Speaker Ryan Sallans shares his personal experience of coming out in celebration of Coming Out Month. Photo from James McIntosh.

Speaker and author Ryan Sallans enlightened the community this week with his moving virtual event hosted by the University of Rhode Island’s Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC) in celebration of Coming Out Month. 

Sallans is a renowned transgender activist who works to find similarities through differences in his studies. His speeches, writings and projects which focus on gender identity, diversity and inclusion have been recognized by many established media outlets, including NPR’s “On Point” and “Larry King Live.” Yet, he is not only accomplished in the field of activism: Sallans; resilience has inspired the LGBTQIA+ community and its allies alike. 

In his talk, Sallans brought the audience through his journey towards self discovery which he describes as a never-ending expedition.
“I have found that through my own personal storytelling I can help bring out some emotions in people that do not make them want to feel defensive and shut down, but will hopefully make them more curious,” Sallans said.

Sallans described that from a young age, he longed to conform and conceal his true self through art and creative writing. Over the years prior to his transition, Sallans created artwork expressing what he longed for in his physical appearance, as well as poetry portraying his true identity. These concepts of masculinity soon turned to reality as he began to understand his sexuality and gender. Sallans broke out of society’s presupposed “boxes” which helped him overcome personal and familial road blocks. Now, he embraces his identity and showcases that even through adversity, it is important to be true to yourself.
Sticking to a path of authenticity and “honoring your truth” is what Sallans hopes to instill in individuals, encouraging all to overcome the societal norms and pressures. The online world is a huge factor in producing perceived inequality within the LGBTQIA+ community, according to Sallans.

“We are not defined by new words, old words or any form of definition,” Sallans said. “We are complex human beings that have a whole life to get to know more about who we are, and the best way to do that is to continue to remain curious.”

A key takeaway from this event was Sallans’ explanation on how sex, gender and expression must be represented through intergenerational conversations led with pride rather than shame or judgement. He hopes that his speeches will push people to think critically about how their actions and assumptions can affect others in their community. Opening oneself to understand individual stories is crucial for the betterment of society, as said by Sallans. 

Annie Russell, director of the GSC, helped host this virtual event. She believes that Sallans’ message should be heard across campus to enhance LGBTQIA+ representation at URI. Russell emphasized how the journey of self discovery and communication with others is pivotal to our growth, both as individuals and as a university.

“If we aren’t pushing ourselves and realizing that we’re continually in a growth pattern and coming to understand more about ourselves and others, then we probably are remaining pretty stagnant in our lives,” Russell said. “It’s both normal and okay to continue to grow and change parts of who you are.”

In addition to the virtual discussion with Sallans, the Gender and Sexuality Center hosted many other events to celebrate Coming Out Month this October. Some of these events include crafting pride flags, virtual support groups and movie screenings.

Russell hopes that the GSC can provide students with a safe space to explore their identity and find others who can reflect on their experiences together. Although Coming Out Month is wrapping up, the doors are open all semester for students to seek support and guidance in their individual journey.