Anyone who has read my Self essay from last fall for National Coming Out Day might recall that I first came out to people by writing letters to them. I found safety and confidence in writing what I could not yet bring myself to speak out loud. I discovered the power in writing and sharing a story because in those moments, when I was writing and sharing my story, I happened to be saving myself, in a way, as well.
What I left out of that essay, however, is that a few weeks after I finally came out to my mom, I wrote and published in my high school’s monthly newspaper what I guess you could consider one of my very first Self essays ever. In it, I started by describing how being born in Mexico City but growing up in Cincinnati since I was 4 years old felt like existing in the overlap of a Venn diagram — identifying with both worlds but existing distinctly apart from them as well.
Then I complicated things, adding more parts of my identity — more circles to the Venn Diagram — until, towards the very last paragraph, I mentioned ever so briefly, my gay identity.
The thing is, I attended a Catholic high school — fairly liberal in its teachings but still Catholic. So when I first submitted my article, it led to conversations with administrators in which I had to convince them that my article should run in print. Truthfully — and to their credit — I had to convince them that I was prepared for any fallout from the essay’s publication more than I had to convince them of anything else. Somehow, I managed to do it, and then I braced for the backlash they cautioned me of.
Instead, a classmate emailed me to thank me for writing the article, a teacher commented during class on the fresh perspective it gave him, and months later a classmate came out to me — mentioning the piece.
Still, despite this prior experience and the knowledge of the powerful impact an article could have, I was rather terrified to write and publish my article this past fall — publishing across The Daily Princetonian’s many platforms, with all their reach, is quite different from my high school newspaper’s couple hundred print copies. It also didn’t help that one of my other articles had just exploded online thanks to a viral tweet, adding to the anxiety of being so publicly open about my identity.
In the month or so leading up to National Coming Out Day, I told then-Editor-in-Chief Emma Treadway ’22 that there was a reason I hadn’t previously touched the topic in an essay before.
I hadn’t yet been comfortable enough with myself. I had been worried about who might read it and how they might react to what I wrote. I was unsure of my own voice; afraid to somehow say the wrong thing in my own words.
But, I told Emma, that now I felt ready — strong enough to challenge my comfort zone.
Still, I didn’t rest well that night before my article went live on the website of the ‘Prince.’ But the morning came either way. With it came a flow of emails, texts, and comments from classmates, strangers, and administrators alike all throughout the day, reminding me what makes writing these stories worth it.
There are moments when writing and editing for the ‘Prince’ becomes overwhelming. It’s an experience that can so easily and so quickly tear you down. I’ve seen the toll it has taken on some of my friends. And I’ve felt it myself at times as well.
But then I remember how I felt after publishing my essay last fall and after seeing its reception. I remember the joy and comfort and sense of assurance that I felt as different people reached out to me. And it reminded me so much of my earlier high school publication experience.
And in the past few weeks, as I’ve edited some of the essays for this special issue and as I’ve seen others work so tirelessly on other parts of it, all these memories have resurfaced yet again. There’s something truly beautiful in how my friends have worked with so much care and compassion to tell the story of this part of the Princeton community.
Recently, in my Italian class, we were tasked with writing a couple sentences about what beauty is according to each of us. I didn’t love the answer I wrote. After all, I wrote it in a bit of a rush while trying to complete all my various assignments. So in writing my response, I failed to fully capture this side of beauty.
There are beautiful stories, and there are stories beautifully told. Somehow, I’ve been fortunate enough to witness the creation of both.
So maybe beauty is something so wonderful and inspiring as to keep us going, pushing through life and its many terrors. Certainly, reading and editing the stories I’ve seen pass across my screen over the past couple weeks — and, truthfully, even further back — has kept me going.
What I’m trying to say has already been written in an anonymously-published essay I was honored to edit earlier this semester: “We are so much more powerful when we live openly as ourselves.”
Telling our stories is part of living openly. It is powerful, and it is beautiful.
I encourage you to tell your own.
José Pablo Fernández García is a junior from Loveland, Ohio and Head Prospect Editor at the ‘Prince.’ He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Self essays at The Prospect give our writers and guest contributors the opportunity to share their perspectives. This essay reflects the views and lived experiences of the author. If you would like to submit a Self essay, contact us at email@example.com.