On coming out as queer at Cambridge

Illustration by Phoebe Flatau

Starting uni can feel daunting, especially if you are faced with the prospect of ‘coming out’ to new people, or even for the first time in an unknown environment. I certainly felt this as a fresher this time last year (and will probably continue to feel daunted by it with every social transition that comes). This is despite the fact that I have been ‘out’ to my friends at home for five years, and to my family for four.

I came from a friendship group at sixth form which was at least 60% queer, and a family which had always tried to be as open as they could and say the right things, despite it not necessarily coming naturally. The move to uni filled me with dread that the supportive bubble I’d been lucky enough to find myself in would suddenly be popped.

I think these fears were compounded by my reservations about Cambridge being a very traditional and conservative environment. I made the mistake of thinking that this applied to the political and social views of its students, a generalisation which I later found out could not have been less accurate.

Before even arriving at Cambridge, I remember awkwardly messaging my college mum to try to suss out the LGBT+ scene in Cam. When she told me that it was one of the gayest student cities to be in, I definitely didn’t believe her. But I think she might be right. On arriving, I found an overwhelming number of LGBT+ events and socials available. Their presence, along with the chats with my wonderful college mums, gave me the confidence to ‘come out’ to my first friend at Pembroke and it’s happened really naturally ever since.

For the first time, I now find myself in a positive and vibrant LGBT+ community that extends far beyond my immediate friends. While I’ve personally been comfortable with my identity as bisexual for a couple of years now, I don’t think I fully appreciated my identity in its entirety and I definitely didn’t explore my feelings fully until coming to university.

Over the past year I have been introduced to identities, debates and concepts I had never heard of; whilst my own identity as a queer woman, and more recently, my relationship with my girlfriend, has mostly been accepted without question. My greatest joy is being able to walk down King’s Parade and hold my girlfriend’s hand without worry – something which I can’t really say about my hometown. Even the instances of bi-erasure and the fetishization of same-sex female relationships that I’ve experienced have been minimal compared to the amount of support and solidarity I’ve felt here.

Whilst this experience will vary from person to person, and I can by no means speak for anyone but myself, my own experience of being LGBT+ in Cambridge has been wonderful. However, it’s important to highlight the wealth of support and resources available if you find that this isn’t always the case for you - the College and CUSU LGBT+ and welfare teams will always be more than happy to provide solidarity, support and signposting.

If you’re a fresher and feeling slightly tentative about putting yourself out there, I’d suggest going along to the fresher’s squash hosted by CUSU to meet some other people who may well be feeling the same. At this event I made some of the friendships that will see me through way beyond university and it made me feel slightly less alone (Sophie, Pembroke’s LGBT+ rep, and I would be happy to come along with you if you wanted a pal).

So, if you’re LGBT+ or questioning whether you might be, I can assure you that there is a place for you here. That goes for whether you want to wave a glitter-encrusted rainbow flag and shout from

the rooftops, whether you simply want to exist ‘in the closet’ for a while, or if like me, you feel you’re somewhere in between.