Gay College Experiences: Ryan Moothart

September 27, 2011 § 3 Comments

This is one part of a series recounting the first college experiences and the lessons learned of Freshman at Georgetown University.
Click here to read the original post.
1st installment: Gay College Experiences: Evan Sturrett
2nd installment: Once Battered and Bruised, Now Better Than Ever

I was trying to think of a fancier title, like “My College Experience: The Good, the Bad, and the Nights I Don’t Remember” or “My College Experience (or how I learned to grab life by the horn, mix cliches, and dive right in),” but in the end I decided to not try and get clever, especially when it’s not my strong suit. My name is Ryan Moothart. I’m 24 and graduated from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon last year. I’d like to share my college experience with you all and, just maybe, at least one reader will find it helpful.

I grew up in suburban Massachusetts about 25 miles outside of Boston. When it came time to apply for college, I knew only 2 things for certain: I wanted to get as far away from home as possible and I didn’t want to stay in the closet once I got there. So, I decided to move 2,500 miles back to Oregon (where I was born) and attend a small liberal arts university in the state capitol of Salem. I knew these next four years were going to be the best of my life, so I decided to lose my nerves right away and get involved. Orientation was great; I made some friends on my hall right away and people seemed to be as excited as I was to start a whole new chapter.

I felt great…until we had to sit through a program called “straight talk,” a half theatric, half personal story-sharing program put on by orientation leaders to show that, while college is fun, there are some serious issues you may encounter and need to deal with. Situations like what do you do when your friend comes back in tears saying she’s been raped, what do you do when you’re at a party and your friend collapses after taking drugs, and (most relevant to me) what do you do when your roommate comes out to you and you don’t know how to react.

As you can imagine, the personal coming out story was very moving and very positive, but it brought back the realization that I still had to confront my fears and come out. This was not an easy thing to do at first. I was visibly nervous later that night and my RA asked me what was wrong. At first I said “nothing” and he gave me the “bull shit, something is definitely bothering you” look. So I decided he was going to be the first I told at college. Now, I was lucky that my RA was gay too so I had nothing to worry about. But it was still hard to say at first. We talked for a while and he assured me I was going to do just fine; that I’d come out at my own pace and be happy at school.

He was right. After that night, I was much less nervous. I think I told my roommate the next day just to clear the air, to which I got the profound response of “ok,” as if I had just told him I’m a Patriots fan or that I have 2 dogs at home. I was happy living with the weight off my shoulders. I rarely told people unless they asked, but the coming out process was sped up when a girl on my hall asked me out in front of a larger group of friends. Obviously, dating a girl to keep a cover I no longer needed was out of the question. There was no way in hell I was going to put myself through such an ordeal.

As I went through my first year, I was able to do so free of fear and living in a community that was pretty supportive. I became President of my hall, I got involved in the College Democrats group, and I tried to be as active as I could without burning myself out. At the end of my freshman year, I ended up meeting a cute boy named Paul. I’ll touch on this subject a little later on.

Anyways, I had a great freshman year, but it wasn’t until my sophomore year that I felt like I was missing out on something. I had tried getting involved in the queer support group on campus to be apart of the gay community, but it just wasn’t my scene. It was only after I kind of gave up hope on finding a good support group that I found what I was looking for. A group of guys who were members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity liked my compassion, leadership skills, and personality enough that they offered me a bid to join. After much initial hesitation, I accepted. And even though my experience wasn’t perfect, I still consider it one of the best decisions I ever made. They accepted me for who I was unconditionally and I made a few life-long friends I’m proud to call my fraternal brothers.

Throughout my college career, I met some great people, learned so much both in and outside of the classroom, majored in a subject I loved (Rhetoric & Media Studies FTW), and took advantage of many opportunities that came my way. Fast forward to the present day: I live in downtown Seattle, I have a job out of college, I still volunteer for my fraternity’s national organization, and I look back on my college experience with many fond memories. And remember that cute boy named Paul? Four and a half years after we met and started dating, we’re still together.

