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Out, then back in the closet

A soccer player was accepted by his team, but feels the need to hide as a coach

(This story was published in 2007).

By: Matthew

(Editor's note: Outsports has run many accounts of athletes who have come out of the closet. This story is a bit different -- an athlete who was out to his college team, but felt a need to go back in the closet upon taking his first coaching and teaching job. We agreed to use a false name but have confirmed this person is who he says he is.)

I played soccer as a three-year starter on a Top 25 Division II team at a small private school, in a small town in the South. When I say small, I mean, smaller than my high school.

I grew up in the Washington, DC metro area, where people are more so concerned about their business, not yours. In high school, I was outed my senior year to my friends by some football players who were looking at gay personals online -- go figure! Needless to say, I came out to my friends at the end of high school and was comfortable and relieved at the same time. My friends were great and life carried on.

I came out to my mom my junior year and my dad my senior year. They weren't 100% supportive at the time; it was pretty much something that was understood, but not spoken about. But, my family is so tight-knit that they soon got over it. My little sister caught wind through my parents, and my three brothers would find out later.

So, there I was, out to family and friends and being myself to those around me, with one dilemma -- off I go to college, on a soccer scholarship, out of state, where no one knows me, to a school smaller than my high school, down in the Bible Belt. What to do? Against my better judgment, I figured it would be good to head back to the closet. When you're at a school where your business is everyone's business, and gay people just don't exist unless you're a theater major, I just thought it was a good idea. I needed to prove to these Southerners that not gay people are like Jack from "Will & Grace."

I stayed in the closet my first year of college. I didn't know how things would go with the locker room issue. I had never dealt with that in high school; we simply changed clothes in the locker room then headed down to the field. After games, we’d just hop right on the bus and head home. In college, everyone cleaned up after games and showered. I didn't want things to be awkward, so I kept my personal life to myself. Well, I kept it to myself until about April, then I came out to my closest teammate. To my surprise, he didn't care. (We were drunk when I told him, so that might have had something to do with it). So that was the extent of my "gayness" my freshman year.

The following year, I became close to two freshmen on the team, one of whom turned out to be my best friend and current roommate. Great guys. I ended up telling them in the spring of my sophomore year, 2003. My roommate's response was, "Who cares? Where's our beer?" God bless him. I came out to most of my other teammates that spring as well, once the guys got to know me. They knew me for who I was, not whom I liked.

Then came junior year. Poor freshmen, probably scared pissless of me in the locker room at the beginning of the season. My roomie loves cracking gay jokes, so the locker room banter began. Gay jokes flew like crazy in the locker room and there I was -- out to my team. To my surprise, they were all cool with it. I never did tell my coaches, but my teammates took care of that. I've still never sat down and talked to my coaches about my sexuality.

The coach knows

There was one unforgettable moment. Every year during preseason, the night before our first game, we used to lie down on the soccer field, at midfield with the lights out, in the dark, eyes closed. We did a visualization activity about how we saw our season going. Coach would sit and talk us through the season.

"I want you guys to see our first game, see our first goal, see yourself scoring the game winning goal," he said. Nothing out of the norm, until, bam!, he said: "I want you guys to focus on the season. Get your girlfriends and your boyfriends out of your heads." Say what? Did he just say boyfriends? Wow. My teammates were great, and loved me for who I was. My coach was willing to acknowledge my situation when I had no expectations of that ever being addressed.

I loved my team, coach, and friends that I met down in the South, but the area wasn't for me. When I graduated in December 2005, I returned to the DC area. After two months of looking for work, take one guess at where I landed -- back in the South, in the same town as my college. I was going to be a high school teacher. The plus about the teaching job was that I got to be boys' and girls' varsity soccer coach.

So, after five years of being myself, I packed bags and went back to the closet.

Back to hiding

I am currently teaching and coaching in a very rural area. We only have one openly gay student, a male cheerleader. Everyone assumes that I'm dating another teacher at my school, a woman. I'm out to a few select coworkers. A gay club at another school in our county got voted down by the parents. That in mind, I can't really be out and proud.

Hiding was not an easy decision, but I did it because of my perception that the country boys and girls that I teach wouldn't respect me as a teacher or coach because of their ignorance when it comes to homosexuality. I also felt that people would make ignorant assumptions about me coaching the boys team. I make my boys practice with their shirts on, much to their protest, just in case someone decided to make them practicing shirtless an issue.

My teammates know that I went back into the closet when I started this job, so they're respectful and don't talk about it. The issue of my sexuality did arise with some students, so word is around. The kids mentioned something to a female friend one day (she's one of the few who knows I'm gay), and she quickly responded: "He's not gay! He's got a girlfriend!" That was back in October, and that's been the last of that. I never confirm that I'm dating or not dating; I just say, "Why are you worried about my business?" It seems to do the job. The kids love to speculate about my personal life.

I always read about guys having trouble coming out to their team. After my teammates got to know me, I had no problem, so it has been odd for me to go back into hiding. I think that I'm done teaching and coaching in the area after this school year, but I am not sure.

I’m not one who likes to hide things from people I care about. I’m pretty set on finding a new job, since I don’t feel comfortable not being able to be myself, but would like to keep coaching the boys' and girls' varsity teams. I am proud to say that my girls made it to the state playoffs for the first time in four years. Prom is coming up and I jokingly said to my roommate and assistant coach, "What if I just showed up with a guy as my date?" One can dream.

I’d rather be able to be myself then to keep hiding it from the world. Life outside the closet is much less stressful than life in the closet. Being gay doesn’t mean being shunned by society, or your family and friends, or even your team. It’s all what you make of it.