“Caution: This article may corrupt you. (And make you laugh)”

Michelle Katzman2We are very excited to welcome Guest Contributor, Michelle Katzman!

I want to take some time to thank my fellow writers who have posted articles on behalf of Refuge and OneEastern. Your words are encouraging and remind me that I was not alone in any of my experiences at Eastern. There were many times I was singled out on campus, but somehow I never felt alone. I always knew which friends, groups, and professors I could turn to.

Even though I graduated in 2010, I still return to Eastern from time to time. During one of my most recent visits, I attended Refuge. This was 3 years after graduating and I knew very few people on campus at this point. To my surprise, many of the group members greeted me by name and many had already heard of my story.

I grew up in an area where being gay was not okay. I had many friends in high school that were gay but confided in only a couple people. My family was not open-minded towards alternative lifestyles. I went to a church where homosexuality was considered a sin. I was raised in a belief system where I was taught to be homophobic towards my friends, my family and myself. I could provide some examples of how homophobic I was at the time, but as I look back I am ashamed of some of the things I did and said.

As freshman year began at Eastern, believe me when I say I had no intention of being an out gay Christian. In fact, I didn’t even know such a thing existed. I still questioned a lot about who I was as a person at that point in life, let alone my sexual orientation. Eastern opened my eyes and mind to new theologies and beliefs. I started to struggle with my own beliefs at this point. I didn’t know how to reconcile my beliefs with my questioning orientation. I still remember writing a paper for Professor Coleman titled, “Homosexuality is a sin.” It was in that paper I first wrote about being gay and not being able to be my true self because of my beliefs. Professor Coleman gave me some great feedback about different books to check out and the viewpoints that Tony and Peggy Campolo publicly discuss. At that point, only my closest friends knew I was gay, and I was not by any means living a gay lifestyle.

By sophomore year, I had explored many of the theologies that reconcile being gay and Christian. I had a few opportunities to meet the Campolos as well. I started coming out to more friends on campus. This is when I first encountered a homophobic person, my roommate. I moved out halfway through the year and didn’t stay in contact with her, besides her, “I’m still praying your gay away” email. Yes, I still get those on occasion. I then moved in with an awesome roommate who was okay with my orientation as long as I didn’t hit on her. She showed her true friendship one night when I got a call from a very upset family member of mine. This family member was very homophobic and found out through a string of hearsay that I was gay. She was quite upset with me. She thought I was a horrible person. She told me that I was no longer allowed to babysit her kids. She was a very protective parent and I was one of the few people that she trusted with her kids. One of her kids is my godson. With one rumor, she took that all away from me and left me with no dignity. She threatened to tell the rest of my family if I didn’t. I made arrangements to be home that weekend and tell them so she would not.

Coming out was not hard for me. I knew most of my family already had a clue; it was just unspoken. My mom loved and accepted me. My dad could care less about my orientation. My sister and brother were both very accepting; they are both part of the world where being different is normal. Most of my other family members either accepted me or didn’t comment. Only the one I mentioned before went off the deep end.

Junior year, I was accepting of who I was. I was an active participant in Refuge (We were just starting to seek club status back then). I was open to sharing about being a gay Christian. With some encouragement from Professor Morgan, I went from writing homophobic papers to speaking publicly about being gay and the hate crimes associated with a gay sexual orientation. These were some of my proudest moments. Rarely did I encounter homophobic slurs on campus.

Summer before Senior year- Let the battles begin! -This is where it all got messy! I worked the Summer Sodexo program and was moving into Doane. I was really worried about roommate matches because students got no choice in the matter. Luckily, I was paired with a friend who was completely open-minded about sexual orientation. (Interestingly, I found out later she was ASKED ahead of time if she was okay with me as a roommate before we were assigned, which is NOT common practice.) This is the summer I also started dating someone on campus. This caused some unexpected drama. I made a new best friend that summer. We worked together, we hung out with the same group of friends, and when our friends weren’t around, we hung out together. Typical of most friendships, when your peer group isn’t around, you hang out with the friend you get along best with, right? As our friendship grew, we were hanging out almost every evening after work and following your typical female to female friend rules. As our feelings for each other grew, so did “Eastern’s Rules.” At the time, and probably to this day, Eastern didn’t have rules in the handbook for gay couples. Some RAs would close my room door while we were both in the room without thinking anything of it. Others would stop by to check on us often. I even got the pleasure of having my relationship announced to the RD. It was so nice of him to invite us to his office to talk about our relationship. (I’m sure he does this for every couple in his building!) By the end of summer we were the only couple with the door WIDE open, ALL lights on, 4 feet on the floor, NO blankets and any other rules that were just made up at the time. Oh yes and our favorite: Girl’s Movie Night with the friends. Sadly, if we were hanging out in a friend’s room and the movie was going beyond “visitation hours,” one of us had to leave. There was no room in the rules for gay couples who had friends outside of their relationship.

SENIOR YEAR-When we got our new dorms, we had to meet as a couple with each of our new RDs to discuss the “rules” once more. I wasn’t sure how often the rules changed, but why not have one or two more meetings just to be sure we heard them all. Within the first week, an RA tried to report my girlfriend. They assumed she was going on my hall after visitation hours. Turns out she lived on that hall, not me. We knew then that RAs would be closely monitoring our relationship and thinking we would be troublemakers. It’s a good thing I didn’t have any friends on her hall because I probably couldn’t have visited them either. I say this because one time I was away for the weekend and my girlfriend was again reported for being with me after hours just because she was seen coming off my hall. To the RD’s surprise, she had been visiting a friend on the hall adjacent mine while I was away. More reports and allegations happened throughout the year but keeping a good reputation with the RD did help. Also keeping a good reputation with the Dean of Students helps as well. He continues to be a Hawk when it comes to events on his campus.

Refuge also became an official club on campus that year! It passed through the student government. I can now admit that I joined Student Government halfway through the year mostly due to the pressing issue of Refuge. I wanted to sway the votes and give an internal voice for Refuge.

Overall, I’m glad with my decision to go to Eastern. It’s not a bad school, even though they have some bad practices and some narrow minded views on justice. They are one of the more open schools when it comes to letting gay students attend, but do not have the best practices for how to treat gay students. It has been said that within the new Resident Assistant program they now discuss gay students living on campus; however, they have gone one step further and have used myself and my girlfriend as an example without our permission. If they wanted to use me as an example, they should have just asked. I would have gladly provided a picture of myself with a warning sign saying, “CAUTION: This person may corrupt students.” This way all the new RAs would know who to look out for.

For anyone who struggles with their identity in anyway, I do not mean for this piece to scare you; this is my personal experience. There are many resources both locally and globally to turn to, and I encourage you to take advantage of them. I would not be where I am today without Eastern, in terms of the bad and good experiences. I am glad to have lived an open, out and honest life while I was on campus. I have shared my story with many people over the years and have received much praise and thanks for the courage it took to be out on campus. Being an out gay Christian was never my intention, but I am thankful to have an opportunity to share my experiences.

Many Thanks,
Michelle Katzman
Class of 2010

If you or someone you know in the Eastern community would like to be a guest contributor, please contact me at angelique@oneeastern.com.

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