Running is in my blood. My older brother ran, my younger brother runs, I ran in high school and now in college. Even the son of the family we bought our house from ran and won the state meet individually for my high school. You could say running has been a big part of my life from middle school through high school.
That's why I was so terrified to come out to my teammates during my freshman year of college in 2013. I was afraid that I would have to leave the sport that had been a part of my life since middle school and that had defined who I was. I came out midway through the season. It wasn't necessarily planned, it just happened to come up and was revealed.
The men's and women's cross country teams were having a pasta dinner before the annual James Earley Invitational in Westfield, Mass. We were all talking about how many people we had crushes on in the current semester. Going in a circle, it became my turn. I told them how many guys I had a crush on and that was that. There was a brief silence but they just moved on to the next person in the circle. The next day I ran a 45-second personal best.
A few days later I received a fantastic text from our captain, Nate Buck, which said: "Hey Ben! What you did on Friday was awesome and took a lot of courage! I want you to know your teammates support you and I'm happy you felt comfortable enough with us to come out and speak honestly with us! Thank you!"
Over the next few weeks I came out to other people who had missed the dinner that night and the team was wicked supportive of me. I was relatively blunt about it. After a morning practice the next week I approached two of the freshman guys, who had missed the pasta dinner, and said, "Hey I came out to the team last week, just so you know."
However, there were growing pains. I had to educate my teammates on terms and topics related to LGBT issues. A lot of the teaching was in regards to the meaning of terms. They appreciated how open I was about my identity and my willingness to share it with them. I also was able to teach them about my identity as well as other sexual orientations and identities. For example, I taught them that there can be a difference between someone's romantic and sexual attraction and what that can mean.
I went to high school at the University of Chicago Lab School (U-High) and had been there since fourth grade. I started running in 7th grade when I joined the middle school track team. I started running first mainly because my older brother ran but I eventually fell in love with the sport. I started running cross country freshman year of high school. Overall I was not particularly fast, but I made the varsity cross country team from sophomore year on at U-High.
I figured out I was gay towards the end of high school. I thought about coming out then. However, I ended up choosing not to because I didn't want to lose focus during my senior year. I already had too much going on with managing my ADD, applying to colleges, being co-captain of the track and cross-country teams as well as keeping my grades up. It's not that my teammates, friends, and coaches wouldn't have supported me, it's just that I did not want to make this sudden change with so much going on. However, once I went to college I had blank slate and was able to define who I was without any preconceived notions. Once I came out and they found out, my high school coaches, friends and teammates were accepting and supportive of me. In fact, when I was home after freshman year, one of the first things one of my high school coaches asked me about my boyfriend and how it was going with him.
Ben Meyer, far right, with his cross-country teammates.
I started the process of coming out to friends from home slowly. I came out to my three good friends from high school via text in subtle ways. I just hinted that I liked guys rather than girls. They were all a little confused at first but they were all supportive and accepting of me. One of my good friends, the girl who I went to prom with in high school, was texting with me while she was in a chemistry class when it came out in our texts. She still reminds me of how she was in chemistry when I told her to this day. This was all happening the week prior to when my parents were going to visit me. They came the day of my first 8K race ever, the Worcester City Championships in Moore State Park. They couldn't make it to the meet but they later took me and some friends out to dinner.
After dinner, my friends had left and it was just my parents and myself talking. I just needed to get it out. I said I was gay. They were silent while they processed it. Then, they told me how much they loved me and that they supported me. I then rushed them out so my dad could go watch the Ohio State vs. Wisconsin game that was on national television that night (he and I are Northwestern fans). I felt so relieved that it had gone well.
The next day my parents reiterated their support for me and who I was. They talked to me about how they were supportive and it was probably one of the biggest weights off my shoulders. Over the next few days I also came out to my two brothers. I came out to one of them over Skype since he was abroad at the time and I came out to the other one over the phone. They were both very accepting and supportive of me.
Two weeks later, I came out to the team. I didn't end up coming out to our coach until the next year. This was more because I just didn't find an opportunity to bring it up and didn't feel that I needed to make a deal of it. It happened when I was moving in for preseason for sophomore year. My boyfriend was helping me move in and when we went to coach's office to get my key, coach asked him if he was my younger brother. He said no and introduced himself as my boyfriend. My coach took it with grace and it hasn't been issue ever.
Some of my teammates claim they had guessed it before, while some had no clue. Either way it didn't matter to them. However there was one moment that has stuck with me; It was when I came out to a friend who wasn't on the team. She said, "I thought Luke was the gay one." That stayed with me because I have never necessarily been the stereotype of a gay male which is partly why I think it took me so long to figure myself out.
One thing that I struggled with before and even after I came out was how I fit into the athletic community as well as the LGBT community. I always felt a little out of place in both communities because I wasn't necessarily the stereotype of either of the two groups After I came out I definitely began to find my place and realize that I didn't need to necessarily fill the stereotypes of one group because I was in fact a little of each.
This taught me that I need to embrace all parts of my identity, and not ignore or run away from parts that don't necessarily feel right or make me feel like I don't fit in. I learned that even though I don't fit neatly into either the LGBT or athletic community. I am still part of them and they will embrace me for who I am.
Now two years on, I am finally telling this story. I had toyed with the idea of writing a story for Outsports for ages. However there were a few factors that combined to lead me to choose to write this. First, I made a Facebook post on National Coming Out Day. In it, I thanked my team for accepting me for who I was two years ago to the day, and it was well received by my teammates and friends. And second, I have started to become more active in advocating for LBGT issues in regards to athletics in the past few months. In doing so I began to realize how even at Clark some LGBT athletes don't feel comfortable advertising their identity or are not necessarily even out. This made me realize that I needed to tell my story. I want to show that it is possible to be an out, visible, and active member of the LGBT community while still being part of a varsity team.
Ben Meyer, 20, is a junior on the Men's Cross Country team at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. He is majoring in Geography. He is working with his school's athletic department and the school's LGBT organization on LGBT issues. He can be reached via email (firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter (@/the_benjammin).