(Community Matters) Gay high school football player finds acceptance amid homophobia in rural America
Editor’s note: Jeremy is a high school football player in rural America. Outsports knows his full identity, including what school he goes to, but is only using a first name for reasons that will be clear when you read the story. Jeremy also has a fantastic blog, “Standing Up Speaking Now,” where he chronicles his coming out.
My name is Jeremy. I’m 17 and a junior in high school. I’m a good student, a driven guy with ambitions, a football player, a track runner, and I’m gay. Saying the latter has always been a challenge, and up until recently I couldn’t accept it; thankfully that’s changed.
I’m not publicly out for several reasons. I live in one of the most rural, conservative spots in the country, where homophobia runs rampant. I also happen to be the son of a prominent Southern Baptist preacher. My town, team and family make my situation fairly tough and I still face a lot of obstacles, including rumors being spread about me at school. But even here I have found acceptance and it’s time for me to speak up.
I play sports and I’m into dudes. At any given time, you will find me either running track or playing football. I’ve played football on the varsity level since freshmen year and have put my heart and soul into every practice and game on Friday nights. I start on defense and helped our team advance two rounds into the state playoffs. I’ve been on varsity track since seventh grade. I was so competitive that the high school track coach pulled me up to compete against high schoolers, and I was placed in invitationals over seniors.
My environment is not the most tolerant. I constantly hear crude jokes and comments defiling gay people from my teammates. Where I live, people judge first and listen only if they have to. If everyone knew they had a gay teammate, it would not be a joyous occasion for me, as I have been recently discovering.
I suppose I knew at an early I was into guys. Grade school brought up those feelings of being “different,” but they didn’t solidify until middle school. We’d be changing before or after a game and I’d start noticing other dudes. Of course, I absolutely refused to make anything of it – I couldn’t be gay, I wouldn’t accept it. In high school, I started to date girls and fought everything in me that screamed, “You know Jeremy, this isn’t what you want.” As I matured and I reached my junior year, the feelings only deepened. It got to the point where I broke down in my room and cried. I couldn’t get away from being gay. I went through so many internal fights and I found myself hating who I am. I felt that if I even gave one ounce of indication I might be gay, my entire school, family and team would disown me.
As I began to accept myself, I came across several blogs on the Internet of other gay high school athletes. It finally hit me that I wasn’t alone and that really helped. I’ve been in contact with the guys from “Walk The Road” and “Sam I Am” and have evolved more in the past few months than ever. After being inspired, I started my own blog, “Standing Up Speaking Now,” in December to rant about the happenings of my life.
To say that my life has changed since I started the blog would be an understatement. So much has happened to me that I feel like a new person. It first started with unending desire to come out to someone. I was on the verge of going insane, simply because I couldn’t be “me” around my best friends. I first came out to a couple of my best female friends; their support was universal and it went amazingly well.
While I was a nervous wreck while telling them, nothing compared to the moment I’d tell my best dude friend. We play football and run track together and are basically brothers. Telling him was inevitable, but I was terrified the occasion would mark a disaster in my life. It started with me telling his sister and through her encouragement I typed a letter to give to him. The next day after I told her, I went to their house with the letter in my pocket. We played Xbox for a while and after nearly backing out, I handed him the letter. It explained everything about me being gay – how it doesn’t define me, hasn’t made me any different, and I’m still the same person.
His reply was the opposite of what I expected: “Dude, I don’t see you any different. You’re the same person as before, you’re still family.” In that moment I felt as if I could fly. It was one of my life’s highlights, simply because my best friend truly was my brother. Since then, we’ve only grown closer, always hanging out, spending the night, and just being friends.
I also took a big step when I came out to a group of nearly 20 other students while attending a leadership conference. It was hard, but not impossible, and I received the support from every girl in the room (I’ve found that girls tend to favor you more when they find out you’re gay.)
