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Gay Mexican college tennis player finds acceptance, and love, in rural Idaho

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Andres Bustani grew up in Mexico struggling with his sexual orientation. When he went to Lewis Clark State College in Idaho, he gained the strength to come out and found acceptance on his tennis team.

Growing up in Mexico was difficult.  Although things are beginning to change, Mexico was and still is very much of a "macho" country, a country where traditional values were assumed to be right, and where being gay wasn't as accepted.

Early on in my life I began to realize that I was different from all of the other guys, but I couldn't understand what it was. Once I reached middle school, the term "gay" began to pop up more frequently. People used this term negatively and joked around with it by calling people or situations "gay."

As I began to understand my sexual orientation more, these hurtful phrases made it even more challenging to come out because I assumed that my friends and peers would not accept me. I knew very few people who were openly gay at the time, and none of them played sports.

I began to play tennis when I was 8 years old.  I quickly fell in love with the game; it gave me hope and a passion in life. After 13 years of living in Mexico City, my family and I moved to Cancun. This is when I started to notice that I was attracted to guys. Since I didn't know anyone who was gay and didn't have a positive role model, I allowed myself to bury those thoughts. Tennis helped me to escape negative thoughts; it was a way for me to release my stress.

When I graduated from high school I had the opportunity to come to the United States and play tennis at the collegiate level. I couldn't have been more excited to be recruited by Lewis Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho. I was aware that being gay in America was more common and accepted, and that gave me hope.

College is a time to start over, so the summer before freshman year I planned to come out at college. I wanted to be truthful to myself and to my teammates, but I wasn't ready for that quite yet. On our team we have athletes from all around the world. This made me nervous because I was unfamiliar with how accepting their cultures would be toward having a gay athlete on the team.

Societal pressures made me feel that athletes were not supposed to be gay. Attending college in small-town Idaho did not help much because there are very few people who are openly gay. So I continued to keep the secret to myself.

Before I knew it I was beginning my junior year of college. For the first time in my life, I found myself involved with a guy, Adam, who happens to be my current boyfriend.  Everything began to get very real. All of this was completely new to me. I was experiencing new emotions and beginning to understand myself on a whole new level.

I wasn't ready for my family and friends to know yet. I still feared that the people who were closest to me would judge me. As I continued to grow closer to Adam, I finally mustered up the courage to tell one of my best friends about this secret that I have been hiding for 20 years. Her reaction was just what I needed to build self-confidence. When I came out to her she said something that has stuck with me.

"Who you like does not change who you are!"

I had finally overcome the fear of expressing my true self to a loved one. I began to tell more friends, and everyone has been incredibly supportive.

Nothing changed, I was still the same guy as before, but now they respected me more because of the confidence that I gained in myself.

Adam taught me to embrace what makes me different because we are all unique individuals. Being gay does not define me, it is just a part of who I am. Thanks to him I was able to tell my family, and I feel so fortunate that they were all supportive as well. After telling my family, I didn't have to hide my secret anymore.

Through word of mouth my teammates found out and approached me. They said that they were happy for me, and that nothing was going to change between us.  The team dynamic remained the same after I came out. Nothing changed, I was still the same guy as before, but now they respected me more because of the confidence that I gained in myself. I remained the tough and competitive teammate they all knew.

Coming out was one of the scariest and most stressful obstacles that I have ever had to overcome. Here I am now, a year later after coming out, writing my story. I am happier than ever. I am currently halfway through my senior year of college and am a more confident and strong individual who (I dare say) is a successful college athlete.

I hope to inspire and bring words of advice to someone who is struggling with the same issues that I had experienced.

It is not easy, but learn to embrace what makes you unique. I promise, you will become a happier person. This is your life, your story, live it to the fullest. Find someone who will support you throughout this transition. It is important to have that special friend or family member that you can reflect with, problem solve, and vent to. Finally, take your time. You need to come out when YOU are ready. Be proud of whom you are, and if you are an athlete who is also struggling with a similar situation, know that you are not alone! Don't be scared to accept and love yourself, because your life is your story.

In the wise words of Dr. Seuss, "Be who you are and say what you mean because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind!"

You can reach Andres Bustani via email at abustanib@gmail.com. He is also on Twitter @andresbuss and on Instagram @andresbuss.