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You’re Here, You’re Queer… Now What?

So you’ve survived the dreaded Leaving Cert, and the stress-hell that is results & CAO offers – congrats! We’re all very proud of you… unfortunately, the stress doesn’t end there: you’ve got lectures, assignments, housemates and about 22,000 new people to get used to. This, in itself, can be daunting, but it’s that bit more stressful if you are, as Cork people would say “one of them quares”. Fear not though, my young LGBT amigos, I’ve got you.

My name is Niamh O’Reilly and, in addition to being a writer for the UCC Express, I’m the Campaigns Officer for UCC LGBT Society; I’m one of a group of students & staff whose job is to make sure that your college experience is as easy and pleasant as possible. I’m also involved in various other LGBT groups around Cork and Ireland. I’ve spent the past couple of years being a bit of a queer hack, but even then I found college daunting. I was out as queer/bisexual before coming to college, but at the start of college I also came out as non­binary transgender. I’m not going to lie to you, it was a bit scary, but very worth it. With all this coming out experience, and queer hackery, I’m going to give you my top advice for having a gay old time in college as an LGBT student (see what I did there? I’m hilarious).

1. Come Out, or Don’t: Universities are well known for being rather liberal and LGBT friendly places, so a lot of people tend to come out during their time in university. If you want to come out now is an ideal time to do it, but don’t let anyone make you feel like you have to. Everyone comes out in their own time: some people are 16, some are 40, some people don’t ever come out, and that’s all okay; there’s plenty of support here for students who are coming out, but no one worth your time will begrudge you for waiting.

2. Try new things: You’re in a new place, with new people and, more than likely, a new living space. It’s a prime opportunity to try things you’d fear being judged for at home, whether that be binding your chest (safely, please), wearing makeup, dressing in a more feminine or masculine way or shifting someone of your own gender; go for it. UCC has over 20,000 students, and yeah, some of them may judge you, but there’s so many that you’ll definitely find a bunch of new friends along the way who’ll support you no matter what.

3. Join the Clubs & Societies: Get involved! Okay, so I’m a bit biased here, but UCC LGBT is a great society if that’s your sort of thing: we do weekly events and info stands, regular socials, we’re incredibly trans friendly (name and pronoun circle at the start of all events), and try to have something for everyone. Also we’ll need a first year rep, g’wan, you know you want to. You’re not limited, obviously, to the LGBT Soc: there’s over 100 societies and over 60 clubs to choose from, so find what works for you and have fun (just don’t forget to go to lectures).

4. Take Advantage of the Facilities: Fun UCC fact for you all: UCC has gender-neutral bathrooms in nearly every one of its buildings. This can be a godsend for all my fellow trans folks out there; from fellow NBs, to other trans students who might be worried about passing (and the awkward bathroom encounters associated with that), no matter what shade of trans you are this can be a lifesaver. Now not all buildings have them, but enough do that you won’t have to go too far to find one.

5. Practise Safe Sex: Look, I get it; you finally move to a city after years of being the only gay in the village, this may be the first time you have a proper chance to ride all around you – but please, don’t let your boundless sexual energy distract you from being safe. STIs are shit craic, condoms are readily available around campus (and usually free), and you can find out how to fashion condoms into dental dams (safely) with a quick google search. Also, always important no matter your orientation: ALWAYS GET CONSENT BEFORE GETTING SEXY. Mental safety is as important for great sexy times as physical health.

6. Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Help When You Need It: Remember that team of people I mentioned at the beginning? The people whose job it is to make sure that you have a good time in UCC? I wasn’t exaggerating: if you need help, these people & organisations are here for you; no problem is too big or too small. The Health Centre (that yellow building on College Road) does free STI testing, the Students’ Union has a specific LGBT Rights Officer (that’s me!), and a Welfare Officer who is able to talk if you have any problems at all. We’ve got counsellors, doctors, budgetary advisers and plenty of external groups nearby ready to look after you if needs be. Please, if you need any help, don’t be afraid to ask.

UCC SU Welfare Officer ­ welfare@uccsu.ie
UCC SU LGBT Rights Officer lgbtro@uccsu.ie
UCC Student Health Service  021 4902311
UCC Student Counselling Service ­ counselling@ucc.ie
UCC LGBT Society ­ lgbt@uccsocieties.ie
Cork Gay Project info@gayprojectcork.com
Linc (Women’s Centre) ­ info@linc.ie
LGBT Helpline (limited hours)  1890 929 539
Cork Sexual Violence Centre ­ info@sexualviolence.ie
Samaritans (24/7 support)  Free-call 116 123

Basically, enjoy yourself, mind yourself and be yourself. I believe in you.