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A college cross country runner's coming out journey

TJM has reconciled being gay with being a practicing Christian. Now he faces his biggest test -- coming out to his teammates.

Story from March 30, 2010

Editor’s note: TJM is the pseudonym of a collegiate cross country runner who is writing about his coming out journey. Outsports has verified his identity and is allowing him to use a pseudonym since he wants to come out to his teammates in person (he is on a study abroad program). When he does tell his team, we will update the story and use his name.


By TJM

My journey of discovering my sexual orientation started when I was 10.

I got home from my paper route and found out that school had been delayed two hours. I got on my home computer while my mom and dad had both left for work, and while my two older siblings were still asleep. I logged on to the Internet, and searched for “gay porn.” I clicked on the first link and it took me to a site that begin an addiction to gay porn that I would come to regret.

TJM

I also started to discover my sexuality and began to feel emotions towards other men. I would visualize men, mostly my fellow classmates, in positions that I had seen on the Internet. Eleven years later, I look at men in a different way, with respect and care, and with their clothes on.

The first time that I noticed I had feelings for men was at a basketball camp. All of the guys there were all so fit and toned and I wanted to look and be like them. After time and athletic seasons passed, I saw myself grow in my sexuality, as well as I what I looked for in a guy. It was then that I began to buy gay films and use them as porn because the computer I had once used was no longer connected. However, I was a custodian at my church, and I found the password to one of the computers there, so I began to use my church’s computer to look at porn sites, and also to buy my gay films.

It was at a speech competition while a high school junior where I met the first guy I would explore with. We met through one of his friends and he was closeted as well. We had to hide each other’s identities from our parents and others, and we gave each other code names. His code name was Ashley, and when my mother asked, I told her I was talking to Ashley. We explored one day on a country road, and after that, I knew I wanted to be with a guy. During my senior year of high school, I was miserable because I kept on buying films that I knew I was wasting my money on, as well as loading my church’s computer with pornographic films that should not have been on there.

Off to college

I decided to continue my education career at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, a four-year liberal arts school located in the beautiful and rolling hills of the Oneota Valley. Luther is a NCAA Division III school, with 19 varsity sports; I am a member of the men’s cross country and track and field teams. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with the teams, but I feel like I would be able to enjoy them more if I were able to be myself around them. I am not out to my teammates, but I plan to come out to them this summer after I get back from studying abroad in England.

I have not come out to them yet because of fear that I would not be accepted, as unfounded as that might be. I found out at the end of my freshman year from one of my teammates that he and another guy on the team were gay, and they had been dating for quite some time. After he told me, I figured that the whole team knew, and that the team did not seem to have a problem with either of them; but I was still not ready to come out.

After my first year at Luther, there were many things that I wanted to change. For one, I was still watching porn three times a day, sometimes to the point where I would ignore my studies and forget about everything.

There were a couple of other aspects of my life that I wanted to change as well. The first came about from an e-mail from my coach telling me that I need to either step up and do some serious training or I should leave the team. The second was that I had lost total connection with God, and I wanted to re-establish my relationship with Christ. I was hurt by the coach’s e-mail because cross country had been a part of my life since I started my freshman year of high school. The latter was the most important, however, because during high school, I was completely devout.

I made it a commitment to attend church every Sunday, and join the Luther College Fellowship of Christian Athletes. After a few meetings with my fellow Christian athletes, I knew there was something missing from my life.

With Christian athletes

At FCA meetings, I noticed how others’ relationship with Christ was much stronger than mine. I thought going to church and going to Bible study was all that I needed to make my relationship with Christ grow stronger. However, I found out I was wrong when I went to the national FCA conference last summer in Georgia.

One of my goals was to cleanse my mind and body of my addiction to pornography. I confessed my addiction in front of the 200 athletes from all over the country. The initial reaction from the guys when I told them was not as I expected. I thought it was going to be awkward, but instead of being shunned, they welcomed me into their arms. I now identify as a gay Christian athlete. My faith is the strongest part of my life, and every day I do a Bible study.