Life wouldn’t be a ride if you didn’t get the bad with the good, and coming out is obviously no exception. I’ve had a couple of, let’s say, “interesting” moments. I decided to come out to a girl I was fairly close with and it resulted in me nearly being outed. She thought me coming out to her was an attempt to get her to stop liking me (she apparently has a big crush on me) and basically went psycho. She went on her Twitter account to spread the word that I was gay (she eventually deleted the tweet) and I was forced into major damage control. While the two of us are OK now, she said and did several things that really hurt me.
Then there was a recent Facebook debate on gay marriage. I was obviously in favor of the issue, and was arguing on one of my friend’s message feed. We attend leadership conferences together, he lives in another city and I was convinced none of my classmates had him on Facebook. I was wrong. A girl at school saw the thread and approached me at school the next day.
Her: “So…. I have [friend's name] on Facebook.”
Me: “Ahh, yeah… Interesting debate, right?”
Her: “Jeremy. What the hell?”
Her: “You know what. How could you? What’s wrong. You know it’s wrong. You know it.”
Me: “So, you’re saying you saw the whole conversation?”
Her: “Yes. Jeremy, it’s wrong. I don’t wanna start a rumor but I can’t believe it…”
Me: “Uh… You know it’s really not that big of a deal… Nothing different at all…”
Her: “Listen, you know it is, and if you feel like you’re OK, then you need to reevaluate your life. Just. Just stay away from me.”
And she walks away. Well, I couldn’t say I expected stuff to go well, but yeah, it went badly. But that’s nothing as to what was coming. When she said she didn’t wanna start a rumor, something must have came over her and inspired to attempt to mess up the life I’ve built up. Rumors travel fast in a small school, especially when you’re a fairly big figure in your school.
I don’t want to relay a lot of what’s happened, for personal reasons. It’s not been pretty and the worst things I’d rather not be published. One could say that I’m literally the talk of my high school. Since I’ve not publicly come out, it’s one of those “everyone thinks they know” concepts. Half of my class has shunned me, and won’t talk to me. While most of my teammates don’t believe it, several do, and have tried to get kicked off of the football team. I’ve received a lot of nasty comments and texts.
I’m a strong person. I can handle comments and everything from people. I’m holding my head high, going forward, and trying not to let it bother me. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been affected a little, though. I’ve literally had so many “friends” just bail on me, and I know I couldn’t expect a lot from where I live – they’ve grown up in it – but it still hurts. I’m not even out, and the rumor has caused this. On the positive side, my best friend never abandoned me and helped me control the situation from getting too wild; so it’s all good.
All-in-all, I’m out to nearly 30 people I know (plus the 150 or so on the Facebook gay marriage thread) and have received tremendous support in an area as close minded as it gets. You never know how what reaction you’ll get, and I’ve found true friends will always stick by you.
Because of extreme injuries, continuing my sports career into college isn’t likely. My love for football is intense, though, so letting it go will be hard. My ultimate goal in life is to be an orthopedic surgeon in sports medicine. They say that events in your life shape who you become, and I’ve found that to be irrevocably true. Because of an ACL tear I had to go through reconstructive surgery, and because of a mistake by my first surgeon, I’ve had to go through three knee operations within a year. I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I have, I want to help people get back into their game. This desire to help resonates with the rest of my life. I want to stand up and speak for everyone I can. My favorite singer is Taylor Swift and she has a song whose lyrics really resonate with me.
“Real life is a funny thing, you know? I think most of us fear reaching the end of our lives and looking back regretting those moments when we didn’t speak up. When we didn’t say ‘I love you.’ or when we forgot to say ‘I’m sorry.’ So there’s a time for silence, and there’s a time for waiting your turn, but if you know how you feel, and you so clearly know what you want to say, you’ll know it. I don’t think you should wait, I think you should speak now.”
Life has been interesting for me, and I know sharing my story creates a lot of risks for me. If I was publicly out, it would likely go horribly wrong, but the support I’ve gotten will carry me through whatever trials I’ll face. Yes, I’m an athlete. Yes, I’m gay. Yes, I probably kicked your ass on the field. And, yeah, I’m standing up for who I am.
Jeremy welcomes email at email@example.com
Hat Tip: Towelroad