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'Mom, I'm gay.' For college swimmer, coming out to his religious mother was the hardest part.

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Coming out to his teammates at the University of Virginia was easy for Parker Camp compared to his family. The result was unconditional love and a burden lifted. "We are the definition of a modern family," his brother said.

Parker Camp is a swimmer at the University of Virginia
Parker Camp is a swimmer at the University of Virginia
Jim Daves/UVa Media Relations

I am a fourth-year varsity swimmer at the University of Virginia,  from Nashville, Tenn, and about two weeks ago I began coming out openly as gay. It has been a fast and furious journey. 

Coming out as a collegiate athlete seems to carry a bit more baggage than it does for most. You can think of it as coming out to two very different, yet equally important, families. This was true for me in a sense, but I noticed a commonality in other coming out stories that wasn’t applicable to mine.

For whatever reason, many athletes see their teammates as the hardest people to come out to. For me it was my mom, who is very religious. Our differing beliefs made me apprehensive about coming out to her. Sure I had religious friends, but our relationships lacked the bond only a parent and son can share. I was truly fearful of any negative reaction my mom may have had, which is why I chose to write this email to her two weeks ago:

Hey Mom,

I really want to tell you something that’s been weighing on my chest for long time. I’ve found over the last week it’s easiest to be blunt and forth coming about it. I am gay.

I can almost feel the fear, shock, and confusion that must be overwhelming you right now having read those words. These are words many parents would rather not hear. It’s not necessarily out of lack of acceptance or support but fear of what’s ahead. You’re thinking of the many implications this has on my life and yours. Your mind is racing ahead to the hardships I’ll face, the opinions of family friends, the prejudice, hate, and discrimination that I am bound to see. Your fears are not ill founded.

Although I have lived a life of denial and deceit, full of depression, loneliness, shame, and frustration I can stand up and truthfully say that is all in the past. I’m ready to face what I must to live the life I deserve. After years of struggle I am now able to fully accept this part of who I am and I have never been more proud. After years of struggle I have never been more relieved.

At this point I have now told the majority of my close friends as well as [siblings] Chandler, Preston, Taylor, and Dad. Everyone has received it wonderfully. After just five days I have countless stories showing I’m not just accepted but embraced. I can truly say I’ve never been happier or felt more loved than when Chandler broke down crying over the phone out of happiness for me.

Many have been impressed with the ease and comfort I have while telling them. And it’s true. I was actually excited with every new opportunity to tell someone the first few days. The thrill has lessened but it doesn’t change the fact that I feel no stress or worry whatsoever when telling people. This is a fact for everyone but you. I know you love me and will accept and support me no matter the circumstance. I’m only apprehensive about the possible effects it may have on you given your religious standpoint.

If someone were to ask me if I regret coming out now as opposed to earlier the answer would be no. I came out when I was ready and not a second too soon. I say this to justify the writing of this letter. I told everyone else in person or over the phone because that is exactly what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. However, I was not yet ready to call you. I found myself unable to face the potential hurt or disagreement you may have shown. Preston says he will always love and support me but due to his beliefs, does not agree with me and I am grateful for it. Preston did not raise me. I care so much about you and speaking as your son, I don’t think I could bear your possible disapproval. I am a coward. A coward who desperately wants to tell you the biggest news of his life. I am gay.

I say those words again but they still sound so alien to you. I don’t wish to ramble but let me share more.

At this moment in my life if I could push a button to turn myself straight, I would do it in a heartbeat. Allow me to explain myself. This has nothing to do with me being uncomfortable with who I am. I am not afraid of my future as a gay man. I am not self-hating, self-loathing, or any other disgruntled-self. Being gay is simply inconvenient. Don’t you think someone born with one leg would prefer two? I’m not saying it’s a handicap, but then again … I kind of am (let’s go with left-handed vs. right-handed preference). I’m not going to pretend to be super-stoked about the hardships 90% of the population doesn’t have to face. I may feel this way for just a short time or a very long time. I imagine once I find a guy I really like I won’t want to press this fabled straight-button but can only guess until then. That may have been the gayest sentence I’ve ever written. That’s gay comedic relief. Are you laughing?

Give me a call when once you’ve gained consciousness.

Your son,
Parker

P.S. Can you deposit my rent check?


It was only mid-February that I even considered coming out to anyone -- The result of a conversation I had while driving with a fellow closeted student. He was half in the closet too and was the only person who knew about me. He talked about having to make a decision about coming out in his own life, that he knew it would be hard, but that he would be a lot happier once he did it.

My happiness. That’s one thing I never considered while entertaining the thought of coming out. I only focused on the things out of my control. How would others see me? How would they treat me after coming out? I was afraid of being seen as a fraud since I had been lying for so long.

The night after our conversation I imagined the relief I would feel being open with who I was. I could live a life true to myself. I could be happy. The moment I came to this realization, there was no turning back. I wanted to tell the world.

I began telling people I was gay the night of Feb. 18. I started with Sarah,  a close friend. Her excitement for me only fueled the confidence in my decision. The next day I told my roommates and other close friends. The days to follow were an exciting blur full of conversations both fleeting and funny. I couldn’t believe how enjoyable it was.

Reactions were the best. After the initial shock it was usually disbelief; things like, "But you are too straight to be gay" and "Is this another one of your jokes?"

