What is the experience of being queer abroad like? It’s about understanding the nuances of your sexual identity and finding a community for yourself. This is what I learned from my friend Julianna, a junior from Wesleyan University studying at Queen Mary, University of London.
In the busy coffee shop on Queen Mary’s campus we talked all about her experiences as a queer woman in London. First and foremost, Julianna explained to me that she does not like rigid labels to describe her sexuality. She’s not straight, and she’s not gay; she most identifies with the term “queer.” Julianna is among a growing population of millennials who are embracing the grey areas of their sexuality rather than taking a black and white approach to it. I think that in both the United States and London young people are incredibly open-minded and welcoming of people’s varying identities.
I was curious to know what Julianna’s experience has been like coming out to her friends and flatmates as queer. She told me that she’s very open with her sexual identity, and that her flatmates had a few questions for her but were very accepting. She said that with her friends on the football (soccer) team coming out wasn’t even an issue because most of the girls on the team are not straight either. She said her experiences coming out in London were very similar to those in the United States.
Julianna also described how coming to London helped her to realize how universal the struggle to find your sexual identity can be. “I’ve been fortunate that people in the States encouraged me to explore [her sexuality],” said Julianna. But despite her understanding and exploration of her own sexual identity Julianna says it can still all be confusing. Connecting with other girls who are queer on the football team has helped her to realize how common it is to struggle with that confusion surrounding sexuality. “It was really comforting for me to see how universal those feelings are,” she admitted.
Finally, I wanted to know what her connection has been like with the LGBTQ+ community here. For Julianna Queen Mary’s football team has provided with a community of understanding, like-minded queer girls. She told me that it can sometimes be hard to connect with straight people – regardless of how open-minded they are – because they don’t share the same experiences. But most of the girls on her team are queer and they are able to share stories and experiences together there. “It has been refreshing to be in queer environment,” said Julianna, “that was something I hadn’t really expected to find here.” Her experiences show that while students studying abroad may not be actively looking to explore their sexual identity in London, they may be pleasantly surprised by what they find here. For other LBGTQ+ students on campus who are looking to find their community there are groups such as the QM LGBT+ Society or The Step Out Project, which is based in Bethnal Green, or the Queer Youth Network. London and Queen Mary’s campus are incredibly open and accepting, making it the perfect place to grow and learn about yourself while studying abroad.
Tessa Reading is an English major at Trinity College and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at Queen Mary University of London in 2017-2018. She is an International Correspondent for IFSA-Butler through the Work-To-Study Program.