Shiloh (she/they), Skidmore College, studied Gender, Equality, and Sexuality at DIS Stockholm. When looking into where to study abroad, Shiloh was determined to find a place where they would be accepted for who they were, and their choice eventually fell on Sweden.
Read below to learn more about Shiloh’s time in Stockholm and how they reflect on identity and expression in Sweden and the U.S.
A Liberal Country
Deciding to go abroad and study in another country – let alone another continent – I knew I needed to go somewhere that would accept me for who I was without explanation. In order to find that country, I recalled my classes in sociology and education expressing that Scandinavia was a very liberal and gender-equal area of the world. I then began my search for abroad programs in Scandinavia and found DIS. I immediately fell in love with Stockholm, Sweden, so I knew I had to apply.
Growing Up in An Accepting Family
I come from a very large, loving, and diverse family from Hoboken, New Jersey. They have been my support system for the majority of my life. I was adopted when I was four years old by my Aunt Brenda—who I call mom. She made sure that I felt safe and supported. The biggest and best impact she made in my life was her desire to create a family out of love, not just blood. Because of that, I have more parents, siblings, grandparents, and other relatives that I can always call my family. Even though I was adopted, my mom made sure that I still had connections with my other siblings, my dad, and my other family members from both my birth mom and birth dad’s side. I can’t imagine a life without my large connected family. No matter which way I look, I can feel an immense amount of support.
Being exposed to difference and diversity since I was young has aided my own journey of self-discovery and identity
Growing up in the predominantly liberal area of Hoboken and New York City, I was surrounded by different people from me and my family. Being exposed to difference and diversity since I was young has aided my own journey of self-discovery and identity, especially since the area I lived in and the family I grew up with are very accepting and open-minded.
Development of Identity
Clothing is one of the main ways I had started to use as a way to express myself. When I was younger, before I had a sense of self, I wore dresses because that was what was expected of young girls. But, once I started developing my own identity outside of the social norms, I started to wear clothes that were categorized as “boy’s clothing”. I didn’t feel like a very feminine person, so I wanted to dress more masculinely. I did so for many years in elementary and middle school. But, once attraction became prominent in my grade, people told me that boys wouldn’t like me if I dressed like them. Once I heard that I immediately went to Target and bought new clothes, leading to me becoming someone I didn’t know in order to please society. It took me a while to find my way back to a truer sense of self, and I am still working on that.
Once I recognized that I didn’t want to or even need to please society and the male gaze, I began to work on what I wanted for myself.
Because of the pandemic, I was out of school and away from societal pressures for a long time. I used this time to explore myself through online communities and found people I identified with. And once I recognized that I didn’t want to or even need to please society and the male gaze, I began to work on what I wanted for myself. College was the perfect place to continue working on myself. I made friends that accepted me for who I was and were supportive of my journey in gender identity, pronouns, and figuring out my sexuality. I have never really enjoyed boxes and labels, so I have felt most connected to the term “queer”. Being queer is an umbrella term for anyone who is under the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.
Life in Sweden
Since being in Sweden I have felt both more myself than ever, but also more constricted than when I am at home and in college. I live with two amazing moms here in Sweden and they are people that I greatly admire and look up to. I have been able to see how they go about their life like any other couple I have seen in Sweden. They are looking for a house without facing discrimination and they can hold hands in the street without the fear of being harmed. It is clear that they feel safe here and are given many equal opportunities that straight couples have. Being here makes me feel safe within myself and I don’t have to worry about being harmed for the way I present.
Being here makes me feel safe within myself and I don’t have to worry about being harmed for the way I present.
I express myself through my clothing, and I can be very androgynous at times. When I am in Sweden, I am not worrying about my clothing being a negative indicator of my gender or sexuality. But, I do feel that my clothing style has been restricted since being here. In the winter, Swedes tend to wear neutral colors. My usual clothing choices are usually colorful. So, if I ever wear a colorful outfit, I definitely get looks from people. I feel uncomfortable under the gaze of eyes around me, so I have resorted to some more neutral color clothes to blend in. However, my style hasn’t changed because I feel safe in my clothes even if it means altering the colors I wear.
Studying at DIS
In addition to being a part of Swedish society, I am also a student at DIS. My Core Course here is called Gender, Equality, and Sexuality in Scandinavia. I have never taken a class like this before, so I took the opportunity to enroll. Little did I know, I would be surrounded by an amazing group of queer people and allies. The classroom is a safe space for the conversations we have and for being open about our own identities. I have learned so much about LGBTQIA+ history and rights since being in this class. I have also have had so many new experiences with the people I have met. I am so grateful for this experience and I am sad that it is coming to end soon. I have met such incredible people and the courses I am in are incredible. I will miss all of this so much, and I hope I can come back to visit my host family and see my new friends back at home in the United States.
Little did I know, I would be surrounded by an amazing group of queer people and allies. The classroom is a safe space for the conversations we have and for being open about our own identities.
If I were to give some advice to another LGBTQIA+ student before studying abroad it would be that whether you decide on Stockholm or somewhere else, find a place that you will feel comfortable in and one where you are accepted for who you are. I just want you to be able to be yourself.
Learn more about Shiloh’s time in Stockholm
Learn more about DIS Stockholm