I've been reading a lot lately on the recent suicide of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi and the rather horrible circumstances that brought him to that tipping point. It reminds me a lot of a similar experience that I had while in college of being outed by folks I thought I could trust and the pain and suffering I experienced. I understand and empathize with what Tyler must have felt when he found out just what had happened to him. Here is my story:
Back in 2005 I was working as computer lab tech and tutor with the peer mentor program at my university. I had been working there for nearly three years and I knew the program pretty well. I also allowed a bit of liberal use with the computers, in this case the peer mentors were allowed to use IM programs such as Yahoo IM. Also at that time I was out to my family, but I was not out to my friends and classmates. I felt it wasn't their business to know what I did outside of work, plus I tutored a lot of different people and I didn't want to introduce drama with anyone because they would have an issue with knowing I was gay.
I had some co-workers come to me because they had noticed that when they entered the room, there were folks that stopped talking to one another verbally and started using the IM programs exclusively. I had witnessed the same behavior as well so we were suspicious that they were using the IM programs to talk about us behind our backs. I brought these suspicions to my bosses and to IT and requested that I be allowed to investigate and see if they were talking about other folks. These were university computers and there was a policy stating that university computers were not to be used to spread gossip about other employees so that was the basis for why an investigation should be done. I got approval and so I installed a program that could not only decode IM logs, but could also turn IM logging on for any account, even if the user had disabled it.
I pulled the logs and went through every single persons account, and unfortunately it turned out that the suspicions were correct. Bosses, co-workers, and others were being talked about in a very unflattering way by some individuals in the program. The comments ranged from frustration and venting to just plain nasty about folks. As I read more, I discovered something else as well. There were a lot of discussions about me and about hearing that I was gay and who they were talking to about it. These folks were outing me to other students and even other staff members at the university.
I was completely and utterly shocked and sick as I read these things. These were people that I thought I could have trusted if I had come out to them, instead they were using hearsay and turning it into a weapon. It became harder and harder to read all of this as I found more and more of what was being said. I also felt complete and utter fear and panic and all I could think about was that I was in danger. Besides that seeing that reaction that they were having made me think that people would not accept me being gay, I also was afraid I would end up getting bashed. I had witnessed a near gay bashing earlier in the year, and I also worked alone at night and walked between my apartment and work. If someone wanted to take issue with me being gay and take it to a physical level, there would have been an easy opportunity to.
So what did I do after I did this initial investigating? I did what many college students would do when they feel like their world is completely and utterly screwed up. I called a friend, we went to the bar and I proceeded to get completely and utterly hammered. She brought me back to my apartment, where I continued to drink. At some point that evening I wrote out a (friends-locked) LiveJournal post.
I want [BF] here.
I wish he was here, I want to be held right now, and I want to be reassured that I am a good person. Lord knows that despite the fact that I have always tried to do the right thing, I stilll need someone to reassure me.
*cries quietly* I want my man here now
Thing is, I have no memory of actually writing said post, that is how out of it I was by then. However, that's how I truly felt, that with the way I was being treated that somehow it meant people thought I was bad for who I was. I would pass out and wake up a few hours later to a bunch of comments from folks on LJ telling me I was a good person. However, most of them had no clue why I even wrote that post.
Side Note: The lesson here is to never ever get drunk when you've had a very nasty shock or are feeling like an emotional wreck. I have vowed since then to never ever drink when I am at an extreme like this.
Luckily it was now Friday and I had no classes that day so I would spend the morning actually making hard copies of all the stuff in question to hand over to my bosses and to the IT department. I dropped everything off with them and then later had a discussion with said bosses about what I had found. They were also in shock and upset. It was also here that I knew what I had to do, I ended up coming out to them and explaining how upset I was at what I had found but also how much I felt that I was in danger by their actions. After that meeting, I then had to meet with one of the folks who had raised the original complaint to me to tell her what I had found. As you can expect, she was upset as well.
By the time I went home I was utterly numb. I know I went and got dinner that night, but I was such a wreck that I didn't even finish it, and I don't even remember the food having a taste. I spent most of the night curled up on the couch watching DVD's. I had no desire to interact with anyone, I just wanted to stay in my apartment and not deal with this. I felt that I had no real safe place except in my own apartment, and I did not know who I could trust anymore. I was just done, I did not want to go anywhere, do anything, or deal with anyone.
Somehow the next morning, I woke up and managed to crawl out of bed, go to work, and keep going despite it all. I think I subconsciously knew I had to pull myself together. I was going to graduate in a few months and I was in the middle of interviews with a prospective employer, and if I couldn't hold it together despite this utter stress on my life, I would be in a lot of trouble.
Ultimately my bosses took care of the situation as they needed to. I would find out a few weeks after all of this went down that some of the folks involved had created a fake account on a GLBT social networking site and had found a profile I had kept there. They had actually gone as far as to show it to people. So I guess they had actual proof I was gay, but I didn't know that at the time. However, why the hell did they feel they needed to create a fake account to find out who was gay in their area? That's something I can't answer and I digress.
So that is my story about my own experiences with facing being outed, especially by folks that I thought I could trust. In my next entry I'll give my thoughts about the whole Rutgers situation and what I am trying to understand about it, as viewed through the lens of my own experiences.