Being out is pushing Scott Jordan to success
By Scott Jordan
Special to Outsports
It was one of my first conversations with a teammate on the swim team after I’d decided to come out to them last summer. I was home in Connecticut talking with him on the phone about the upcoming season when talk turned, as it sometimes does, to sex.
I took the plunge.
“That’s not the kind of ass I’m looking for,” I replied.
He didn’t believe me at first; In fact, most everyone I’ve come out to hasn’t believed I’m gay. But once he realized I wasn't joking around, I told him it wasn't a secret anymore. I told just three teammates that summer, purposely telling one teammate in particular because I knew he liked to gossip (yep, straight guys gossip too). As planned, gossip took care of the rest. When I got to school a month later it felt like the entire campus knew I was gay, and I had only told three people.
St. Bonaventure University, 70 miles south of Buffalo, N.Y., is not an ideal place for a gay guy (even if our nickname is “the Bonnies”). It's very conservative and religious, and it's in the middle of nowhere. There are less than 2,500 students, and the gay community is almost nonexistent. When I decided to go here I was deeply closeted, and I wasn't thinking about how the school would be for a gay guy. At that age, I envisioned my life as a straight guy, and I was drawn by the "straight" party scene and a nice swimming scholarship.
I came out to my family and a few close friends when I was 18, but I remained closeted to my team until this past August. I gained a lot of respect on my team before I came out to them, and that has had a very positive impact. I'm one of the highest point-scorers in the Atlantic-10 Conference, defending champion in the 100-yard breaststroke two years running, I’m a captain on the team, and I'm within half a second of qualifying for Olympic Trials. Regardless of what I’d done in the water, I was scared that I would lose the respect of my teammates when they found out I was gay. When the other captains and I met with the rest of the team at the beginning of the season, I was terrified that the team would view me as "this gay guy" instead of the same person they've known. I remember being afraid that they wouldn't even listen to me when I started to talk, and it was hard for me to say the first few words because of it.
I've considered transferring almost every year, but I feel like I'd be leaving my family if I left my team. I survive here by taking road trips, usually to Buffalo, which is an hour north of my school. One of my teammates who lives there showed me the bars and even introduced me to some of his friends who are gay. I'll take a trip up to Buffalo maybe once a month, and in that trip I'll live the month of pent up energy in that one night. It's frustrating having to travel, and I feel that it holds me back from having any serious relationships; but I've met some great guys, even if it's only for one night.
The first month of the season was extremely difficult for me. Worried about how life would change now that I was out, I would wake up in the morning and not want to get out of bed; if it wasn't for morning practice, I might not have. I was upset with myself for caring too much what other people thought about me, but I couldn't help it.
Ultimately, it was the team that helped me come around. I slowly realized my teammates still respected me and still liked me, and that social support made me feel better. My relationship with my team is awesome, and increasingly I’m finding it unique. Contrary to my initial fears, my team’s love for me hasn’t changed, and I’ve found them all to be completely accepting of me. I'm a bit more hesitant to slap a teammate's ass if he's had a good swim, but overall my relationship with them has only strengthened.
Surrounded by, well, swimmers
Every day in practice I'm surrounded by a bunch of gorgeous, ripped guys in Speedos, and it's pretty much the ultimate tease. In my head my imagination goes crazy, but even if I find myself attracted to a teammate, I leave it at that. I'm the first openly gay swimmer any of my coaches have dealt with, but they don't restrict me or treat me unfairly at all; so I set my own boundaries. There needs to be certain direction within the team, and if I were to hit on one of my teammates, or say something overtly sexual, it would just cause problems and I'd risk losing their respect.
Though, they do occasionally ask me who I think is the most attractive guy on the team, or if I think someone in particular is attractive. The guys just want their egos stroked, and feeding those egos will eventually lead them to misinterpret situations and cause unnecessary drama; so I keep it to myself. I still occasionally find myself having a crush on some guys on the team; but I'm human, I can't help it. After going through high school on a swim team (being at that age where hormones are virtually overwhelming) and making the mistake of developing strong feelings for other guys on the team, I've learned how to keep myself from becoming too emotionally involved with my teammates. But I haven't learned how to stop checking out swimmers though, and I don't plan on it; I've simply perfected doing it discretely.
Sometimes I still find it hard to be myself when I'm around my teammates. There's a peculiar pressure to be a badass masculine athlete on a team, and it's something that even encumbers my straight teammates. Everyone on the team tries to garner more and more respect from everyone else, and with a group of mostly straight guys, being masculine goes hand-in-hand with being respected. At this point in my life, when I've finally decided to be myself, this pressure to be a macho-man jock confounds my pursuit to just be myself.
Striving to be his best
Being out is pushing me in training. I feel like my swimming results are now reflecting the real me, and that inspires me. With so few openly gay men in sports, I feel a bit more pressure to prove myself, and that gives me a lot of fuel to train my ass off in the water. I've gone in-season best times in my 100 breaststroke and 200 individual medley, and I've set some challenging goals for the end of the season. My championship meet is at the end of February, and I'd like to qualify for NCAA championships in the 100 breaststroke. It's going to take a lot of hard training to get the cut, but I have new-found inspiration that will hopefully help me achieve that goal.
Before I came out, I questioned whether having a gay guy on a team would “hurt” the team; and that just seems ridiculous to me now. Every out swimmer I've known about has been one of the best swimmers (if not the best) on his team. I've seen them benefit their teams, and I know I benefit my team with my performance in the water, my grade point average, and I think I've set an example of courage to my teammates; showing who I really am when so many others like me have not.
I think ultimately everyone struggles to just be who they really are, gay or straight, and I see that character rubbing off on my teammates. I've talked to a younger teammate in particular about just being himself. He mentioned to me once about how he's viewed on the team as a nerd, and he seemed a little discouraged that he was catching shit for being a computer geek. I talked to him about how my struggle to just be myself is similar to his, and he's really embraced himself and been proud of who he is since. If having that example on a team is a bad thing, then I’m guilty as charged.
Scott can be reached at email@example.com