When I first arrived at Hatfield, my identity wasn’t solidly formed. I had only come out as gay a few months before, I still had family members who said, ‘it’s just a phase’ and since I only told my friends in the last term of school, I didn’t have time to explore who I was once I was truthful to myself and others about my sexuality.
Before I came out, I always thought that my sexuality wouldn’t change my identity nor who I was as a person; I mean, why it should? But it most certainly does for a lot of people. Not only because those who you love can express some discomfort or even displeasure in the ‘new you’, but also because you will most likely start being around different people who see a perspective on their life and community that only those who are LGBTQ+ will be able to see.
It is because of this that Durham, and therefore Hatfield, had a lot to do with shaping how I identified, how I expressed myself, and who I was as a person. Having chosen Durham as my top choice whilst still very much in the closet, I started having concerns as I did my research in the summer. The LGBTQ+ community looked small, and although England is fortunately relatively progressive on LGBTQ+ issues, Durham seemed like a pocket of the UK where time had stood still on these matters. Things were also not helped when I watched the movie ‘Pride!’ that summer and one character had run away from his home because of constant abuse there from his community; his home – Durham.
But I wasn’t going to let that impact my education, especially since the information was on the basis of third party sources. Instead, I think I adopted the approach that I would go there, but I would also be open minded that if my presumptions were true, I would talk to the careers office about switching university.
October came around and I arrived in Durham. The first person who deduced that I was LGBTQ+ was fine about it, in fact, she was even an avid fan of a show called RuPaul’s Drag Race – although I didn’t know about this show at the time, I most certainly do now. As more people found out (just by me subtly – and sometimes not so subtly – dropping it into conversation), I gained comfort in the knowledge that no one would be outwardly opposed to my identity and on the contrary, most either treated is as normal or were outwardly supportive. The only problem I found was that although many were fine with it, no one identified themselves as something other than a heterosexual cis-gender. This wasn’t a massive problem at the time, but as Fresher’s week passed and term began I knew maybe two or three LGBTQ+ identifying people in college. Whether I realised it or not, this brought about some feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Hatfield’s LGBTQ community was small and I didn’t feel engaged with it, this led to me finding it difficult to integrate with the wider university LGBTQ+ community. I was put off going to university LGBTQ events as I had no one in Hatfield’s community that I felt comfortable going with, and none of my friends at the time wanted to risk a dud night out when they had another night out planned they knew many people would be going to.
So still unacquainted with Durham’s LGBTQ+ community, I was rallying my frustrations and issues facing the community with my friends and corridor mates. As I said previously, this is hard to do if they aren’t part of the LGBTQ+ community themselves and as weeks went on, not only did I find they couldn’t empathise with these issues, but they didn’t care about them. I found out that those who I considered close harboured homophobic, transphobic, and general LGBTQ+-phobic sentiments. At the time, I didn’t know too many people, and those who felt this way towards the LGBTQ+ community seemed like a pretty big part of my Durham life. Realising how they felt, I finally grasped the extent of my separation from a wider LGBTQ+ community and the loneliness I felt from it. This then pushed me to a place where I considered leaving Durham.
That moment was a breaking point for me. I can’t quite remember what changed for me not to leave the university, but it was probably a mixture of things: One thing could have been that two of my corridor mates joined me on an LGBTQ+ night, they also got me onto Tinder that night, and although the original intention was for hook ups, I was able to see Durham had a much wider LGBTQ+ network and one that I quickly engaged with as I was effortlessly linked with other LGBTQ+ people. Another turning point might have been that I surprised myself with how easy it was to detach myself from those who had prejudicial views, making me realise they were very much a minority in Hatfield and one I didn’t have to be around if I didn’t want to be. And another change could be that several people came out to me who weren’t already out, allowing me to realise I wasn’t so alone.
When I visited my school-mates at other university campuses, Durham’s LGBTQ community felt small, but by that point, I had come to know the people within Durham’s LGBTQ+ community were friendly, supportive and above all, inclusive.
There have obviously been bumps along the way; I have met ‘the guy who needed to prove his heterosexuality by degrading gay people’, I have met ‘the guy who became overly aggressive when he realised I was hitting on him’, and of course, I have met countless guys who say ‘That’s so gay’. But for every ‘guy’ like that I meet, there are countless groups of people – in Hatfield and Durham – ready to step up for me and the community and not let them deter us from being who we want to be.
The first two terms passed and I was far more comfortable in my own skin. I no longer wore jeans so baggy they could fit another person in, nor did I feel half as shy in conversation as I did when without a drink in Fresher’s week. In third term the position of college LGBTQ rep opened up and I took it. In that position, I worked with one of the happiest and uplifting people I know and liked to think I did make a difference in the role (Hatfield became the second-best LGBTQ community throughout all the colleges for its campaigning, outreach and student support, the college that beat us was St Aidan’s, but St Aidan’s is also known as the Rainbow College so some battles are unwinnable).
Now entering third year I am sadly no longer LGBTQ rep for Hatfield, but hope that I can still help anyone within that community entering Hatfield’s gates (or any college gates for that matter).
Durham’s LGBTQ+ landscape is changing; in my second year, records were smashed for participation in university LGBTQ+ events, and with ever more representation within the Student’s Union, the LGBTQ+ community is being heard. If you ever feel like you need anything as an LGBTQ+ identifying student, then there are the Hatfield LGBTQ reps, the Durham LGBTQ association who also run welfare hours and there is even me – all of us waiting and wanting to meet and help anyone who are part of the LGBTQ community.
And if I may, as a shameless plug, if you are joining us in October, as someone identifying as LGBTQ+ or as an ally, join our page, Hatfield Circle of Pride (facebook.com/hatfieldcircleofpride) and feel free to message us on it with any questions or queries!
Dominic Berry, 3rd Year Engineering