Coming out as a FIRST Volunteer

I have been involved with FIRST for ten years now. My first brush with it was at a summer camp held by an FIRST LEGO League team – my mother had to make me go, and I’m glad she did. After ‘aging out’ of FLL, I joined a FIRST Tech Challenge team and continued with the FTC program until I graduated, as well as staying involved as an active volunteer with FLL. FIRST has changed my life, given me experiences I would have never had the opportunity for otherwise, and given me an amazing community that I’m proud to be a part of.

My last couple years in high school I began to struggle with my gender identity. I can’t say that that was the beginning of my questioning, but that’s when I really began to have to accept things about myself and figure out words to put to my experiences. As I slowly started to come to terms with being transgender, I also slowly began to feel more alienated in a lot of spaces . I wrestled with the idea of ostracised if I came out, and of losing communities that meant a lot to me- namely the FIRST community.

I didn’t really feel as if I felt a part of anything outside of FIRST. By the time I was ready to come out, I had graduated high school and was promoted to a key volunteer role in the same state I grew up in, and also served at the Super Regional and World Championship levels. And I was terrified to tell anyone the truth. I was part of enough circles and relatively tight communities that I knew I would be facing a lot of scrutiny, and the idea of being harshly judged in places that meant so much to me was a heavy prospect. When I finally came out to my parents, I told them that they could tell anyone else they wanted, as long as they weren’t people in FIRST circles. It was a very difficult time in my life.

Looking back now, I wish I had come out sooner, because the support and acceptance I have found in my FIRST community has been more than I ever expected. Reactions and adjustments from mentors and fellow volunteers have varied, but overall the positive reception has been wonderful. FIRST headquarters have worked with me to make sure my volunteer registration account was correct, and has been very thoughtful with housing accommodations for me as a transgender individual as I took a larger role in the FIRST volunteer world. One reason that I feel as if what LGBTQ+ of FIRST is doing is so important is because I know that coming out would have been easier if I had seen other transgender people- or even gay, lesbian or bisexual people- being visibly accepted in FIRST spaces and known that I had one less thing to fear. I now know many, and I am thankful for that.

FIRST as an organization encourages diversity and acceptance, and I am glad that in the last few years a push has been made to make sure that the LGBT community is included in that. Being an LGBT adolescent is difficult, and it is my sincere hope that the FIRST community is a haven for more of these young people than it is an additional stressor. For anyone who is wrestling with similar circumstances as I did, I hope you are able to make that step soon. Whether you are a student, a volunteer or a mentor, there are people behind you and people next to you who want you to be able to live your most genuine life.

 

This was written by a contributor to LGBTQ+ of FIRST who would prefer not to be named.

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Pros and Cons of Being Open With Your Sexuality

The notion of “coming out” is one that can be intimidating to a lot of people. Formally telling the people in your life about your sexuality seems a daunting task. This, among other reasons, is why I personally choose to be extremely open about my sexuality, with people in my regular life and on my robotics team. I openly discuss/mention my sexuality with people in my life and on my team, but I don’t make a point of specifically coming out. I am unapologetically bisexual.

 

But it wasn’t always that way. In order to live this way, being able to feel comfortable and secure is absolutely essential. When everyone around you knows that you’re bi (or any other orientation/identity), you will face some judgement and questions. You cannot let those things put doubt in your mind, you know who you are better than anyone else does. Reaching this point of stability in your identity can take a long time. For me it took several months, but for some people it could take years. That is okay. Once you reach this point, you may make the choice to be extremely open with your identity, or you may wish to be more private or reserved. The decision of how open to be with your sexuality/identity is entirely yours. But I’d like to share some pros and cons of being as open as I am and how they affected my decision to be who I am so publicly.

 

Pros

 

  • Less confusion

 

      • This is not to say that everyone will understand your identity, but there will be significantly less confusion as to how you identify. Everyone on my team may not understand bisexuality or what it means to me, but they do understand that I am bisexual and open to discuss the topic with anyone.

 

  • Sense of freedom

 

      • For me, coming out to people always created this type of weight on my chest, and for every person I came out to individually, only a small amount of this weight was lifted. Nowadays, I rarely feel this weight at all. There isn’t a weight on my chest because I don’t pressure myself to formally come out to every single person on my team. I don’t have to watch what I say to avoid outing myself

 

  • Spotting toxic people

 

    • Perhaps the biggest advantage to me of my openness, is the ability to identify people who are not going to be supportive of me. I’ve learned from personal experience that nothing is worse than coming out to a long-time friend to have them treat you poorly or start to distance themselves from you. One way I’ve been able to avoid this sort of drama and heartbreak is by being open and upfront about my sexuality. It gives others the chance to never become my friend if my sexuality makes them so uncomfortable. For me, this works, it might not work for everyone. Personally, if someone doesn’t want to be my friend because they know I’m bi, then so be it – I will be better off without those people in my life.

