Dr. Bethany Novotny

Identity: Queer (gay, androgynous)

Current Job: Assistant Professor, ETSU Department of Counseling & Human Services

What does your identity mean to you?

Everything.

I am a counselor and counselors LOVE personal growth. I am always striving to be the best person I can be and to better understand who I am and what my purpose is in life.

My identity is how I process all of that, how I move through the world, and how I connect with others.

My sexual orientation and gender identity is only one part of my identity as a whole, but it is an important part, because it has been one of my greatest challenges and triumphs.

I wouldn’t be the person I am today without striving to honor and integrate my sexual orientation into my self-identity.

What has been your experience as an out professional?

When I first arrived at ETSU, I was uncertain as to how open I wanted to be about my gender and sexuality.

I found myself being “out” in my department and with a select group of individuals but I felt somewhat reserved and hesitant to really let all of my bright rainbow colors shine.

During the second semester of my first year, I was asked to participate as a group facilitator in a program called the LeaderShape® Institute for young professionals who aspire to hold leadership positions in the future. That week changed my life.

One of the Leadershape facilitators, who I now consider to be a very close friend, challenged me in a discussion and told me that I was holding back from letting students really get to know me, the real me.

If I am not letting them get to know the real me by being fully genuine, then I am missing an opportunity to connect with them and to be a strong role model.

I ended up “ coming out” to the group of students I was responsible for at leadership and their response was truly amazing.

From that time forward, I have challenged myself to live a more authentic life inside and outside of the classroom. It has been an extremely rewarding experience personally but it has also enhanced the relationships I have with students and my classroom instruction.

The reality is that coming “out” is not a one time thing. With every new colleague, every new class, every new professional partnership, I am assessing the benefits and potential risks of sharing my queer identity.

I believe that we all need to do what is comfortable for us individually and not feel any pressure to come out to everyone all the time.

I will say that my experience as an “out” professional has been almost entirely positive.

It has allowed me to live a more authentic life and has enhanced the role I play in supporting the queer community on the ETSU campus.

What type of support have you experienced with your identity?

Fear and potential rejection are extremely real and valid feelings when someone goes through (or is thinking about going through) the coming out process.

Vivian Cass’ model of homosexual identity development speaks to this in a way that many in the queer community can relate to.

An FDR quote that I love states, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.”

Doing something in spite of fear is quite possibly the bravest thing we can do. To strive to live an authentic life is maybe one of the biggest challenges a queer person will face but it can also be the most rewarding.

In my years of striving for identity synthesis, the final stage in Cass’ model, I have experienced an overwhelming amount of support. Support comes in many ways, big and small, and I am grateful for all of it.

Above all, I try to surround myself with positive people who are loving, respectful, and open-minded.

What advice do you have for queer youth?

Be true to who you are. “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

I think you’re awesome and I haven’t even met you yet. Namaste. -Dr. Novotny