The emotion behind the reactions was always extreme happiness and support for me. My friends have continued to be awesome throughout the whole process. We joke about it all the time, which means more to me than they could possibly know. It shows just how comfortable and accepting they are of me, and I am extremely grateful.

After a few days I was ready to tell my family. I would have obviously preferred to tell them in person but I didn’t know when I would see them next and I literally could not wait another day.

I called my little sister first. There was no beating around the bush. No pleasantries or hesitation. I told her I had something important to tell her. I laugh now remembering how terrified she was, thinking something had gone horribly wrong.

"I’m gay," I said. The words still sounded so strange to me when said out loud, so I could only imagine how they sounded to her. Her response is still my favorite. After a few minutes of questions and finally being convinced, she broke down crying. It caught me off guard and I thought maybe I was hearing static. I asked if she was crying and she was able to choke out a short sentence: "I’m just so happy for you."

Parkerbros_medium
From left, Parker Camp with his brothers Taylor and Preston.


Next was Preston, my younger brother.  Preston is like me in the sense we both cannot take ourselves (or anyone) very seriously. We joke around and make fools of ourselves nonstop. I told him the news.

"Really?!"
"Yeah I’m for dudes."


Through our laughs, he said he loved me no matter what and will accept and support me in anything I do.

It’s important to know that Preston is a strong Christian. Despite his acceptance of me he said he doesn’t necessarily agree with homosexuality. Frankly, I’m thankful for his honesty.

Because love and support is all I’m willing to give, I cannot ask more from other people. I love Preston and everyone else in my family. That does not mean I will agree with them on everything. I’ve spoken with several people about my family members' reactions and some have expressed sympathy for me after hearing how Preston took the news. There's no need for them to feel sorry. I know without a doubt his love for me is genuine and unconditional. But he skips leg day, so I can still kick his ass (I desperately hope he reads this, or the inside joke goes to waste).

Taylor was next, my older brother and the oldest of the four kids. He reacted with the same shock as everyone else, then followed up with questions. And that was it. He was able to synthesize everything so quickly. After only a few minutes he was already updating me about his life in a way that said, "You’re gay. So what?"

At the end of our conversation he asked if I had saved him for last because I was scared of what he might think. "Of course not," was my quick response. But I told him his acceptance was the most important to me because he has always been my closest sibling. The two of us were the only ones who stuck with swimming all through high school and college. We spent hours in the car together every week. We had all the same friends and experienced the same hardships of swimming.

Later that night he sent me a text message that still puts a smile on my face:

"We are the definition of a modern family. The grandparents who spent a lifetime together, divorced parents that are polar opposites, the gay kid, the hardcore hipster girl, the everyday church goer, and whatever I am. And I wouldn’t trade it for any other family in the world."

Next was my Dad, Bruce. Or as some of his friends call him, "Big Bruce." For us the saying, "The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree," is the undeniable truth. My brothers and I are my father. My roommate who has only met him once still comments on how similar we are. Our conversation was no different. I jumped right into it.

"I just wanted to tell you I’m gay."

There was only silence. Horrible, horrible silence.

"Dad?"

"WOW! I thought you were going to say you got that job in China. Then I hear ‘gay’ and I’m thinking that doesn’t sound like China! Yeah I like the gays. But I still think they should suffer like everyone else and be allowed to marry and divorce like the rest of us."

That’s my dad. And I freaking love him.

Parkerdad_medium
Parker Camp and his father, Bruce, at Virginia's Senior Day.

Only my mom was left. I called but she didn’t answer. I felt relieved in a strange, unexpected way. For some reason I felt nerves that weren’t present before telling others. She called back an hour or so later but I wasn’t able to get the words out. I imagined the silence I listened to after telling my dad. But in my mind this silence wouldn’t end with a lighthearted joke.

A day went by and I still couldn’t call her. I decided an email would be best to get across everything I wanted to say before she could react. My mother is very religious and I have nothing but love and respect for her.

She received me wonderfully. I find it hard to recall the nervous feelings I had prior to telling her. Her reaction was much the same as Preston’s. She did say she didn’t necessarily agree with me being gay, but it was such a small part of her message. It was overwhelming the amount of love and support she was able to convey.

What's missing from this narrative, you might wonder about, are my teammates. For many athletes, coming out to their teammates is the hard part. For me, though, once I had the support of my family, the rest was easy. Many people have asked me if I’m going to tell this person or that person, if I’m out to the whole team, or "Oh my God! You know the whole women’s team knows now right?"

In the past two weeks, I have told guys on the team I am closest to and they have been uniformly accepting and supportive. No, I haven’t cornered all 40 guys to tell them I like dudes, but I still consider myself out to everyone, which is good enough for me. Being gay doesn't personally define me in a way that demands I must tell everyone. And I’m glad the women’s team knows. Their chatter will save me hours of conversation better spent on other important things, like thinking really hard about doing those readings for that class but choosing to nap in the end.

The fear of telling my mother was my inspiration for writing this article. I’ve read other coming out stories online and they all seem to be different. Many people are just frightened of telling anyone, some are only comfortable telling their family, and others still only tell one friend at a time over many months.

It’s important to know that there is no single way of going about this, but the end result will almost always be the same: Happiness.

Parker Camp, 22, is a varsity swimmer for the University of Virginia, with a double major in Foreign Affairs and Psychology.  He can be reached via on Twitter @ParkerCamp1.