Despite suicidal thoughts, Oneonta lax captain Andrew McIntosh found his way out of the closet.
I had just finished my junior-year lacrosse season at Oneonta State University in New York when word came that I was going to be a captain of my team for the 2010 season. I was excited. I was honored. I was depressed.
At home I reflected on my life: How will people remember me after I take this bottle of pills so I can just die and no one will ever know I ‘m gay? I could see my funeral being played out: The images brought me to tears as I watched my father, brother and former teammates as pallbearers, all of them wondering why I decided to end my life. “How could Andrew do this to himself? He had it all.”
I had experienced no lonelier point in my life. I felt no one could understand my feelings. Who the hell is gay and plays sports, especially lacrosse?
I remembered the first time I tried to kill myself, after I lost a football game in high school. I thought I should have just hanged myself then and I wouldn’t be dealing with any of these problems…Why I am in love with my best friend Mike?...Why don’t I love some girl like the rest of my friends?...Why couldn’t I just be like everyone else?
It was in the midst of those thoughts that I watched the movie “Milk.” It was the first time I realized that there are other people out there who are closeted and do not want to live. There are people like me. And it was then that I began to wonder: Are there other gay athletes too?
The next day I decided to tell someone I’m gay, and I settled on one of my best friends from home. I would say Mike is the reason I realized I am gay: I had fallen in love with him in college, and I felt ashamed of it. Mike was a teammate of mine in high school and became a great friend throughout college. He is also captain of his college lacrosse team.
I invited him over to my house after we worked out at the gym. I told him I watched “Milk” the night before, and that I really liked it and related to it. That was my first lame attempt at coming out. Then I hinted that I was questioning who I wanted to be with sexually.
“Do you like guys?” He asked.
“I think so,” I said.
I think so. The first time I came out I never even said “I’m gay.” But I did tell him that I didn’t want to live anymore. He stayed with me that whole day and told me over and over that he was fine with me being gay. Of course, I didn’t tell him that I loved him like more than a friend; Better to ease him into that one.
After I told Mike, I decided to tell my sister, who is also gay. I felt she would know some ways to cope with the depression I was feeling. When I called her, she said she had been waiting for that call for years; She was the only one I ever told who didn’t seem genuinely shocked. She and her partner were great resources. One website they told me might help me with the coming out process was called Outsports. And in Outsports I immediately dove into a goldmine for coming out stories just like mine.
The first story I came across was about Andrew Goldstein, also a lacrosse player, at Dartmouth University. I remember in high school I had seen his story on ESPN, but I had subconsciously denied ever seeing it. After reading the article I talked to Andrew, and he provided great insight about being a gay athlete. It was refreshing to talk to someone who knew exactly what I was going through – living a lie, losing sleep, wanting to die – all of the horrible feelings that were destroying me. After talking with Andrew a new feeling came over me…that I was not alone. I had to let people know the real me.
The most comfortable way for me to tell people that I was gay that summer was via email: I was too nervous to say it out loud. When I considered whom to tell next, I remembered a practice a few months earlier. My coach had stopped practice because one of my teammates said that a drill was “so gay”; Coach Dan Mahar immediately said it was unacceptable to say something is “so gay.” That was the first time I had ever seen a coach address people being gay. As I remembered this I typed him an email. This is the email I sent my coach:
First I just want to say that I am happy at Oneonta and I am proud that I will be finishing my collegiate lacrosse career here. I am also happy to have you as my coach and I appreciate the compassion you have for your players and I admire the professionalism you have on and off the field. I know we talk a lot about lacrosse and not much about our personal lives. I am sending this email though to share apart of my personal life with you. Two months ago I came out as being gay and this has been a very hard time in my life. I can't express in enough words the pain I have felt throughout high school and college while concealing this secret. There have been many days in my life when I have felt very depressed and even have had thoughts of suicide. Even with all of these feelings I have maintained my mental toughness and have been able to perform on the field and in the classroom. This experience has truly taught me a lesson about mental toughness. I also want to let you know that you are the first coach I have ever told this to and I am even telling you before my parents. The reason I feel somewhat comfortable telling you is because I remember one time in practice you called someone out for using the term "gay" in a derogatory way and I felt a sense of pride and comfort for the first time about my sexual orientation. I hope this does not alter your opinion of me as a captain, a player and more importantly a person. You can respond back via email or call me which ever is more comfortable for you.
After he read the email, he called to meet with me. He was unfazed. He told me that if we had a roster of 30 players and 15 of them did not want to play on the team because I was gay, he would tell them to leave the team. I felt a new sense of confidence. I felt whole again. I was proud to be playing for not only such a great coach, but a great man who truly cared about the people underneath the uniforms.
A Gay Lacrosse Player
I had increasing confidence about being gay as the fall of 2009 approached. I started going on dates with men and exploring what kind of guy I might want to date. I remember my first date vividly; I was nervous to say the least. I can remember sitting as far away as I could from him because I had no idea what I was doing. All I could think was, I am going to kiss a guy? How does this work? When we eventually kissed, I felt as if things were right in the world. I felt a sense of comfort that only a man could provide me. After my date I can remember listening to George Michael and appreciating his lyrics in a new way, especially those of Freedom ’90: “There’s something deep inside of me, there’s someone I forgot to be.” I felt like I was getting a second chance at life.
After I told my coach I was gay, I decided to let my co-captains know that there was a reason George Michael was on my iPod all the time. Again, they embraced me with open arms. After all of the serious talk we started making jokes about me being gay. I would get texts informing me about gay cruises, or I would tell the captain I have a crush on him, and that he dropped from a 10 to a six if he did not shave or cut his hair.
I did have one teammate find out by accident because I sent him a text saying “hey there handsome,” and it was meant for someone else. He thought I was kidding about me being gay for 20 minutes until he finally accepted that it wasn’t a joke.
Life was normal in the showers. When we talked about our dates, I would comment on the nice arms my date had and they would talk about their girlfriends.
Gaying It Forward
I can recall my first experience at a gay club and feeling like a sixth grader at a dance all over again. I thought I was a decent dancer, but no one has seen dancing until you have been to a gay club. It’s also a very good thing I like Lady Gaga and Madonna, since they seem to be the favorites of gay clubs.
Another interesting aspect of a gay club is that it is completely acceptable for men to take their shirts off. During the summers I am a bouncer at home (or, as I like to say, a professional mediator), but if someone took their shirt off randomly, they would be asked to leave.
I even saw a gay dad with his straight son there because they were celebrating the son’s engagement to his fiancé. That was uplifting because I want to have a family someday.
Today I am in pre-season training hard for our first game of the 2010 season. Not only is it the first season I’ve played lacrosse being openly gay, and not only am I a captain, but it’s my senior year. The coming-out process has involved mixed emotions, but I am finally enjoying my life as a gay man. I appreciate every day I have the opportunity to put on a uniform and compete at a high level with some great looking guys (even though some of them refuse to shave or cut their hair).
Life is great. I am proud to be apart of such a great team (lacrosse team and gay team), and I thank everyone who has supported me through this process.
You can reach Andrew McIntosh via email.