Cons

 

  • Others will out you

 

      • For me, this wasn’t a very big issue, but part of making this decision meant that, yes, people would know I was bi, sometimes without me ever mentioning it to them. However, this was still something I had to consider. When you don’t treat your sexuality as a secret, others won’t treat it as such either. You have to be okay with this because ultimately, it is going to happen in some capacity.

 

  • Keeping it from specific people

 

      • When you become incredibly open with your sexuality, you learn not to think twice about mentioning it, referencing it, and making jokes about it. This can be tough to switch off for certain people/atmospheres. For example, I’m extremely open on my team and  with other friends, but as of right now, I haven’t come out to my parents as bisexual. Oftentimes I have to catch myself when I’m around my family, to keep me from outing myself to them with a lousy pun. The other concern, much like with the previous con, is that someone will accidentally out me to my parents. For me, this wouldn’t be a dangerous situation, but an awkward one. Being even slightly selective with your openness (around family or a certain selection of people) can be difficult when everyone else in your life knows both about your sexuality and how open you are with it

 

  • General Bigotry

 

    • As I’m sure you could guess, when you choose not to hide your sexuality, you also put a target on your back for discrimination. Unfortunately, even though we have made great progress towards acceptance, bigotry still exists and can be very prevalent in some areas. You may experience discrimination or mistreatment in varying degrees if you decide to be very public with your sexuality. This may or may not be something you think you can handle. It can take a toll on some people more than it might for others.

How I Made My Decision

    Here I listed a few of the major pros and cons I considered when I decided I wanted to be extremely open. These can differ from person to person and their impact and importance can vary as well.Deciding whether you want to be more reserved or extremely open with your sexuality/identity is entirely up to you. You have to be comfortable in your own skin and be sure of who you are. You also have to evaluate the safety of being open about your sexuality in your current situation. It also has to be something you want, it simply isn’t for anyone. But for me, it has worked out very well and made me quite happy. Hopefully you find what’s comfortable for you and it makes you happy.

-Hailee 1747

How do you know you’re ready to come out?

FIRST and foremost, coming out is entirely up to you. Coming out doesn’t make you more LGBTQ+. If you are closeted, you are not lying to anyone. You don’t owe the details of your sexuality or gender or sex to anyone.

So, how you do know if you should come out? First, you should make sure coming out is safe for you. Will you be kicked out of home? Will you be in physical or psychological danger? If so, you have to weigh the pros and cons of coming out. Is the joy of finally being free worth the possible harm? If you’re having trouble, try looking at a physical representation of the pros and cons through a t chart. Mine looked a little like this:

Screen Shot 2017-05-29 at 4.09.48 PM.png

If your chart as an equal amount of pros and cons, you can assign numbers for how likely each pro or con is to happen. Pros are positive numbers 1 to 5 and cons are negative numbers -1 to -5. Something like “I wouldn’t feel like I was hiding something” would be (in my situation) a +5 but a “My parents might be mad at me” (in my situation) would be a -4. If you add up your list and end with a net positive, then you should consider coming out. If you end up with a net negative, you should further consider the safety of coming out. Make sure to also take the value of each situation into account. How much do you care about your parents being mad at you? Could you handle the negatives? Even if you end in a net positive, make sure to think about whether or not you could handle the negative outcomes.

Of course, you don’t have to come out to everyone at once, but remember, the more people who know, the more likely the information is to spread. If you aren’t completely out, make sure you are only coming out to trustworthy people who will not “out” you to others.

Finally, no matter if you end with a positive or negative number, make sure you make a plan for the worst case scenario. If you are kicked out, do you have a place to stay? If you are forced into therapy, do you have the help of a reputable psychologist to convince your parents the idea is unsafe? If you would face physical violence, are you prepared to defend yourself? Your personal safety comes FIRST, and neither choice is wrong. Coming out is difficult and potentially dangerous, but it can also lead to so much happiness and joy. The decision is entirely up to you, so stay safe and good luck!

-Sean 5113