A Coming Out Story
If you only read one narrative from the LGBTQ community on this day of Pride, make it this coming out story from a varsity ‘Cac athlete:
It’s Thursday at 8 p.m. on a chilly night in October and I’m sweating bullets. I furtively leave my dorm room and on my way out I mumble something about going to a study session to my roommate. I’m lying through my teeth, but she can’t tell. I leave the dorm and I can feel my palms getting clammier with every stride across the quad. Entering Morrow Dormitory, I quickly scan the common room making sure nobody is around. I bound down the stairs, and with as much composure as possible, I open the door to the Rainbow Room. The room is full, several faces stare back at me as I plop myself down on the floor, avoiding too much commotion. I’m late and there are more people than I expected for my first Pride Alliance meeting.
The room is painted a garish pink that screams “Repaint me a sensible color, for the love of God!” I’m overwhelmed by the posters, people, and rainbow paraphernalia. I try not to get too dizzy and focus on the discussion at hand. People are talking about social groups on campus. My stomach lurches the inevitable moment athletes get brought up. My friend nudges me and says with a smile, “Here’s your chance, talk about being gay on the cross-country team.” Oh no. Not here. Not now.
I just got to this meeting, isn’t it enough that I came to this meeting? Why must I say something? A person chimes in about the disconnect between the gay community and athletes, how so few athletes are gay or ever come out. The conversation takes a turn towards bitterness about closeted athletes, and it is evident that the varsity athletes at Amherst College have not attended Pride meetings.
My mind and body are apparently working separately during the next few comments, because all of the sudden my hand shoots up in the air. I’m called on to speak by someone sitting on the couch. I feel completely out of my element being here but I need to say something. I bring my knees to my chest and hug them tightly, hoping I will be able to utter words I have been trying so desperately to say in public. “Well…I…I’m an athlete on the cross-country team…” The first part of my sentence is spoken, definitely the easiest part. This sentence is what I have hid behind, the sentence that has been my crutch and what I have always used to publicly identify myself as. I continue, “…and I’m gay…” My mind is racing, my heart is fluttering. I cannot believe the words that just came from my mouth. I breathe deeply but know the feeling of my voice beginning to hitch and my eyes getting moist. I try to keep composure but it’s no use. Tears start streaming down my face, and I figure I might as well finish what I was trying to say. “…and I find it… really hard… to be who I am, and so…I… I’m not open about my sexuality on my cross-country team.” I begin to sob loudly into my knees. I’m embarrassed and afraid of what will happen to me after that sentence. “Why did I just do that?”, I think to myself. I’m so concerned about people finding out I went to this meeting, I begin to shake at the thought of it. I’m ruined and everyone will know about this by tomorrow at breakfast.
After having my pity party with my head glued to my knees, I lift my face from my damp jeans to look up at everyone. I expect ridicule for being a closeted athlete; the kind of person that nobody in that group would want to encounter. Everyone in the room is silent, but their faces express a somber compassion. A girl delicately slides a box of Kleenex to my feet and says the simplest but most beautiful thing I could have heard in that moment, “It’s okay,” she says gently, “and we are here for you.” I let out a sigh, and stutter back, “Thank you so… so much.” I feel a rush of relief melt away the anxiety. A heavy weight has been lifted from my chest and for the first time in my life, I start to think this is a small step towards an identity I can tell people about.
Speaking up at that Pride meeting was no easy feat. The fear and hesitancy in my voice reflected my difficulty in coming to terms with myself. Looking back on that time, I can answer my own question of why I stated who I was. Whether or not I felt ready to accept myself, I needed other people to know who I was and I knew it would eventually benefit me. I wanted others there, (and now, others in more public spaces), to see that the gay athlete does exist. That meeting made it necessary for me to express both identities together. From that time on, I have been working very hard to show people I can be confident as both an athlete and as a gay person. By expressing confidence in myself to a larger audience I, in effect, feel inwardly confident. I want people to know that not only do I as a gay athlete exist, but I can be comfortable existing as such. The fact that I am is not really the most important part to me. It’s the fact that I can express assurance in both of those things and take pride in being who I am. I certainly hope it shows.