Gay College Grad’s Bravery Inspires Incoming Freshman to Come Out. “Advocacy Comes in All Shapes and Sizes.”

by Mike Matta

My name is Mike Matta. I’m from Chino, California. 

It was February, 2012. It was Valentine’s Day during my junior year of college at UC Santa Barbara. At that point, I was still fully in the closet. Hadn’t come out to anybody. My friends convinced me to come out with them to this bar. They knew that something was wrong and I was just really sad and feeling really lonely.

I was in this place of just real sadness and depression and had to step away and just be alone. So, I stepped outside of the bar and my two friends, they followed me and they approached me. They noticed that tears are swelling in my eyes. And they start to nudge.

They say, “Hey, Mike, you can talk to us. What’s wrong?” 

I eventually tell them, “I think I’m bi.” And I’m not bi. I’m not bisexual. I am gay. But in that moment, I think there was a moment of fear that admitting to them that I was gay wasn’t going to be acceptable, but maybe being bisexual was. They both very quickly hugged me and told me that this doesn’t change our relationship and they’re so proud of me for sharing part of myself with them.

Going forward, I slowly started to come out to more and more friends in Santa Barbara and all of my fears about how people would perceive me started to go away. I had already loved UC Santa Barbara, just for a host of reasons, but it really made me fall in love with college.

By the time that I graduated, it was 2013. Summer of 2013. I did not want to leave school. I was able to work on campus as an orientation staff leader, just for the summer of 2013. It was about two and a half months of me and maybe 26 other students, or students that had just graduated, leading their own group of incoming freshmen for a two or three day orientation session.

Part of my job as an orientation staff leader was to help the freshmen select their first set of courses for the year. I made a point to say, “Hey, I encourage everyone to think about being open-minded in terms of the types of courses that you’re going to be choosing, especially for your first quarter. You’ll see that there are courses like Introduction to Feminist Studies that are open. I really encourage you to think about taking courses like that. You’ll learn a lot, especially in just in terms of being not just accepting other viewpoints, but also potentially learning about yourself.”

There was one student kind of in the corner, the back of the classroom and to the corner, who kept to himself, who just seemed especially quiet compared to the others. I remember these two students in particular, who made a point to say among themselves, but quite loudly, that they would never… they wouldn’t be caught dead taking a course like Intro to Feminist Studies.

I thought it was really important to share with them, question the way that you think about these courses, and it’ll really make your college experience totally different. It’ll make it completely different, in a really positive way. I’d taken courses within the humanities that, especially after coming out, that allowed me to recognize myself in, not just among my friends, but in an academic setting, through a textbook. Seeing myself reflected in academia was something that was really important in terms of my coming out journey. I finished my rant and I helped the students select their classes. Didn’t really think anything of it after that.

Fast forward to about four years later. It was summer of 2017. At this point, I was in law school. I was at a bar in West Hollywood, Sunday Fun Day. It was a beautiful day in Los Angeles. I feel someone tap my shoulder. I believe he was my left shoulder. 

So I turn around and this man asks me, he says, “Hey Mike, do you remember who I am?” And I had no idea who he was. And he said, “I was one of the students, one of the incoming freshmen during orientation back in 2013 in Santa Barbara.”

He started to talk and I started to remember, vaguely remember who he was and in that moment, started to recognize him as that student in the corner of the room, in the back of the classroom during one of my orientation sessions, who was really quiet. He was so thankful for me because I had encouraged him and other students to take the Intro to Feminist studies and other courses in the humanities and how my encouraging him to do that allowed him to not only take that course, but meet other students, professors, and just other people at the university who were supportive of him. He eventually came out because of the community that he was able to gain from initially from those courses. As he’s sharing this story with me of how me encouraging him to take this class ultimately allowed him to feel safe and to come out, I’m just like, I’m bawling.

Me encouraging him to take this class ultimately allowed him to feel safe and to come out.

That moment, in that bar together, we shared something. Even though we don’t know each other very well, we shared something. And I think there’s really something beautiful about that shared experience. I also think that interaction taught me that advocacy, it comes in all shapes and sizes. I think it’s really important for people to share, not just share their beliefs, but especially when there’s a little bit of pushback against what you might be saying or what your opinions are, to be steadfast in what you’re saying and reemphasize what your opinions are and why they’re important to you, ’cause I think they can have really profound impact on not only other people’s lives, but on your own life.

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