(By Mai Foringer)
It’s kind of funny, I’m not an athlete like one would think. I’m not going to be a college athlete, and I stopped playing high school sports junior year. I got concussed twice in high school from playing field hockey. Because I wasn’t extraordinary in my sport, I was “encouraged” to stop playing contact sports to save myself for schoolwork, and the college application process.
That kind of news sucks. It’s like a nice sucker punch to the stomach. I’ve always been an active person. In addition to field hockey I’ve danced ballet, rode horses, swam, ice-skated, played soccer, basketball and lacrosse. Sports have kind of shaped my life and who I am as a human being. It was that space where I could just have fun and sweat a lot. It was a safe space.
When I switched schools and came to Germantown Friends School in seventh grade that safe space got even safer, and in a way I hadn’t even realized until I was coming to grips with who I was in ninth grade. My high school was a place of acceptance and (very) liberal views. There was a joke that it’s harder to come out as a Republican than it was to come out as LGBTQ. Compared to how my coming out could have gone at another school, I know I was incredibly lucky to have been where I was.
With that in mind, I was never worried about how my teammates and peers viewed me after I came out last fall. It was never really a secret to begin with, honestly. What I was more worried about was my extended family and friends who didn’t have the same environment that I grew up in and were from a more conservative mindset.
Without getting into too much detail, some of my family members had their own struggles coming to grips with my cousin coming out years before me. When I came out, I was worried that those different mindsets were going to be a problem again. Luckily, it wasn’t. The family members who I care about most accept me for who I am, and have really come a long way with their faith and their personal beliefs.
I became more concerned about one group of very close family friends. They’re from central Pennsylvania in a small town near State College. I grew up around them because my family and I bleed blue and white, Penn State colors, and when I was little my parents would get season tickets to PSU games.
So every weekend in the fall we were in Happy Valley for football and I was sent up to this group to spend the day with them because I just didn’t have the patience or concentration to sit in Beaver Stadium and tailgate the whole day. I grew up with this other girl, she was three years older than me. Her name was Allison, but everyone called her Alli. Every time I was in that town or knew we were heading up for football weekend, I would ask if I was going to see Alli.
Alli and I got to see each other at least once every year from when I was 2 through last fall when I was 17. We became very fond of each other, and thought of each other as family. Last year over my spring break, I made my official visit to Penn State University Park. That same weekend, Alli wanted to show me Penn State Altoona, where she was a sophomore and second-year basketball player.
We had always been able to talk to each other. We didn’t see each other for most of the year, so we always had something to catch up on. At some point, Alli casually asked if I was seeing anyone. I had already decided beforehand that out of anyone from that town, I would come out to Alli first. I figured if she asked, I would tell her. So I did.
It went really well. What I appreciated most was that she didn’t make a big deal out of it. It was like, “Cool, well you know I support you no matter what.” That was it. She didn’t need to go overboard because that’s not how our relationship worked, and that’s not how she is. As long as she knew that I knew I had her support from the get-go, that’s all she wanted. We kept talking like nothing happened. Our relationship was the same, if not stronger because I had opened up to her. We just went on with our day together.
Earlier this year, I lost Alli. She was a junior at Penn State Altoona, and was on track to graduate early next year. I don’t think I’ll ever get over losing her, and her whole town will be mourning for a long, long time. I’m not telling you this for you to feel sad or sorry for me. I’m telling you this because it shows how much Alli meant to everyone she came in contact with. She made sure that her interactions with people were pure and kind.
Out of everyone who I came out to privately, I appreciate coming out to Alli the most. She was, and still is, someone I look up to. Alli was always happy to see me, and always tried to make time to see me when I was in town. She and I have such a long history, and such a strong sister-like bond, that I was genuinely worried that I would lose her if I came out.
I cared about her opinion of me, and it would never matter where I was in my life, she was a person I looked up to and loved like a sister, and I always want her to be proud of me. There would never be a time where we would move on or graduate from anything that could split us up.
With my high school teams, it was a bit different. I didn’t put a lot of stock into my teammates’ opinions because when I officially came out, I was a senior in high school, and I was the team manager. I didn’t care if someone on the team didn’t support me because 1.) I was graduating at the end of the year, 2.) I wasn’t even on the team; I was working the book, clock and pump-up playlist, and 3.) For every potential negative person, I had a handful other players or coaches vouching for me. I was set.
But seeing Alli’s reaction, and knowing that she supported me regardless of who I love, further instilled my belief that the people who truly love and care for you will always be in your corner. Home environments, personal beliefs, religions and politics aside… When push comes to shove, if someone sticks by, supports, and respects you, that is a person to keep close to you as long as possible.