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Derik Cowan

May 1997

Facing the Real World

If all goes well, at the end of this month, I'll be graduating. For the most part, I'm trying not to think about that fact and instead am trying to concentrate on my last days of school and getting my work in, but I have to admit that the thought of graduating and facing the real world scares me. Graduating from high school was actually a lot easier for me: I'd already been accepted into college and knew that I'd be heading off to Amherst, so I didn't have to worry about what I'd be doing in a few months. Also, the prospect of moving away from home was a relief -- at last I'd have a chance to be myself and be free to be gay, something I couldn't be at home with my parents. Going to college was a very exciting opportunity for me to meet new friends, explore my identity, and decide once and for all who and what kind of person I am. And, in spite of a number of rough times -- being thrown out of my house by my parents, struggling to get the financial aid to stay in school, problems with relationships, etc., my time at college has been a wonderful and exciting time for me. I did have the opportunity not only to come out, but also to help out many others who are and were struggling with their own identities, both personally and through my writings here in Oasis and elsewhere. I've met a lot of wonderful people, and most importantly, I've found what my life's callings are--to work in theatre and to do work as a gay activist.

The problem is that, while in school, it's been very easy for me to live out those callings. As a theatre major, I've had plenty of opportunity to produce shows that I've wanted to produce and act in plays that I found interesting. Similarly, college offers young people both the time and the financial security to do a great deal of activist work in any area. At Amherst, I helped found and led an organization called the Queer Straight Alliance, which does a lot of work raising awareness of various LBGT issues on campus and addressing LBGT problems both locally and nationally. I've had the time to work on the Pride Committee for Northampton and be involved with the local Pflag chapter as well. College has given me a chance to explore my interests and act on them, but that's all coming rapidly to a close.

Another thing that I've enjoyed about my time in Amherst is it's open atmosphere. The entire area is very progressive and open about LBGT issues, and being out here at Amherst has been very easy for me. The dating pool might not be as large as I might like (it's a lot larger for women around here), and I have had the occasional drunken harassment on campus, but for the most part, people have been very tolerant, if not accepting and supportive of me. I work part time at a local afterschool program, where I'm quite open about my sexuality, and the staff there has been very open to that, even coming to see performances that I was putting on about various issues we face as GLBT people. A number of my coworkers are even planning on coming to Northampton Pride on May 3, where I'll be performing in my role as the 1997 Queen of Northampton Pride. Unfortunately, the job is a work study job, so that too will come to an end come graduation.

As much as I've enjoyed my time in college, I am ready to move on. I do feel as if I've done everything I can here at Amherst, and that to stay much longer would begin to become stifling. But that doesn't mean I'm not afraid of leaving. To the contrary, I'm quite near the brink of being terrified. For starters, there's the realization that I'm leaving school, which has been a part of my life for 18 years now (including preschool). School provides a structure to our lives that we don't even think about or appreciate until it's about to end. As I look into the future, I can't say that in a few months I'll be back at the educational grind, and that's a frightening thought. This isn't to say that I won't at some point go on to grad school, but for the moment I have no plans to do that. Which brings us to the second point: the job.

I don't have a job lined up for when I leave school. I'm not even entirely sure what I want to do yet, although I know it'll involve either theater or gay activism. Right now I'm leaning toward going into gay activist work, as I don't see how theatre can really support me right now. A new charter of the HRC just opened up in Amherst, so I think I'll probably try to get in there for a couple of months before I make the big move sometime in July. That way I'll have real life experience in the field as well as college experience, and perhaps will even be able to get a transfer out to the HRC office in my future home.

Ah yes, the big move--the third worry. Sometime mid-summer (July most likely), I plan on relocating to San Francisco for the next period in my life. I have a lot of friends out there, a lot of my friends are moving out there, the theatre scene is very new and up and coming in the city, and of course there are all sorts of gay activist opportunities out there. The scary thing is figuring out where I want to live when I first move out and how I'm going to manage to pay my expenses after I move. Not only am I looking at for the first time having to support myself completely without the help of an institution like Amherst or a family as I'm still not talking to mine regularly, but in six months the student loans start coming due. How am I going to manage to both support myself and pay my bills doing the things I want to do? Let's face it, theatre isn't the most reliable of fields to be going into, and activist work of any sort isn't known for its high pay. Furthermore, San Francisco isn't known for being an inexpensive city to live in either -- or an easy place to find housing. How am I going to manage to actually make a living?

Finally, I'm nervous about leaving the friends I have here. I've got a really good support network set up here in Amherst, and while I do have a lot of friends out in San Francisco, I don't know any of them as well as I do my friends here. In other words, everything that I've felt I have had control over in my life will all be snatched away at the end of the month, and all I'll get in return is a piece of paper that says I graduated with departmental honors in theatre from Amherst College, a little college in Massachusetts. Now I admit that little piece of paper will carry a lot of value with it, but can it really help me get what I want in life? I'm not sure right now, but I sure hope so.


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