTQ+ societies are a space for those who feel othered. While it’s not perfect, it’s a space that’s very welcoming in its own way.”
Declan teaches on a relatively small campus, however, and has made a huge impact on the young people he has taught. From personal experience, having a lecturer like Declan can make all the difference in trying to figure out your identity.
“I do think because I’m more aware of who I am, in my identity as a queer person, students pick up on that,” Declan admits, “I’ve been privileged to teach some absolutely fantastic young queer people.”
Coming out is a decision, it’s not something you are required to do, by any means. It can also look different for every person. Moreover, it isn’t something which you should feel alone in.
Reach out to your college’s LGBTQ+ society, check out belongto.org, or reach out to your college counselling services.
Finding your identity – and (possibly) coming out – can be a vital first step into a happy life.
Read more of our student special in the new issue of Hot Press.
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