(This story was published in 2004).
By: Andrew Goldstein
Reprinted with permission from Discourse, a website formed by out athletes
It isn’t strange anymore, being the gay one amongst my friends, in my fraternity, on my team. It all happens in one moment, when you realize that the people who care about you will always care about you, and what is most important is to care about yourself. I told myself that I would have to be strong. I thought that people might talk about me behind my back as I walked down the street, and I worried that, on my first road trip this year with the lacrosse team, the unlucky guys who had to be my roommates would complain about sleeping in the same room as the homo. I thought that the first time I walked into the showers after a long practice, the other guys would all walk out or at least ask me to leave.
It didn’t happen like I had planned. I never had to be strong after that first moment. My friends, brothers, and teammates don’t treat my any differently because I am not any different now. I am still the loud one with my friends, the jock in my frat, and the goalie on my team. The only thing that has changed? Now girls are not afraid to approach me in a social setting and put their arm around me or even worse, grab me in an inappropriate place. I waited for people to stare at me or ask me questions or say names but it turns out I was worried about nothing all that time.
I guess it takes a gay goalie to have enough balls to score in the NCAA tournament.
In the summer of 2003, directly following a breakout year by both our team (the most wins in school history, a share of the Ivy League championship, and Dartmouth’s first NCAA tournament appearance) and myself (All-New England, All-Ivy League, All-America), I decided to come clean with everyone. I knew that I wasn’t the first gay athlete at Dartmouth, and it turns out I wouldn’t even be the only openly gay athlete in the sophomore class, but I did know that I had no openly gay team sport athletes to look up to. I am still not sure if I am the first guy on a team sport to come out at Dartmouth, but I am thankful that I had teammates when it came time to open up. They reassured me that I was their goalie either way. I got two responses from the guys on my team: first, the guarantee that they would always have my back no matter what, and second, an apology for anything they may have done to make me feel uncomfortable. At one of the most historically conservative schools in the country, my teammates were there when I doubted how I might be received.
On a national level, I knew that news would spread, as it always seems to do. I wondered how this would affect my status as an athlete but I found that the preseason honors and expectations only got higher. The world is ready for us. They may not be accustomed to us playing on their fields, dressing in their locker rooms, or taking home their MVP trophies, but when we gain their respect and show that we belong, the transition is smooth. What is new and different scares people. It might be a while before people accept gay marriages and adoptions as normal. But a bright group of 20-year olds just trying to string together enough wins to take home the Ivy League title for a second straight year really don’t mind if I call up a boyfriend or a girlfriend on the phone after a big game.
I always think it is pretty incredible when I hear about a high school kid who comes out to his team and his school. It takes something special to stand up for who you are in high school where gossip and pettiness rule the halls. There is something a bit safer about being away at college for the entire coming out process. I wasn’t worried about hiding myself to my family while I worked things out with my friends and eventually was able to reach a comfort level. Being away, the only bullets I had to dodge came on weekly phone calls with family on Sunday nights. Little did I know, all of the hiding I did in high school probably made it more difficult for my parents to predict and understand my being gay, although they certainly dealt with it as well as any parents ever could. They were just as proud of me as they always had been.
Last season, in a game at Syracuse, I was able to experience something that no straight goaltender was able to do in the last 20-something years of Division I lacrosse: I made a save and ran down the other end for a goal. As I ran back to my end of the field, I high-fived teammates and I looked up into the stands during the only game my brother, sister, and parents have all been to, and I thought to myself, I guess it takes a gay goalie to have enough balls to score in the NCAA tournament.
When I considered coming out to everyone, close friends reminded me that I had an obligation to be a positive role model for gay people who are struggling with their identity, especially in sports. This wasn’t the reason for me, though. I am an athlete. I have always been an athlete. I just wanted a chance to go out there and play the sport that I love without having to hide my sexuality from my teammates who are most of my closest friends. The world of sports gives me a chance to both stand out and fit in all at the same time. When Saturday games come around, I get to perform on the field in front of all of the fans and show off my talents. But when the game is over, it’s the guys telling me that I had a good game who really make me feel accepted. I am just one of the guys, part of a team, no matter what my sexual orientation is. In the world of sports, where the mental side is just as important as the physical, I can’t understand how an athlete could be expected to play freely and to the most of his or her abilities holding this whole part of life behind. It seems pretty reasonable to me why Billy Bean, who had all the talent in the world, might have had problems clearing his head enough to become an All-Star.
In the end, it all comes down to trusting your heart to do what you believe. My favorite quotation comes from Theodore Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, a former member of my fraternity at Dartmouth:
“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
These words go straight into my gut when I hear them because I know it wasn’t until I realized the truth of this statement that my life became a whole lot easier and a whole lot better. I finally realized that I didn’t have to be strong and I didn’t have to be the next Jackie Robinson. I just had to be me, the same joyful, passionate, energetic kid that I have always been.
Andrew Goldstein, a native of Boston, is a member of the class of 2005 at Dartmouth College, in Hanover, NH, where he is majoring in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.