“Three kids. Three time zones. One mission …” That’s the tagline for a fantastic new blog, “Walk the Road” (with the url www.bradrobertben.wordpress.com), created and written by three gay teenage high school athletes. That’s unusual in and of itself. What makes it even more unique is that the three are not anonymous.
The three bloggers are Brad Usselman, 16, (a runner from Washington state in the Pacific time zone); Ben Newcomer, 16, (a soccer player from the Southeast in the Eastern time zone) and Robert, 17 (a soccer player from the South in the Central time zone). Robert is not using his last name since he lives in a conservative area, but like Brad and Ben he is using his photo and is comfortable telling his story. (For those wondering, I have verified all their identities).
I have been e-mailing, texting and webcamming regularly with the three since Brad first wrote me and I am very impressed by their drive, intelligence, energy and passion; they are also just fun to talk with.
For example, I asked Brad what his goals are for the blog and he replied: “One goal is to dance on ‘Ellen.’ Another one is to help the younger generations. The last goal is to meet Lady Gaga. Those can go in any order, haha.”
The blog actually got its start in the aftermath of last year’s Mikey hoax (the alleged teen hockey player who turned out to be a 40-something married man). Said Brad:
“Finding out that he was a phony destroyed me, and I went through a hard time because I built up a relationship with a lot of people on that website. Still to this day I have not found a blog with an openly gay high school athlete who uses his real name. My friends and I would like to change that. … Our goal is hopefully to change people's perceptions that openly gay athletes would be ostracized from their sports team. Also, we want to build a grass-roots movement with my generation to show that equality isn't just something we strive for, equality is something we want now and we will go against society's view of being normal to prove our point.”
They are committed to making a difference for other LGBTQ young athletes, wanting them to know they are not alone. As Ben wrote me about how easy it is for athletes to stay hidden in the closet: “Gay people who fit in shouldn't feel like they have to just because they can.”
While there have been anonymous blogs by gay athletes, this is the first I know of where the bloggers are in high school and not hiding who they are. That alone makes their blog special and makes them more real and accessible since they are not freaked out about hiding details or of someone finding out. It will make their blog that much richer.
Excerpts from some of their first posts give a glimpse of what they’re about:
You could call me gay. Or you could call me bisexual. Or you could call me straight, or pansexual, or maybe just Ben. These labels that define our sexuality, personality, individuality are just that. They are labels. Labels that people use to box up society into neat little packages. I am here to say to those people, “Here’s a run for your money.” Labels are comforting, but where’s the fun in life without a little ambiguity?
I have grown up in a society filled with stereotypes of every group of people. These unhealthy views of certain people destroy some. I myself have been affected. Words such as “faggot” and “homo” being used in daily conversations have shut the closet door on me and not let me out. But I made a promise to be who I am and not let others define me just by my sexuality. I, Brad Usselman, am a varsity athlete who is gay and this is my story.
We are free to be what whatever we chose to be and how to do it. I was led down a rough path for many years until I began to figure out who I am and how I’ve become stronger in spite of the past. In retrospect it is better to be happy with whom you are rather than try to be something you are not.
Their banner image is of a solitary man walking down a tree-lined road. It has the words “Walk the Road: One common goal.” The idea is that young people wrestling with their sexuality need not walk alone. As Robert said: “Walk the road came to mind just out of the blue. The picture that we have that top made me think of how alone, at times, I have felt and with that I came to ‘Walk the Road’ (being that the road resembles a sort of life's path that a lot of us have been on).”
Via the blog we’re watching three young people during their coming out process. And it is a process, with all its ups and downs. They are out to their parents (Ben’s mom posted the first comment) and some friends, but not yet to their teams or to most people at their schools. Ben is also out to his twin brother, whom he plays with on a club soccer team, and assumes some teammates on his high school team might know. As for Brad, “I am not out yet to my teams but will be soon. I am guessing people already know but I have never faced any criticism.”
Being so open is not without its potential risks, and I have been wondering how they will deal with people stumbling across the blog by doing a web search. “I'm at the point where I'm not announcing it, but I think I'm all right with people finding out,” Ben said. Added Robert: “We understand there might be things that come with this blog, as well as maybe a few gay-bashers, but I think we can handle it, as well as ask for advice.”
I have been telling people about the blog and they immediately get its uniqueness. At the end of a long interview with out rugby player Gareth Thomas, I asked him to videotape a short greeting to the trio, who see Thomas as a role model. He readily agreed and the clip is up on the blog. Wrestler Hudson Taylor and his fiancée Lia Mandaglio have friended them on Facebook and are big supporters. When I mentioned the story to a mainstream media colleague, she immediately asked for their contact information to do a story.
What I especially like is that the blog is entirely run by the three (it is hosted on a free Wordpress account). As a point of disclosure, I have offered them editing and general blog advice, but the words, layout and ideas are all theirs.
The site is in its infancy but it will be enjoyable to see it grow. They have no intention of just writing post after post filled with teen angst about being gay, and will deal with those issues when appropriate. They also want to be seen as well-rounded people with differing interests -– Brad loves “Jersey Shore,” March Madness and dancing; Robert can talk intelligently at length about cars, the Chicago Bears and the English Premiere League; and I hope Ben writes about why Einstein, the Buddha and Henry David Thoreau inspire him.
Most of all, the blog has a tremendous potential to bring together other young athletes (or non-athletes) wrestling with their sexual identity. These are three people who know what it’s like to struggle with that at a difficult point in life, and their journey is far from complete. They want more people to tell their stories, comment on posts and connect with each other.
I urge everyone to check out “Walk the Road” and read their posts and bio pages. They would love feedback, so please leave comments (there is also an e-mail address). And if you like what you see, please pass the blog address on. Connecting gay teenagers is especially hard, so the more exposure for the blog the better the impact.
Update: Brad, Ben and Robert are already posting submissions from others. Check out this emotional e-mail from a fraternity member at Mississippi State and this one from a college swimmer and why he is in the closet.