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College track captain finds creative ways to come out

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Hangman, a treasure hunt and coded cupcakes were among the ways Alexandre Coholan used to tell friends he was gay. It helped make the process easier but also masked the nervousness he was feeling.

Alexandre Coholan
Alexandre Coholan

I wasn't comfortable coming out to people by sitting down with them and having the ''I have something important to tell you: I like guys'' conversation. I got very anxious,  it was very nerve-wracking and it felt like it set too serious of a mood for my liking. But I didn't necessarily want to be proud and pompous about it either and make a huge announcement. So how could I find a way to come out that best suited my personality? The answer: doing it in witty and unorthodox ways.

Despite being able to have a bit of fun with my coming out, my acceptance of my sexual orientation wasn’t always easy.  I'm the co-captain of the track and field team at the Université de Moncton, a French University in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada (just North of Maine). I am also a biochemistry major and play the oboe. But neither my sport nor my major nor my musical ability made coming out any easier, although it did help me make the process more creative and gave me the confidence I needed to take those first steps.

After doing some brainstorming, I had a good inventory of coming out strategies: hangman; literally coming out of a closet; a homemade puzzle; a treasure hunt; a card trick, a personalized poem or card; cupcakes, and an amino acid coded message (original message: Ile Leu-Ile-Lys-Glu Met-Glu-Asn). I felt they were well thought out and would work without a hitch, but knowing my friends I should have been more doubtful.

The card trick was used a few times. It involved a pre-selected card with the words ‘‘I’m gay!’’ written on it that was placed in the deck, but facing the opposite direction of the other cards. After having my friend pick out a card from 10 cards and placing them back in the deck, I explained to her that by magic, the one card she had picked would be facing the opposite way. She took the deck and started looking through the cards, my heart racing, and to prolong the agony I had to wait until the second-to-last card, but finally she had arrived! At this moment, though, there was a puzzled look on her face, and a pause that felt like an eternity. She looked up at me and said: ‘‘Wait, is this suppose to be a card trick?’’

Another time involved me hiding in my bedroom closet and coming out of it. My friend and I had been talking about ghosts and haunted houses in town (she’s absolutely petrified of ghosts, so maybe it wasn’t the best idea). So when I went and hid in my closet and texted her to come in my room, she thought I was pretending to be a ghost and was trying to scare her. After convincing her that that was not my intent, she sat down on my bed and I came out of my closet. Again, my heart was pounding, hopeful to be received by a smile and a hug, but all I saw was a blank look on her face. ‘‘I don’t get it,’’ she said. My second attempt didn’t go any better, her response being a shake of the head with a pensive stare. I guess it’s true what they say: the third time’s a charm. In her defense, she admitted knowing what I was doing after my first attempt but didn’t want to jump to any conclusions, especially if she were wrong.

The treasure hunt was another one of my favorites. I was having a few friends over and had told them I had organized a surprise treasure hunt for them. I had left a trail of clues that brought them to different places around my house. When they were out of the house looking in my mailbox, I placed a school bag with a lock on the zippers and a code to decipher to obtain the lock combination in my living room. They had finally unlocked the bag, and inside I had left them a handwritten note saying: ‘‘Roses are red, violets are blue, some girls like guys, and I do too!’’ I was in the other room with another friend, again my heart racing, listening to them read the note out loud. And yet again, it was followed by a silence that felt like forever. But now that I think of it, one of the first things they had said after reading the note was how poorly I had drawn my roses and violets.

One final example I used for coming out was baking cupcakes (mint chocolate, my favorite) with "I LIKE MEN!" spelled out, one letter per cupcake. I had heard of other people who had used this method and thought it was a very creative and fun way that I wanted to use. I baked the cupcakes one night and brought them to university the next day for two of my classmates. One friend understood quickly, while the other asked me what was written on the cupcakes before saying that my cupcake writing skills needed a bit of help. I guess she was right.

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To clarify the reactions from these examples, regardless of the method I used, I received nothing but support and genuine happiness from all of my friends

Despite being able to have a bit of fun with my coming out, my acceptance of my sexual orientation wasn’t always easy. Living in a hetero-normative society and realizing my attraction to other guys during middle school, a time when all you want to do is fit in and make friends, was quite compromising to my self esteem. Heterosexuality was ubiquitous; homosexuality was either frowned upon or never even talked about. I was afraid that by coming out people would start seeing me differently, not for the person that I was as a whole but for a minute detail of who I was. By coming out I somehow thought I had to become a completely different person and that my identity would change.

