Gay student from China wonders about his new life in New York

Originally Published: October 19, 2001 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: June 26, 2014
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Dear Mz. Alice:

I'm an undergraduate student from China. And I'm going to the mathematics department with fellowship. I'm really very happy and eager for my future life in Columbia.

I'm now twenty years, but still have no girlfriends. Why? Because I'm a gay student. Sometimes I really feel very sad about that. You see, I'm also an emotional person and I'm eager for love, but I can't. I'd not prefer to make gay friends on Web sites since many of them are lying and I'm afraid to get AIDS. Since I'm very pure, good looking, and excellent in study, some classmates and schoolmates (male) show great affection to me. But I dare not accept it because I'm AFRAID.

Both my parents are professors, but they are very traditional and could not accept that. At the same time, I do not want to hurt them, so I really don't know what to do. I know New York City have a lot of gay students, and it's also such a "free" metropolitan city, so I'm really very glad, but still mixed feeling.

Here I wanna ask you:

(1) Are there a lot of gay students in Columbia University?
(2) Is there any gay club or activity in CU?
(3) What should I do now?

Thanks so much! I've seen your answer to a lot of questions and feel very excellent. Best wishes!

Yours,
LL

Dear LL,

First of all, welcome to the United States, New York, and Columbia!

Your mixed feelings are totally understandable. When the messages you're getting about being gay are mixed — from yourself, your parents, and your culture, it can be very hard to figure out what to do. Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) folks struggle with your very same questions. Some decide to explore their sexuality and be honest about their attractions to people of the same sex, while others decide to keep that part of themselves hidden.

Many people get confused — as you are — when faced with the opportunity to explore their sexual and romantic attractions. In fact, lots of college students face similar bewilderment as they consider their gender roles, academic or career choices, and political leanings; really, when making decisions about anything that might challenge their upbringing or the values instilled in them by their community. Unfortunately, sexual orientation is probably one of the most difficult of these.

Many students like yourself find that coming to college, and particularly starting at a diverse and generally accepting place such as Columbia, affords them the opportunity to come out — to identify and hopefully accept their own feelings; to tell friends, peers, mentors, and family about their experiences; and, to get involved in LGBT-focused activities and groups on campus. Columbia has a large and visible LGBT community, and likely there are many other people here who identify in this way or have relationships with people of the same sex, but are not vocal about it. Similarly, Columbia's New York home puts it at the doorstep of a city with a huge, diverse gay population. As a result, there are tons of different ways to get involved and meet people who have had similar experiences, share your other interests, or look to make a romantic connection. Many of the CU specific and off-campus organizations in the city are outlined in Meet other young lesbians?

It might also be of particular help to seek out groups that focus on the very issues you've raised, such as Proud Colors of Columbia University, which holds discussions, movie screenings, programs, and political action addressing the conflict many people face when balancing their sexual identity with their racial, ethnic, or religious identity.

In your question, you also raise concerns about AIDS and meeting people through Web sites. Looking for love online, in Alice's Relationships archive, addresses some of the risks of meeting people over the Internet — including your concerns about honesty. Reading some of the questions listed below might be helpful in helping you sort out your questions about HIV/AIDS. At Columbia, GHAP, the Gay Health Advocacy Project, can provide lots of information and counseling about HIV/AIDS and how it affects the LGBT community, risk reduction, safer sex, getting tested, and talking with partners. They also provide free, confidential HIV testing on campus.

You are clearly a brave and sensitive person, and you deserve a lot of credit for acknowledging your feelings and worries. Hopefully your experiences at Columbia will help you to value who you are, and realize that being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered is okay. These identities and feelings are among the many options on the continuum of human expression and experience.

Good luck,

Alice