I planned, prepared for and looked forward to university with infallible optimism. The fact that I was about to put 500km between myself and my partner of 6 months didn’t even dent it, that's how excited I was. My imagined scenarios of being challenged about my gender and sexuality always ended with me winning and other people feeling foolish. I was sure that I would study hard and find everything interesting and surely succeed in the end.
Someone recently said to me that after your first year at university, the way you see the social world will totally change. I absolutely believe them. When you’re in high school, you feel like everyone is looking at you, and you’re right. The world is small, there are rules and expectations, and you can plan your path with near precision. When you start uni, you feel like there are even more people looking at you, when in reality, they probably haven’t even noticed you exist (unless you do something really fantastic or really terrible). The world is very, very big, rules and expectations are relative and arbitrary, and forget about planning. With one point of view, this can be really scary. With another, it can be freeing.
I’ll tell you, at first, I found it really scary, and I still do, a fair bit. I’ve been feeling incredibly self conscious. I’ve been feeling like everyone thinks I’m a lesbian and I’ve been pretty antisocial towards actual lesbians who have been nice to me, as well as everyone else in general. Now, being a lesbian is far from a bad thing, but the fact is that I’m not one. The assumption that I identify as, and am attracted to women, when I’m the polar opposite is painful. As a result, the way I have felt and acted has been very defensive, sitting alone, not talking to people, and not making eye contact, for fear of being accused of being someone I’m not or doing something I wouldn’t do.
My other issue with university is college life. The whole messy, noisy, drunken, smelly rabble of college life. I’ll be honest- its really not my thing, but its pretty much my only option at the moment. I’ve had plenty of clashes with other people over how much noise they’re making when I’m trying to sleep or study, the fact that there is often vomit and urine in really inappropriate places, the amount of rubbish in the common rooms and the stench in the communal facilities. None of those clashes have been particularly productive, and I’ve been left feeling angry, disappointed, disgusted, and sometimes plain miserable.
So these two issues are what I have been faced with. Don’t think for a moment that I’m overcome by them though. The last few days have been a bit of a turning point. After a long, tough Wednesday night, I returned to the Pinnacle Foundation page, and found the post where I had been introduced, with my photo and the blurb about what the support of the Pinnacle foundation meant to me. The last sentence I wrote was: “Having the Pinnacle Foundation behind me this year will boost my confidence and resolve to achieve great things and give back to the community in the future”, and that was what struck me. Yes, college has its downs. It has ups too. That’s irrelevant to the fact that I am here to achieve great things, for myself, for the world, to show my appreciation to the people sponsoring me and to even act as a role model for up and coming scholars and other young people in my situation.
Its easy to feel like the smallest thing on the face of the earth, but the fact is, as a Pinnacle scholar, I’ve been put before the public eye and I need to remember that. Not in terms of inhibiting what I do, but as a boost of confidence and motivation to stay strong and positive, and deal with problems instead of just complaining about them. Sometimes I will just need to put up with things, sometimes I’ll need to try to solve problems patiently and positively, but no good will come of being negative.
My issue with how other people are looking at me, and feeling like I’m perceived as a lesbian, is something my mentor is helping me with. I talked to him about this today, and he explained to me that I should try expecting nothing, and accepting everything- that is, to stop judging the looks other people are giving me as nasty, and be open to the fact that maybe they’re just curious about me, or even want to be friends. I haven’t really had a chance to try that yet. That’s why the title of this post is succeeded by ‘Part I’- I don’t know how it will go, but I’ll let you know.
By Ashton Brenton