UCL Department of Geography


Lisa's Coming Out Story

Lisa Ivanova shares her experiences of coming out.

Lisa Ivanova
I can’t really pinpoint the one time I ever ‘came out’. But it definitely is a story. Growing up in Russia until I was 12, I was always conditioned to think that anything bar heterosexuality was wrong. As a child, I was surrounded by homophobic jokes and slurs from adults and peers, which I completely absorbed and believed to be true. A man looking feminine? Gay. A woman with muscles? A lesbian.

When my friends at the time heard I was moving to an all-girls school, their biggest concern was not that I would be alone in a foreign country starting an entirely new life, but that I would become a lesbian. Yes, by their logic being surrounded by girls at all times and having no male friends at school or in your close circle ultimately leads someone to somehow change their sexuality. My response? I laughed it off. I still remember the horror of finding a message from that time to one of my friends where I went ‘Lesbian? No, other people can do what they want but it’s not for me’.

The real rollercoaster began for me at the age of 15 or so, when I realised I, in fact, wasn’t straight. I don’t come from a religious family, so that was not an undertone to my confusion, but I certainly felt like my entire life and belief systems were uprooted. Me? Maybe they were right about the girls’ school? Do I need to be friends with more boys? Well, even after becoming friends with more boys, the situation didn’t change – I couldn’t un-like the one girl I really felt something for. We hid from our friends for a while, refusing to talk about what was happening. Ultimately, the first people I ever ‘came out’ to weren’t even my closest friends. Just some girls from my class whose party I was at – and I just started bawling my eyes out. I came to terms with it myself, but saying it to other people somehow made it more real. The support from these girls encouraged me to slowly ‘come out’ to my friendship group. The last people out of those who surrounded me that I told were actually my two closest friends. Why? They were Russian. Surely, you can see why I was terrified. However, I was overwhelmed by the support I received and was able to live my life as truly myself by the time I got to university – hi, I’m Lisa, and I’m bisexual.

My ‘coming out’ is certainly not over. Having a Russian family, it has been difficult, and sometimes I don’t really think it is even necessary for me to tell someone like my grandparents as I think they will be too stressed out about it for no reason. I don’t want our meetings that happen once a year when I go back home to be tarnished by their perception. Maybe it’s wrong, but that’s my conclusion. I came out to my mum in a casual conversation over a glass of wine at home, not too long ago. We’ve bonded a lot over the last year and I felt like the time had come. It wasn’t a big conversation – I just mentioned that I used to have a girlfriend, and was seeing a girl at the time.

The advice I can give is for anyone thinking about coming out is to take your time. Come out to yourself. Accept it.

There will never be one ‘coming out’. You will be doing this your entire life, and you will never know how people will take it depending on culture and upbringing. But as long as you are confident in yourself and your identity, you can live freely, openly, and at peace.