(Editor's note: The identity and high school of this player were verified by Jim Buzinski. Outsports decided to allow him to write anonymously since his experience is sadly the norm for many LGBT high school athletes who would like to come out but face daunting circumstances. There is a contact email for him at the bottom).
Growing up gay in the rural South isn't easy. I attend a school with an average graduating class of less than 100 and attend the big Baptist church downtown every Sunday. I've started on the varsity football team since my freshman year of high school. Everyone in town knows me. "Oh yeah! That boy is one hell of a defensive player. And he's got good hands too when he's on offense." That is my persona. But the truth is, not a single person here has ever seen into my heart. Not a single person in my town of a few thousand knows who this kid is, at the very essence of his being.
Since around the fifth grade, I've noticed that I was "different." When most of the locker room was buzzing about a particular girl's boobs, I wanted to talk about the male substitute in math class. However, I knew that after years of sitting in church pews, this thinking was unnatural, inhumane and an abomination. So I crawled into a hole, my closet, and I closed the door. I decided to focus all my time and effort into football. I never loved the game, but it allowed me to hide. It disguised my "gayness" and gave me something to work hard at and focus all my thoughts on.
But as I imagine you still hear in many high school locker rooms, homophobia is a second language in mine. I hear coaches and players throw around gay slurs all the time, phrases like "Stop acting like a fag and hit someone" or "Leave the patty cake for the gay boys." I cringe every time statements like these are said. Many times, it makes me sick to my stomach.
My junior year of high school, however, it started hitting me how much hiding hurts. The closet gets lonely and dusty. And after a little while, it's just depressing. So, I decided to tell someone, and I wrote a letter in the notes on my phone to my sister.
I told her that I was still the same little brother she grew up with. I told her nothing had changed about me, but that she knew a little more now than she did 20 minutes prior. I talked about how much I struggled with the future; whether or not our parents would still love me, whether or not I could ever come back to the tiny Southern town that had caused me so much pain, and whether or not I would ever be able to find love.
I made a screenshot of the letter, put it in a message and finally built up the courage to press send. She replied and the love and support my sister showed me that night built me up so much, and for the first time, I felt the closet door start to creep open. I finally got a little bit of fresh air to breathe in this hole of mine.
A few weeks later, my sister sent me an email giving me some uplifting advice. About a week later, my parents sat me down; they had seen the emails and they wanted answers. They told me they loved me, but that there were things they just could not tolerate in their lives. They encouraged me to go to some sort of reparative therapy, and that was probably the thing that hurt the most. My parents saw me as something that needed to be repaired, as if I was broken. I never went to any sort of therapy, but instead turned to the Bible. I found hope in chapters like Psalm 139, being reminded that I am "fearfully and wonderfully made." That night, they cried, prayed with me, and told me they loved me and we haven't spoken of it since.
I haven't come out to anyone else. There have been times when I have brought up the conversation of gay marriage among my closest friends. Many of them say stuff along the lines of "that stuff just disgusts me." However, a couple of my closest friends say that it's not their business who a person wants to lie in bed with. I've come so close to telling my two closest friends, but somehow I still cannot muster up the strength.
Often I wonder what my teammates or coaches would think if they knew I was gay. I think of different things that would happen if I just suddenly one day said, "Hey guys, I'm gay!" As much as I wish my teammates and coaches would accept me and love me, I know deep in my heart that the likelihood of this is zero to none. To them, gay people are seen as weaker, not as good, not tough enough, and not worthy for a chance on the field. The chances of physical abuse are not high; I'm a pretty big guy. But the emotional abuse? I'm just not sure that is something I could endure.
Now, I'm a senior in high school. I start on the varsity football team and I'm looked at as the leader. I lead praise and worship at my church, and I lead weekly devotions in my school. I love Jesus, and I know Jesus loves me. Despite all of this, I ask myself daily, "Will I ever find love? Will the day come when I can be open with my family, with my brothers on the field, and with Christians that I so dearly love?" As deep as I search, I cannot find answers. Sometimes I wonder if they're even out there. But I hold on to hope. I hold on to stories like out college football player Conner Mertens, and I find hope in that.
So, although this isn't my "coming out," my hope is that some guy in high school reads this and knows that he isn't alone. If you are that guy, tell yourself what I constantly remind myself everyday: You have been made for a purpose. You have a pivotal role in this world. Just like on the football field, every player has their assignment. Every person must do their job to succeed. Every person on this Earth contributes in his or her own way. And although it may not be time for you to step out of the closet, for whatever reason, know that when you do, you won't be alone.
My hope is that I will one day be able to come back and say, "Yeah, I wrote that for Outsports." My ultimate hope is that one day I close the door on my closet, but this time, I want to be on the outside.
You can reach the player via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. He especially welcomes emails from other LGBT high school athletes.
Story editor: Jim Buzinski