My relationship with Christ has been growing stronger since I came to terms with my sexuality because there is no place in the Bible that condemns homosexuality. Just because I am gay does not mean that my interpretation of Christianity is any different from another’s. The Bible says the same message to all who open up to the Word, and just as Christ does not change, the Bible never changes. I am no different from any other Christian in my beliefs. I am just different in my personal life, which should not have anything to do with my faith.

After I got back to Decorah, I knew that I needed to start fresh. I was tired of my sexual life, and I wanted to settle down in a relationship. I had tried to convince myself that I only liked men because of my addiction to pornography, but I was wrong. I really was attracted to men, and I wanted a relationship with another man.

The inspiration behind my writing this story came after I discovered Outsports and read Billy Glover's article of his coming out. All throughout his story, I kept going back to my life at Luther, and the years that I spent closeted, not being myself, having to hid a part of me from people who I knew would be not only my teammates, but also friends.

Those people who I started out with freshman year have moved on, and I don't have quite the friendships that everyone else on the team has with them because I couldn't be myself. I chose to hide a part of myself, and not to open up to the beauty of being individualistic, which is what college is about. I feel as though I've actually hurt the friendships that I could have had with teammates. I just wish I could have been like Billy and other athletes, and been able to tell my teammates. I think they would have been more appreciative and happy with me for the fact that I was honest with them.

Revealing secrets

I have now been studying in England for the past six months, and I have really got the opportunity to be myself. I was scared at first to join my university’s LGBT society, but I just told myself I should join the group so I could meet some other people. One of the most memorable moments was when I came out to my flatmates. We sat down at dinner one night, and I had told them the night before that I was going to go out with another society on a bar crawl; actually, I was going to go the LGBT meet and greet.

I decided that I had to tell them because I knew that if I kept it to myself the nine months that I lived with them, I would be miserable. I told them about my addiction to pornography, and then spilled the beans. “Guys, I just want you to know that I am gay, and I’m comfortable with who I am.” I have never received so much support from a group of people, and I cannot even imagine what this year would be like if I had come out to them.

When I leave in June, I will leave England with many memories and friends, but most of all, I will leave as a man who was able to become his self and enjoy being around a group who loved and supported me for just simply being me.

The challenge I face, however, is when I step off of the plane and I see my family at the welcoming gate. All I’m asking is that I will have the same amount of courage that I had in England to tell my family and friends back in my hometown and in Decorah.

My teammates are one thing, but my family is another. I tried coming out to my sister in the summer of 2008 and it was a train wreck. I had to tell her via a text because she had asked me about a sexual text that I had received from a guy that I had met online. Her response was: "Well you do know that this means that you cannot get married, and that you cannot have kids?"

I then tried to talk to my mom when I was home on break. I had been telling her about my college roommate that year and that he was gay. She responded with a loud "What?!" followed by, “Oh, my gosh!” and “That’s gross!" I then asked her what she thought of homosexuality, and she said: "How could anyone fall in love with someone of the same sex? I mean, for a handsome guy like you, there are so many beautiful women out in the world available for the taking." I haven’t brought the issue up again, and am not sure how I will handle it in the future.

I just hope that I will summon the courage to tell my teammates. I have one year of eligibility left at Luther, and my hope is that it is going to be the best year of both cross country and track and field. My goal is going to be not just training to be the fittest athlete possible, but more importantly, to just be myself and open myself up to my team.

Editor’s note: In the time between doing a final edit on this article and its publication, TJM sent Outsports this update:

I should let you know that I have come out to three other people at Luther during my year in England, one of them being my cross country coach. I also came out to my two work supervisors, and all three of them are really supportive for me, and told me that they are here for me if I ever need someone to talk to.

I also told the athletic director at Luther about this article, and he has no problems or concerns with Luther being mentioned. He also told me that if I ever needed to talk to him about something, he will be more than happy to talk with me.

This article has really helped me understand that most people are willing to understand and talk about things in our lives, even if they aren't like us. Writing this has given me so much more confidence in myself.

TJM can be reached via e-mail at mccuty01@gmail.com.