Brenner Green's always liked to run, but dropped out before high school. After coming out, he gave it another try and now thrives on his college's cross-country team. He's even had a movie made about him.
By Brenner Green
I was out before I was a runner. My mom knew I would be both gay and a runner since I was an infant. Gay, because I liked the Disney princesses and the pink Power Ranger was my favorite; a runner, because I was very hyper and fast on my feet.
“One time I left you outside by the tree in the front yard to answer a phone call. When I came outside only a minute later, you were gone. I panicked, but soon found you in the backyard. You crawled all the way over there in that one minute I went outside,” my mom told me.
It took me more than several years to discover that I am actually both gay and a runner. I grew up in a small rural town in Connecticut called Lisbon. Lisbon is by no means a hick town, but it is pretty homogeneous, meaning that my brother and I were the only Jewish kids in our school, and I knew only a couple of black kids. Certainly no one was openly gay.
However, in a small town in New England, running was quite popular and in the sixth and seventh grade I was a member of my school’s cross-country team. Yet at the awkward stage of puberty, I did not quite have the body type or confidence to be much of a star runner. In fact, I was so bad that I quit shortly into the start of the seventh grade, taking on the role of team manager. It was probably around the seventh grade that I also started to realize the possibility of being gay. I remember the confusion and misery I would experience at the school dances, looking at the popular and attractive boys and girls in my class dance together. The question that was then difficult to answer was: Am I jealous of the boy or of the girl? Or both?
I had my answer during my freshman year of high school. In middle school, no one spoke about being gay and I never had met anyone who was out. However, once I got to high school, there were gay students who were open and comfortable with their sexuality. Seeing them made me realize that I could accept my feelings as a natural gay identity. Two days after my 15th birthday in May 2005, I came out to my family. My mom and my brother cried and embraced me, but my dad had nothing to say and left the three of us for an hour or so. It was hard for him, but he did return to my room and told me that he loved me and that he would just need time to be more comfortable with it.
Soon after, I came out at school too. At the time, everyone was always on MySpace, so I made a coming out message on that site, not caring who read it or not. I figured it would only be enough for a few people to see the post, before everyone else would know. Since my school was so big (with more than 2,000 students) not everyone did know even after me coming out, but at least my friends any my family did. I did not believe that I had to tell everyone I met that I was gay, so I just was myself and if sexuality came up in conversation, I would not deny it.
The summer after my freshman year, rather randomly I suppose, I decided that I wanted to join the boy’s cross-country team. It had been a few years since my awful pubescent running days, and I had the sudden desire to start running again. The idea of being on a team sport appealed to me -- I could make new friends and do something new and significant in high school. Perhaps I also wanted to show that I could be “normal,” or “one of the guys,” as I did not necessarily relate to or identify with the more flamboyant and “theatre” gay boys.
When I told my parents that I wanted to start running and join the cross-country team in the fall, they thought I was joking and did laugh a little because of how disastrous my last attempt at cross country was. Nevertheless, they gave me their full support and encouraged me to start running. And that’s exactly what I did. Every day that summer, I ran and even started running in weekly “fun-runs” in the nearby park. At these runs, I met my new teammates in my year and was pleasantly surprised to see that I could keep up with them.
My first cross-country season was a success, and although I was not one of the top runners, I was somewhere in the middle with the other sophomores on my team. The topic of my sexuality was rarely addressed on the team. My teammates all knew, but we did not talk about it. Instead, I occasionally contributed to their talks about girls. Throughout my three years on the team, I never thought that I was in a homophobic environment, but now I realize that my teammates never really embraced my sexuality either.
Nevertheless, I loved running, and one of the proudest moments in high school for me was winning a race against 300 other runners. Outside of the team, I also built confidence and self-esteem by participating in the Mr. NFA pageant, an entertainment pageant for senior males where I competed against about 10 classmates. My talent was rapping in Hebrew and I dressed in a dreidel costume for the swimwear portion. I also was named “Most Valuable to Class” for senior superlatives out of 550 graduating seniors. The following year, I would be joining the class of 2012 at Connecticut College, a private liberal arts college that impressed me with its liberal attitudes and support for LGBTQ students, as well as its awesome cross-country team and coach.
Now, I am going into my last year at Connecticut College. I could not be happier with my time there, especially my time with the cross-country and track teams. I was out to my team and coach since freshman year, and they were so supportive of me that we all were filmed for the documentary “Out for the Long Run,” a film about openly gay high school and college athletes. This film is screening across the country, and as a result, I have met some really cool people, including the other athletes in the film as well as people who saw the documentary and thanked me for sharing my story.
My teammates are some of my best friends, and I even talk to my teammates about guys and about my personal life. My team and I are like a family. We eat meals together, run together every day, and party and hang out together on the weekends. My coach is like a second father to me, and he even spoke on a panel for the screening of the documentary at the Boston LGBTQ Film Festival.
On campus, being out has not been an issue for me. Connecticut College is a small school of 1,900 students, so most students know me for being in the film and for the various extracurricular activities I have been involved with. The activities include various LGBTQ organizations and events, even being chair of the main LGBTQ student organization on campus in my sophomore year. I also have served as a tour guide, “floor governor” (an RA), and freshman student advisor. I have a very diverse group of friends outside of the team and people accept me for who I am.
This past spring semester, I was lucky enough to study abroad in Amsterdam and study the lives of gay teenagers in the Netherlands. After interviewing seven gay Dutch adolescents, I learned that it is still hard for gay teenagers to come out and be openly gay, even in such a tolerant country.
I consider myself to have been very lucky since I have come out and as I go into my last year at Connecticut College, I am looking forward to another great year running, being with my teammates and other friends, and having the love and support from my family.
Brenner Green, 21, is a senior at Connecticut College, majoring in psychology. Upon graduating, he plans to either join the Teach for America Corps or to enroll in a graduate school. He hopes to pursue a career in teaching and/or counseling. He can be reached via Facebook or email (firstname.lastname@example.org)