I did however try to change my sexual orientation: I remember committing myself to giving up my attraction towards guys for Lent and as a New Year’s resolution. I think I lasted about seven days.

But at a point when I felt my lowest about my sexuality and my self worth, I was discovering other passions in life: I was able to get good grades at school, I enjoyed playing the oboe, and I loved sports. Not only did these outlets allow me to build confidence in myself and to develop a certain work ethic, but in hindsight they kept me busy, acting as a self-defense mechanism and allowing me to avoid acknowledging and dealing with my sexuality.

But with this new-found confidence I was ready to not hide who I was, but I still wasn’t ready to initiate my coming out process. It all started near the end of my senior year in high school when I was hinting to one of my friends through text message that I had something important to tell her, but that I was afraid of the reaction I would receive. She beat me to the punch stating she knew I was gay and that it didn’t change a thing. And thus began the journey of coming through the ways I outlined above.

My coming out to my teammates came later.  I played many sports growing up, but when I hit high school, I really fell in love with track and field. I was drawn to the sport mostly because of the unique physical challenges it presents and the individual aspect of the sport: the athlete’s individual efforts dictate his ability to attain his own personal goals. In hindsight, it also allowed me to isolate myself from a team environment and to avoid building bonds with other male teammates during a time when I was struggling internally to accept who I really was.

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By the nature of the sport, a track team has a unique dynamic compared to team sports. We all have individual events and practices, so getting everyone together to announce my sexual orientation wouldn’t have been practical, especially when I wasn’t as close to some members on the team. But slowly, one by one, I was able to confide in certain teammates in the same manner I had done with my friends.

Once I was telling a teammate about a person I was crushing on, and she asked me what his name was. We both looked at each other and thought "’oh, snap’’; she apologized, but I quickly reassured her that it was alright, and that I was happy that she had brought it up. 

I came out to my coach Steve LeBlanc through a conversation, during which he told me how it absolutely didn’t bother him, and the talk lasted no longer than five minutes before he started asking how other things in my life were going.  When I told him I was writing this, he was nice enough to send along this quote:

"His coming out does nothing to change my opinion of him – if anything it only further enhances the perception that he is a person who has found a balance in all he does and is honest with himself about how to live his life.  And I believe he lives it well.

"Track coaches often form very strong bonds with their athletes, almost like they are our adopted children – I feel very fortunate and proud to have such a wonderful 'track son.'  I am very proud of all he accomplishes and very grateful that I have been able to be a part of his life."

I also told teammates that I was writing this article and wanted to let them know before it was published. My coming out to one of my teammates that I find of particular interest happened after our annual university sports banquet. After the banquet, an alumni from our team who I still trained with asked me why I hadn’t confided my sexual orientation to him.

I froze at this moment, not because I was trying to decide if I should deny it, but because he completely caught me off guard. I say this coming out was of particular interest for two reasons. First it brought my whole coming out process full circle: the people near the beginning and the end of this process were the ones who approached me about my preference for guys. Second, during the conversation, he said that if ever I was interested in someone, or if someone ever called me a ‘’fag’’ or any other derogatory name based on my sexuality, he would personally have my back and assured me all my track teammates would do the same. This was particularly a powerful moment for me not only because I had immense respect for this teammate, but because I was receiving support from the type of person I was the most reticent of coming out to when I was younger (most of the homophobic comments I heard growing up came from other male athletes or male figures in the community).

I learned a lot about myself and about others during the coming out process and that most of my preconceived notions when I was younger were wrong. Coming out didn’t tear down my relationships with others but made them stronger, and the people that matter will see you for the content of your character and the quality of friendship you have with them rather than your sexual orientation. I hope that, by sharing this, someone can relate to my story, that it helps them to be happy and that, at the end of the day, they know they are not alone.

If there were only two things that you should remember from this, these should be it: first, people from the LGBT community come in many different shapes and sizes, just like all human beings. People shouldn’t have to change who they are simply based on the fact that they came out, nor should they be treated any differently.

Second, never come out of a closet to someone with phasmophobia.

Alexandre Coholan, 20, will be a senior this fall at the Université de Moncton, in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada. He majors in Biochemistry and is the co-captain of his track and field team. He can be reached via email at apjcoholan@gmail.com.