People back home and at college would probably describe me as a friendly, outgoing - and, OK, sassy - person. I always appeared full of fun and smiles on the outside, but on the inside I felt uncomfortable, confused and depressed. I always knew that I was gay from when I was 13, but I kept it buried deep inside, wrapped in fear that it would be seen as a punishment from God.
I'm not a religious person at all, but I've always let "rules" govern my life. The church told me I'd go to hell if I "decided" to become gay, so I "decided" not to. It was misery. Sometimes I would pray to God that I would become straight. I'd cry myself to sleep.
I thought sometimes, "Why me? I am a good person; Why is this the path that I have to face?"
I remember one time even punching myself in the stomach on a rainy April night because I was so ashamed of myself. It really hurt, and I can remember it clearly. The rain poetically reflected how I felt, because I remember tears rushing down my face after I was done punishing my body. It was sad and painful that I had done this to myself, but I did not know what I could do to make myself feel happier on the inside.
College swimmer out to his team
Friestad grew up in Plano, Texas, and was fully supported by his high school team. He had to come out again at Div. 1 New Jersey Institute of Technology, and he was embraced.
When I did come out to some close friends, they all accepted me. Despite that, I started to do poorly in school and track. My times slipped and I did badly on some of my finals. That June I took the SATs and my score was not even close to what I wanted to be. I thought this was all because God was punishing me; I had made a decision that was against His will, and he was making me suffer for it.
I decided I couldn't live this "lifestyle" anymore. I had to focus more on running, school, and other activities. "I don't want my life ruined by this decision," I thought. I told my high school friends that it was only a phase that I was going through, and that I really liked girls after all.
Running track and cross-country was a wonderful distraction. Whenever I ran, it was like I was in my own little world. I felt the "runners high." It gave me a boost of adrenalin. Running was like a medicine that distracted me from thinking about being gay. I ran hard and was recruited athletically - and academically - by Moravian College, a small school in Eastern Pennsylvania of about 1,600 students.
Before I got to Moravian, I was excited. I'd heard that college was the best four years of your life. When I got there, it was more pain than parties. As a first-semester freshman, I was not as busy with school because I only had four classes and cross-country practice in the afternoon. My mind drifted, and I started to question again if I was gay. I pretended to fall in love with a girl on the cross-country team as cover. I felt so awkward.
I was in a lose-lose situation. I was so tense and afraid. My schoolwork suffered and I was running poorly my freshman year. For the first time, running was not distracting me. I'd think about being gay while I ran and worked out with my teammates. I felt like I was using running to get rid of my problems, rather than celebrating it as something that was a part of my identity and that I loved.
Coming out was like ripping off a Band-Aid. When I finally came out to my teammates, they were all accepting. They even said they already had a hunch I was gay. They all told me that they didn't care whom I liked and just wanted me to be happy. My coach was happy I told the team. It quickly became easier and easier to come out to friends. One of my teammates told me that I should embrace my gayness, and not be ashamed for who I am. As the months went on, I became more confident in my identity.
My teammates did continue to say impulsive things like, "That's so gay", or "he's a faggot." The difference now: They were catching themselves and apologizing. They didn't mean to hurt me.
My friends quickly came to like the "gay Max" better than the "straight Max." That made me laugh.
When my dad and step-mom, who were both super supportive, asked me why I didn't come out sooner, I told them I was scared that God would disapprove of me. My step-mom, who is a devout Catholic, told me that God loves all his children, he made me this way, and I should embrace myself for who I am. She said not to judge something from a book that was written so long ago, since society has changed so much. As long as I'm a good person and follow the Golden Rule, God would approve.
Shortly after coming out freshman year, I pledged my fraternity, Delta Tau Delta. At first I was scared, because fraternity guys sometimes can be classified as, well, slobs and pig heads. When I told them that I was gay, they were all so accepting of it, and I eventually found out that there were a few gay guys in the chapter. It made me realize that I was not alone, and they related to some of the issues I had gone through. It made me feel better that I was able to find other people who had gone through my situation, considering that the gay population is very small at Moravian.
Today, some of my fraternity brothers are my closest friends, and I could have not asked for a better group of brothers to be on my side. I'm glad that my teammates and fraternity brothers are so supportive. Coming out of the closet made me realize that I was about to start the best four years of my life at Moravian.
Life is like one huge race. I have gone through injuries, bad shoes, shin splints, you name it, but I have persevered through them. Like a hard-fought race, discovering that I was gay was a struggle. If I did not have the resilience and perseverance that I had obtained from running, along with the support of my teammates and brothers, I do not think I would have came out as easily.
It's not where you start in the race, but where you finish.
You can reach Max Korten on Twitter @MaxMoco16.
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