I’m very fortunate to be able to look back on my days at Willamette and smile. For those of you in college or still in high school and are wanting to live your college experience to the fullest openly and honestly, I have some tips that you’ll hopefully find useful:

Pick a school that has a proven record of having an accepting campus. I thought about that before I picked the schools I applied to and am very happy I did. It would have made no sense to attend a socially conservative school when I wanted nothing more than to step out of closet and close that door behind me for good.

Come out sooner rather than later. I remember how terrifying this was and I promise the world seems a whole lot brighter once this burden is removed. The only problem is you have to be strong enough to take that first step even if you’re not sure you want to yet. If you’ve accepted yourself, it’s time to stop hiding. Because at that point, you do yourself no favors by continually putting it off out of fear.

Don’t Try to Be Someone You’re Not. I’m sure many of us know what it’s like to pretend to be someone we’re not. But there’s no reason to continue doing it (albeit in the opposite manner) just to fit the expectations of what others expect. If you don’t fit a certain clique or stereotype, then don’t try and force it. Be yourself.

Get out of your comfort zone. For example, I never thought I’d ever want to join a “frat” going into college. I decided to take a chance and ended up meeting a bunch of great fraternity men. Find the things you never gave much thought to before and try something new. You may just find what you didn’t even know you were looking for.

Find a good balance that gives you a sense of happiness. Even though I was happily out at college, I had my share of nights when I had way too much stress and not much to smile about. Find that balance between school work, friends, and dating/relationships that leaves you absently smiling every so often just because your life is tranquil. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to push yourself and to learn, but know when things have gone past your limit and when it’s time to take a step back in one aspect of your life.

And lastly…

Don’t Take a Single Day for Granted. College wasn’t perfect, but it was four phenomenal years of my life that I don’t want to forget. From the enormous high points having fun with friends, to the life lessons that never leave you, to those moments you get to share with someone special, college is an opportunity that should be taken full advantage of in every positive sense of the word.

I have no idea if my story or these tips will help anybody. But, on the off chance this can do some good, I’m happy to share what little I can to give anyone a sense of relief, confidence, or even hope. For those of you who are having a great college experience and living openly, my best wishes for your continued success. For those of you who have yet to come out and are looking to start anew with your college experience, keep your chin up and don’t lose hope. In the words of Harvey Milk, “I know that you cannot live on hope alone. But without it, life is not worth living.”

College should be some the best years of your life: a symbol of your youth and greatest period of learning you look back on with joy and pride. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Because you can learn, love, and live to your fullest potential, you must. So don’t waste a single day.

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§ 3 Responses to Gay College Experiences: Ryan Moothart

  • tristram says:

    Nice story and excellent advice. I wish you had written this and I had read it before I trundled off to college.

  • Deanna says:

    Ryan- this was SUCH a good posting. It’s so so moving to see how much success you’ve had in college. Not sure if you remember babysitting for my brother (Kenny Payson) and I back in the day haha, but thought I’d tell you how great of a piece of writing this is. Not just for LGBTQ youth, but for anyone heading off to/in the midst of their college years.

    Thanks 🙂

  • gerald moothart says:

    I have never met another GAY Moothart. Your story brought back memories of my college days at Eeastern Washington a couple of generations ago. I am now 84 yo. I did not know the other meaning of the word GAY until college. My (gay) room mate said “lets take a walk talk”. Which is what we did. When he asked if I was gay I replied oh yes i am really happy with starting college etc. Well by the time we arrived back at our room he said “now do you know whjat GAY means. To which i replied yes I think so. Growing up in the small town of Wishram, Wn. I was rather timid even through High School and my time in the Army. When beginning college I decided I would come out of my timidity and made a point to say “howdy” to every person I walked by and to my surprise I usually got a pleasing reciprocation. I have been with my partner now for 50 years planning to celebrate 50th on a gay cruise next year. Thanks for your story.

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