STORY: August 2012 - September 8, 2013—For a lot of closeted gay men, the Internet, social media, and smartphone apps offer an excellent opportunity to explore sexuality in a space where your identity remains hidden. Unfortunately, the Internet also allows vulnerable populations to be ridiculed, harassed, and “outed.” Stories of 13-year-olds hanging themselves after being bullied online have become a common trend.
During my middle school and high school years, I was relentlessly bullied both physically and online for being perceived as gay. When I started my freshman year at Arizona State University in 2012, I was still closeted and pledged Kappa Sigma (a social fraternity) to hide my true identity and start fresh. The K Sig brothers loved me and gave me an early bid after their first pledge event. I was nominated pledge class president and adopted my new life as a straight “frat star” within my first month of freshman year.
I downloaded Grindr for the first time and started experimenting with guys in between classes and pledge meetings. I never showed my face in fear of a fraternity brother finding out that I was gay. After browsing around, I met someone named John who lived in the same dorm as I did. We hit it off immediately and started going to the gym together, messing around, or exploring the campus when we couldn’t escape our roommates. Our relationship quickly developed and I found myself practically living in his dorm room. It was the perfect scenario because I could call him my gym buddy and no one would think that we were secretly in love. Our relationship continued to develop into the beginning of our sophomore year.
In early September during my sophomore year, I started receiving strange texts from a past hookup named Marcus who was criticizing my boyfriend and demanding that I leave John because he missed me. I was forced to block this person and thought nothing of it.
On September 11, 2013, I was heading to class when I received aggressive text messages from fraternity brothers and acquaintances demanding to know if I was gay. To my horror, a friend sent me a screenshot (pictured left) from a popular Twitter account called ASU Crushes stating: “I miss making Calvin Wilkins ass hole bleed.”
I remember sitting in the middle of the student union building holding back tears while I frantically tried to get the Twitter post flagged or deleted. Instead of crying, I knew I had to do something proactive to cope with my trauma, so I contacted the ASU LGBTQ resource department which referred me to the on-campus chapter of an organization called GLSEN. I set up a meeting with the volunteer coordinator to discuss my experience and seek help.
Meanwhile, my relationship with my family became tense, and friends and fraternity began to avoid me. Rumors spread among the Kappa Sigma brothers and our president openly stated they didn’t want a sissy fag representing Kappa Sigma. A few friends distanced themselves from me and stopped inviting me to their parties, while my parents nervously lectured me on the dangers of HIV and begged me to move back home.
Fortunately, being outed brought me closer to my best friend, Marissa, who came out to me as a lesbian shortly after my experience. She helped me cope with my social anxiety and we both started to learn what it was like to live an openly gay life. Over time, many of my pledge mates reached out to me and asked me to come back to Kappa Sigma and even bring my boyfriend to our annual social. In the end, I decided that I was not going to renew my membership with K Sig and started investing more time in volunteering and mingling with the LGBTQ+ community in downtown Phoenix.
I never talked to Marcus after the incident, but I know he ended up graduating ASU last year with a degree in finance and lives in Memphis now. Marcus was a member of the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity and was severely closeted with his friends and family. I sometimes wonder if he has gained the courage to come to terms with his own sexuality, or, maybe he is still hooking up with boys in the back of his car because he doesn’t want to get caught. Either way, I wish him well.
With the help of GLSEN, I was able to learn to love myself and accept my sexuality. Eventually, the people who really mattered in my life came back to me, including a lot of my frat brothers. As for those who continued to shun me, well, I came to realize that they just didn’t matter. Being my true self did. While being outed, especially online, was arguably the worst thing that could have happened to me, I believe it was the best thing for my personal growth and mental strength.
Because of my experience and GLSEN’s help, I changed my major to nonprofit leadership and management and decided to give back to the LGBTQ+ youth of Phoenix by joining GLSEN’s fundraising/event planning committee. It is my goal to make sure LGBTQ+ kids never have to feel the same trauma that I experienced and educate all young people about the consequences of outing someone or cyber bullying. In my case, a previous hookup got jealous and put my sexuality on public display.
I’m curious to know if anyone else here has experienced something similar. Feel free to share.