My name is Bree Bailey. I just turned 16 and I’m a lesbian and openly out of the closest. I swim year-round and have no shame in my sexuality. I’m happy and that’s all that matters.
One of the main reasons you are reading my coming out story is because of my mom and Lauren Neidigh. Lauren, an openly lesbian swimmer at the University of Arizona, sent me the link to Outsports' "Tell your coming out story" and encouraged me to tell my story. Then my mom also told me about the link and encouraged me to tell my own story. Thank you both! (I had seen Lauren’s Outsports article because we’re friends on Facebook and she posted the link on there when it came out.)
But I am getting ahead of myself. For months I struggled to figure out my sexuality. It all started towards the last quarter of my freshman year in high school. I had started listening to musicians who supported the LGBTQ community, and some of them themselves were LGBTQ. Listening to interviews questions about their "coming out" experience piqued my interest, so like any curious kid I watched a lot of those videos and related to certain things they said concerning their feelings towards the same sex. This got me to start wondering if maybe I was bisexual. At the time I still believed I was attracted to men. It wouldn’t be months until I figured out I wasn’t.
While getting into these performers' music and their backgrounds, I became a big fan of Jessie J’s and at the time she identified herself as bisexual and always told her fans to be proud. By that time I knew I was not completely straight but I didn’t know if I was bisexual or a lesbian. Along the way I meet other fans through social media who were struggling with the same problems and became friends. Having people who had the same concerns and questions as me gave me a feeling of comfort but didn’t settle my internal struggles.
One night in June 2013, I had stayed up late and really got to thinking on the subject of my sexuality. I had already figured out that I was definitely attracted to women but was I also attracted to men? That night I contemplated that one question for hours. Eventually I reached the conclusion that I was not and that scared me even more. This was already a rough time in my life but to add that on top of it made me worry about the future when everyone would find out about my sexuality. I worried if they would accept me, if they would still love me, if they would cut me out of their lives or not, and so much more. At that time I was only 14 turning 15, so I was pretty young to be figuring this type of thing out. I thought people would harass me for that and claim that I was too young to be sure or too influenced by the media to know for certain until I was older. I didn’t want to be ridiculed just for the fact that I liked girls.
Growing up I was raised by my mother to always be open minded and kind even if people were different. So I’ve never had a problem with associating myself with people who are LGBTQ or anyone else considered different by society’s standards. On the other hand, my father was raised very religiously and lots of those ideals had rubbed off on him and onto me. When I was contemplating my sexuality, these two parts of me battled. The influence from my mother told me that it would be OK. But then there was my dad’s influence that made me doubt that and question whether people from our family and church would be disappointed in me. They’ve all been an important part of my life, so all I wanted was them to be proud of me. I had convinced myself that if they found out they would be so disappointed in me and that terrified me.
On top of that I was swimming year round for Episcopal AmberJax Swimming in Florida. Most of my teammates were pretty religious or their parents are. I was worried that if I came out as a lesbian, the people I had been swimming with for the past two years would no longer accept me. A few of them had grown to be close friends so I didn’t want that to happen. I thought they would question my motives for swimming and possibly think that I was only in it to be around girls in swimsuits. I’ve been swimming year-round since I was 8, so to have my sexuality possibly hinder my love of the sport and the respect others had for me as an athlete horrified me. I feared being viewed as a lesser athlete. Swimming has made me the person I am today. It’s shaped me as I’ve grown. It’s made me dedicated, patient, and strong willed based on challenges I had faced already in the sport. It’s my happy place and I didn’t want that to be threatened just because I was different.
For months I kept my sexuality secret but it finally got to the point where it was eating me alive and I was no longer happy living in the metaphorical closet. So on Aug. 25, 2013, I sent my mom a message on Facebook telling her that I needed to see her upstairs alone to talk to her since we had a family friend over and I wasn’t comfortable telling him yet. Once my mom came upstairs I simply said, "I’m gay," and my mom responded with "Cool. I love you no matter what." She gave me a hug and returned downstairs. That night I also messaged my best friend who lives in Japan since her mom is in the Navy. She was also very accepting and that quelled my fears quite a bit.
