This post is the 5th of our Project: Speak series on athletes’ experiences with mental health in their coming out stories. The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.
It took me until I was a freshman in high school to begin to figure out my sexuality. I tried out for the softball team in the spring and met my first real life lesbian. I had some exposure to the LGBT community from watching shows like South of Nowhere and Degrassi, where lesbian and gay relationships were prevalent, but none in my own life. Subconsciously, I think I understood that I was gay but couldn’t bring myself to face it, so I shied away from anything that would give me closer access to the LGBT community.
I had been attracted to and fascinated by women in the past, but I chalked it up to wanting to be their friends. This attraction became impossible to ignore when I met this softball player, though. She was so confident about her sexuality and I was immediately drawn to her. She was loud and proud and wasn’t afraid to be herself even though we went to a stifling Catholic high school. I thought she was the coolest person I had ever met. She took me under her wing, and helped me realize that I’m a lesbian.
With this realization, however, came a boatload of self-hate and insecurity. I couldn’t be a lesbian. I wasn’t one of those girls that dreamed about her perfect wedding and husband, but no part of me ever expected that I would one day marry a woman. Everything hit me like a ton of bricks. I threw myself at boys left and right in the hopes that maybe I was wrong; maybe I did like men and just hadn’t met the right one.
I’m not sure where my fear of being gay came from because my parents are very liberal and had always been openly supportive of LGBT rights whenever things came up in the media, but all I knew was that I was terrified. I think part of it had to do with the very conservative and close-minded high school I attended. In the softball locker room before practice one day, a girl came up to me and pulled up her shirt, revealing her sports bra. When I stared at her, more out of shock than actual interest in her in a sports bra, she looked at me and said “why are you staring, lesbian?” That’s always stuck with me, and part of the reason that as much as I love the sport, I never played another season of softball.
From that experience, my takeaway was that I could never be happy as an out lesbian so I buried this part of me deep down. I discovered Tumblr, and soon found that there were thousands of people my age going through the same self-realization process. I made a few Internet friends, some who I still keep in contact with, who helped me come to terms with myself and let a select few people in on the biggest secret of my life. Although I was met with nothing but support, I was still apprehensive. It became so crippling that I was afraid to even begin driving when I reached that age because I was so scared of what would happen if I had a down day and had the ability to jump in a car and do something reckless that would endanger my health.
I really felt my outlook begin to change when I began college. I was in a new environment where I was completely anonymous, and decided to embrace the invisibility. Playing a NCAA sport had always been a dream of mine, something that seemed out of reach, but I was fortunate enough to be able to walk on to the tennis team. I loved the competitiveness and level that I was pushed to, and the team quickly became a family to me. I decided to come out to them when we had our freshman night out, and again, I received nothing but support. A couple of my teammates had questions, but weren’t judgmental. They were just curious because homosexuality was new to them, and that was something I understood. It actually made me happy that they felt comfortable enough with me to ask me questions because it meant they cared about me and my well-being.
Even though I am out to my family and friends, there are still days when I feel insecure about my identity. I worry about potential employers knowing I’m a lesbian and being able to find a job. This insecurity might be something that sticks with me for the rest of my life, but knowing that I have an incredible support system around me helps tremendously. Being able to talk to any number of my closest friends gives me confidence that this insecurity won’t spiral into anything deeper like it has in the past.
I think that if there’s one point I want people reading this to take away from this, it’s that you should never be afraid to ask for help. You might be too afraid to talk to someone you know, but there are countless resources out there for LGBT counseling and ways to meet people who truly want to help. Don’t be afraid to reach out, you don’t need to go through this alone.
The author of this post wished to remain anonymous but we want to commend them for sharing their story with us at all and allowing others to know, and draw hope from their story.