By Kurt Wirth
I'm a 26-year-old graduate student with a passion for college sports and, really, I'm not very different from you. I love video games, nerdy board games, and drinking with my friends. I get depressed when my team loses and scream at the television when the refs are clearly going blind.
I'm also gay and have been my entire life.
Growing up in an Alabama town of 81 people I had an intimate knowledge of the good (yes, there are good parts) and bad of Southern culture. People there are kind, generous and approachable. Small-town mindset aside, people from the South have a lot to be proud of. Homophobia is not one of them.
As early as preschool, I remember wondering if I had a girl brain. I found myself drawn in by boys, eventually finding sexual interest in them. As soon as I discovered what sex was, I knew I was gay. It just fit. It wasn't some rebellious decision (who would make that decision, anyway?). It was just fact.
I was raised by a mother determined to lift her children out of the lower class so prominent in that area of the country. Instilling in me an appreciation for life outside of what surrounded me, she sent me to a Catholic (the only choice for private schools in the South, really) elementary school. I joined a boys choir and was lucky enough to not only get an excellent education, but I also got to see other parts of the country.
After skipping 8th grade, I was home schooled for two years before earning my diploma in public school. This wasn't just any public school. The nearest public school I was eligible to attend was an hour's bus ride away. It was, in a word, remote. I graduated among the top of a class of 52 people, the largest graduating class the school had ever seen.
To me, coming out was never much of a decision. As soon as I knew what sexuality was, I was opening up to those closest to me. What was difficult was finding others like myself as a young teen. It was lots of trial and error. Luckily for me, the errors never resulted in catastrophes, as they do for too many youths.
I first told my parents I'm gay when I was 13. They overreacted, throwing away any magazines and books I had bought to better understand myself. Ultimately they decided I simply didn't know what I was talking about; I was too young.
I eventually found another boy who shared my experience, and we quickly became "boyfriends" at 13. Sleepovers, sneaking off to playgrounds to hold hands...these were some of the most vibrant memories I've ever forged. His name was Andy, and he eventually succumbed to the immense pressure that so many gay men and women endure. He publicly denounced me. Everyone has their first heartbreak, it's just unfortunate that this one had to come because of societal pressure.
At school, my coming out had an interesting effect. Until this point, I was targeted with verbal and physical attacks about my supposed sexuality (though I had told no one) and was the butt of most jokes from those around me.
But when I started saying that, "Yes, I'm gay," things changed. Almost to the point of cliché, cheerleaders flocked to me. They were fascinated and wanted to know more. I was, after all, the first openly gay student in the history of the school. Because of my spike in popularity, the jocks, who were in large part sleeping with the cheerleaders, silenced their abuse.
I specifically remember a pair of prom-queen best friends approaching me in home economics class one day. This wasn't the most rigorous class, so we sat on the couch to chat. With an almost unsettling amount of apparent open-mindedness, the two interrogated me about being gay. What did it mean? How did I decide I was gay?
I answered their questions patiently, excited by their interest and hoping to shed some light on their backwoods points of view. One of them eventually responded with, "Whatever floats your tractor!" I pointed out the obvious issues with that statement and accepted the sentiment.
At home, tensions rose between my parents and me. Working since I was 14 and driving since 15, I was forced to lie and sneak out to meet any other gay friends I had met on my savior, gay.com. The Internet had given me a medium to reach out to others going through similar issues. It probably saved my life. Catching some lies and through rogue detective work, my parents eventually accepted the fact that I was gay.
While they accepted it, they didn't like it. My stepfather went on a tirade, driving my mother and me to tears, accusing me of causing rifts in the family and threatening to take me to visit a homosexual dying of AIDS in the hospital. He also nearly threw me out of the house.
To his credit, he and I had an unexpected talk about it all last year. His newfound willingness to consider a point of view different from his own was nothing short of shocking. I learned that if I strengthen my resolve in who I am, doubters surrounding me will eventually come around.
I started at an SEC university at 16. I happened to enter at a time when the school's basketball program was excelling. I quickly fell in love and joined the sports information department. As you can expect, the inclusion of an out gay male was met with mixed results.
Few fans realize just how much effort and dedication goes into sports production behind the scenes. All unpaid, several other students and I took several trips with the team to neutral site competitions to set up and maintain stats. Every football home game meant days of 10 to 12 hours, basketball was five to six, and there were a lot of basketball games. These game days were in addition to the hours upon hours spent in the actual office, inputting and crunching stats, working on media guides and clipping newspapers. This is no small job.
I quickly established myself, in particular in men's basketball where I was the "head student" of sorts. It generally takes student workers in the department one, and never more than two, semesters to start receiving a small scholarship for their efforts. The amount was so small as to be nearly irrelevant, but the acknowledgement made it a big deal. A friend of mine, who was also close to the second-in-command behind the Athletic Director, informed me that I simply "wasn't liked" among the powers that be. Disheartened but following my passion, I continued.
I waited. And waited. My moment would finally come three years later, two years after any other student. I was immediately named Sports Information Director of a smaller sport, the most prestigious title a student could hold.
I took my job seriously, and I did well despite the unwritten standard of homophobia. Though there is no proof, as there rarely is in these sorts of professional-world situations, those surrounding me shared my sentiments.
Despite this, my love for the department grew. When I graduated, I took to blogging. Joining the mainstream media at Bleacher Report, I connected and wrote my way to ranking third among college basketball writers on the site and first among SEC basketball writers. I took a hiatus from blogging due to the demands of grad school, but I'm back on the scene and you can look forward to more pieces soon.
I'm now a professionally evolving, well-adjusted adult. I'm in grad school and have been with my partner for nearly two years. I love my life and I enjoy reshaping expectations.
I'm gay, but I love sports. I'm glued to college football on Saturdays and run a Dungeons and Dragons campaign on Sunday. I'm embarking on my fourth cross-country road trip this summer as I simply cannot get enough of what life has to offer.