By Mason Briles (Pictured above with Jason Collins)
Coming out in sports can feel like a very daunting task. The testosterone fueled world of athletics is believed by many to habitually reject change. To closeted LGBTQ athletes, the locker room is often seen as an unwelcoming place. I was one of those people. I heard the slurs and experienced the outward rejection in the locker room.
What I have since found, especially as it pertains to homophobic slurs, is that the jokes and remarks are meant to call an athlete soft and generally the athletes do not have a problem with members of the LGBT community. Does that make the remarks ok? Not at all. But knowing the intent is a key to taking that first step in the long, and very rewarding journey of coming out.
You don’t really realize how much time, effort, and energy is spent on being in the closet until you finally come out. It is hard when you win two championships, but still feel like you do not have a place within your sport. The first time I fenced after I came out was a brand new experience.
My blade-work was smoother, my footwork was effortless, and it was so much easier to stay and compete in the moment. I excelled in a way I never had before and in my opinion, this is one of the greatest parts of coming out in sports.
The newfound freedom is something out of a fairytale. No longer during a match does my mind ever wander to “who here can tell that I’m gay,” or “I need to change my lunge because it looks too feminine.” All I ever focus on now is the next point, scoring the next touch, and knowing that if I fence the way I was trained, the next point will eventually lead me to victory.
In addition to no longer having to deal with these worries, the reaction of my team was amazing. All my teammates, both old and new, accepted me with open arms. The nonchalant slurs that had been tossed around before I came out, suddenly stopped. I received phone calls and messages from fencers I had not seen in years, all showing support and encouragement to continue being true to myself. The environment was so much more welcoming than before. The reaction was better than anything I could have imagined and I finally felt at home in my sport. That does not mean the whole post-coming out process has been easy.
There have been setbacks and I have learned a lot, about myself and others, in the process. Before coming out, my entire life seemed to be consumed by one thing, not outing myself. How I dressed was “not gay.” What I liked was “not gay.” Who I chose to be around was “not gay.” How I walked and talked was “not gay.” Everything about me was characterized by hiding the fact that I am gay and staying as far away from gay as possible.
So after coming out, I had a lot to learn about myself. Everything from my fashion sense, to my hobbies were suddenly up for evaluation. I was so consumed by being “not gay,” that I never knew who I was. The only two things I knew for sure were that I loved fencing and boys. This meant that I had a lot of soul searching to do and even now, nine months later, I am still learning new things about myself.
One post-coming out memory that really stands out to me occurred during a touch-football game. A player on the opposing team got mad and shouted “at least I don’t play on a team with fags.” The next play, one of my best friends turned it into a game of tackle football and laid him out.
While I don’t condone violence, the sentiment remains the same; true friends always have your back. This friend comes from a very conservative and deeply religious background. This gesture meant the world to me and only goes to show that true friendships can make it through anything.
I have never regretted coming out or sharing my story with anyone. If my experience was able to help just one person, then it was worth everything and anything that has or will come out of it. Even so, every experience comes with its ups and downs, the key is to make decisions where the pros outweigh the cons. If I learned one thing from coming out, it is that being true to yourself is the key to happiness. And happiness is the key to everything.
Mason Briles is a sabre fencer from Atlanta, GA and fences for Fencing Star Academy. He currently attends Auburn University where he is working towards concurrent degrees in Exercise Science (B.S) and Fitness, Conditioning, and Performance (B.S.). Mason also works as an assistant fencing coach at Brookwood High School in Snellville, GA. You can reach Mason via Twitter (@masonbriles), Facebook or email (email@example.com).
Photo courtesy: Eric Lueshen