Surprisingly the next person I would end up telling was my father, who I was most scared to tell. On Dec. 17, 2013, I wrote out a very long message on Facebook explaining to my dad about my sexuality and telling him that even if he was disappointed in me I would always try to make him proud. Then I went to bed because I had two midterms the next day and prayed for the best response. When I got home from school the next day I checked my messages and found a response from my dad. I was scared to open it and when I did I almost cried. He was so supportive and told me he would always love me no matter what. I didn’t expect him to ever be so supportive right off the bat.
January 2014 was an important month for me. At the end of January I came out to all my closest friends from school in a massive Facebook group message and they all accepted me with open and loving arms. Their never ending support and love meant the world to me. Then I heard about Lauren Neidigh’s coming out post and about two days later she messaged me. I came out to her and told her I was there if she ever needed anything. I’ve always looked up to her because she was always one of those fantastically talented swimmers you look up to when you are little. Lauren’s post about her sexuality and then her talking to me was the last little push of courage I needed to come out. The night I was planning to come out I messaged her and ran the idea by her and she told me to "be true to yourself. Do what makes you happy." I consider her a great friend for what she’s done for me and helped me with and I’ll always be grateful towards her.
On Valentine's Day this year I decided to come out publicly on Facebook. My decision was in no way rash. I had thought this through so many times and I was finally comfortable enough to come out and be who I really was and be the person I wanted to be. My post said:
"Hey everyone. I thought it was about time that I told you all I’m gay. Yes, I like girls. This is how I am and I really can’t change that. I am who I am. If you don’t like it well then I guess that’s your problem. Nothing any of you can say will be able to change the fact I like girls. If you can’t accept that then well I don’t really need you in my life. I honestly have one of the greatest support systems ever and if they can accept me for whom I am. Well then I don’t see how any of you should be any different. That’s all I had to say. Guess the cats out of the bag now, huh?"
Everyone who commented was so supportive of me and no one ridiculed me. I even showed it to my physics teacher because she’s known me since 6th grade and knew a few months before that I was gay and she told me that she couldn’t be more proud of me. I felt free and like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
In March, I decided to cut my hair down to where the sides were saved and I only had a few inches on the top and donated my hair to the Locks Of Love charity. I like giving back and helping people so I felt great and I loved the new look. Towards the end of March I had a family reunion with my dad’s side and most of them are very conservative and religious. I was scared that they’d judge me and hate me just because of my hair, so I was in no way telling them about me being gay. I didn’t even let my cousins closer to my age get too close to me. I just wanted my family to love and accept me before I even thought of telling them. I remember one night we were in my grandparent’s hotel room and my Grandpa grabs my chin and goes "Do you have a boyfriend?" and I just shook my head while my dad glanced over to make sure I was OK. I don’t see my dad’s family a lot seeing as my parents are divorced. But I love my grandparents dearly and after that it sort of kicked me that they might never accept me because of the fact that I like girls.
Something in me changed the day after I came home. I decided to throw caution to the wind and messaged my family members on Facebook and came out to them all. The ones who responded told me they loved me no matter what and that that would never change. That made me so happy that the majority accepted me. Some never addressed it or responded negatively; that hurt but I got over it and realized that if they can’t love me for me so be it. My family is my world but not even they are allowed to push me down and ridicule me just because our beliefs don’t match up.
I have never sat one of my teams down and addressed to them as a whole that I am gay, although my coach knows and I do plan to inform my whole high school team that I’m a lesbian when the school season starts again in August. Certain teammates that I have on Facebook know and we talk about it openly so I assume a lot of other teammates know and have just never mentioned it and that’s fine with me. I understand that people say things like "that’s so gay" and "you look gay in those clothes" and things of that sort and those things don’t offend me because I’m secure enough in my sexuality for it not to. Discriminative words and straight-up hate against the LGBTQ community does offend me.
I know that people have different opinions and views on life and that’s fine. But don’t use your words and views to hurt other people who are happy with their way of life. I hope everyone takes something from my story and uses it to help better their lives. It will always get better. Never give up and do what makes you happy.
Bree Bailey, 16, is a Junior at Oakleaf High School in Orange Park, Florida. You can follow her on Twitter (@BreeBailes98) or contact her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.