LGBT Feature: Ian’s Story

Listen First: Introduction to LGBT Feature

In our feature, the term gay refers only to the attractions and orientations of individuals and not to their sexual activity. The writers have left out any reference to positions on moral and political questions to avoid polarizing discussion.

For those of us who are not LGBT, we hope these stories provide a glimpse into the lives of some of our brothers and sisters at Calvin. For those of us who are LGBT, we want you to see that you are not alone, and the Calvin community cares deeply about you.

Many of the students who are LGBT have not experienced a supporting, caring community at Calvin, but after we hear stories and place a face on an issue, we may still take our differing positions, but we will refuse to do battle. Join us as we listen attentively, respond thoughtfully and love graciously.


Ian Gackowski graduated from Calvin in 2012 with a double major in psychology and Spanish. During his time at Calvin, he served as a dorm president and as an orientation leader. He is from Bloomingdale, Mich., but is currently in his second year of graduate school at Roosevelt University in Chicago. He is working toward a doctorate in psychology in order to become a clinical psychologist.

It wasn’t until my senior year at Calvin that I fully accepted that I was gay. Trust me, I tried my hardest to avoid that realization.

I spent a large portion of my time in college, and most of the years prior to Calvin, hoping that my apathy toward females would somehow change if I just avoided thinking about the topic altogether.

This wasn’t challenging during most of my Calvin career, being that I was a relatively sociable and involved student. I had several different circles of friends, most of whom are still on Calvin pamphlets. I was even a dorm president and orientation leader.

But by junior year, I was confronted with the hard truth that I was gay, and I began the slow and difficult process of telling my closest friends.

It’s hard to explain the hurt and discomfort of convincing someone — a close friend or a parent — that you are still the same person in light of your sexual orientation.

I didn’t want to become the ambassador of the queer community for Calvin. I didn’t want to be anyone’s “gay best friend” or some emasculated version of the old Ian.

No one was going to put me in the “gay box” if I had anything to say about it, so when I first came out, I avoided saying the words “I’m gay” altogether. I opted for the more nuanced “I’m not attracted to women,” thinking I could avoid the stereotypes. Subtle, right?

I was only ever out to a small group of close friends during my final year at Calvin, and I was amazed by their love, support and validation. To the rest of the Calvin world, though, I was awkwardly “straight.”

I suddenly became an “undercover” gay man who often found himself in the middle of blunt conversations about homosexuality:

“Being gay is just like alcoholism.”

“I don’t care if people are gay, just don’t act gay.”

I heard that all the time, and “fag” and “no homo.” Those made me cringe the most. Was I the “fag” they were talking about? What if they knew that I was the “homo”? It was all I could do some days not to shout:

“You know you’re talking about me, right?”

Maybe my coming out would’ve helped change the understanding of what it meant to be gay, but I didn’t want that responsibility. I didn’t want to educate.

Now that I’m more open about my sexuality, I make no apologies about who I am. Before graduating, I had always felt as though my sexuality was a talking point.

It was something to be dissected in the context of faith and weighed in on by every side except my own. In reality, I am more than my sexuality. My being gay does not define me, but it does inform who I am, just as much as someone’s opposite-sex attractions inform who he or she is.

The pain and exclusion I experienced because of my sexuality doesn’t negate the validation and support I received from certain members of the campus community. I’ve been away from Calvin for more than a year now, and I still find myself back in town for unplanned weekend visits.

I end up people watching in Johnny’s or stealing food from a commons lawn picnic. I can’t shake Calvin, even though I know some people here see me as less than what I am for reasons that I can’t change.

It’s taken me years to understand that my sexuality doesn’t hinge on the validation of others, and it will take even longer to learn how to live without that validation.