Until I came out, my story was the often-told tale about the internal battle of trying to identify and accept myself. It was a story filled with personal shame, embarrassment, fear and the intense desire to alter what cannot be changed. That's no fun to write or read about, and my life is so far removed from those feelings now. So instead, my story is about the positive process of becoming authentic and visible.

I'm a six-time New York State Elite Men's Cycling Champion and have been running the Nalgene Cycling team when I am not selling medical devices for my distributorship. And I am an open and proud gay man.

Coming out? I refer to it as "letting people in." You're finally sharing your authentic self with those around you. It's a funny and sad thing that the process of defining your sexuality to the world exists, but it's just where we are as a society. One of these days, it will just exist in the open, but only through visibility can true change occur.

Once I decided that enough was enough, that I was ready to face the unknown changes that would occur by coming out, I began telling friends and family; and, yes, Instagram. My life instantly evolved and everything became better. The changes were amazing.

A month ago I said I would never post something like this, but it’s been on my mind the past month after coming out to my fam (blood & non blood). And now, I want to be the one to tell you, so you don’t hear it second hand. My barometer has been: do I care if this person hears this from me, or second hand in a week, month, whenever. Words travel quickly and it’s getting impossible to personally tell everyone, especially those not based in roc. So, going shotgun approach. And honestly, I don’t know if I should post this, but there’s that “sharer” part of me that feels like I’ve hid it long enough. While over the years I thought things like my exceptional use of emoji or over emotional #shitgirlssay style of expression through words or proper kick game or many other mannerisms were great clues, I’ve surprised/shocked/stunned a handful of family and friends over the past month, so my guess is you probably don’t know either. I want you to know. This is me. Still dat A type alpha turn up heyo nuevo jets go that you’ve always known. Just another layer that I’m finally okay with. Please don’t think much will change except that I will share people in my life with you that are amazing & make me a better person. No one in particular now, but there have been in the past. I do apologize for hiding who I am and for not being . Just, yeah, different confusing shit that my brain was like “ehhhhh, you don’t need to share this.” I’ve always asked my friends to never lie & have no secrets. What a crock of shit from me. So yeah, that’s not cool and my bad, for real. While I never felt like this defined me, it is part of my definition, it is part of Brendan.

A photo posted by H€YO BRENDAN ❌ BE ONE OF ONE (@heyob1) on

I often questioned if I needed to come out, and I never thought I'd wave the flag, but the whole process up to this point has made me very proud to identify myself as gay. The weirdness and personal shame that I once felt are things of the past. I share this sentiment because so many others feel this way about themselves, and in talking about it, we can bring that feeling to an end.

If you aren't out yet, and are considering letting others in, the best part is that your current relationships with friends and family will grow deeper; I was expecting the opposite.

Your friends will LOVE the real you.

Life will feel so VIVID, like you can't yet imagine.

"Life is a feeling process." Yes, quoting Big Sean's dad, but it's true. People can tell when you're bullshitting, even if you think you're hiding it really well. Don't miss out on fully connecting with those around you. Being open is as important to your own growth as it is to opening the door wider for those that follow.

You don't have to wave the flag, but if you at least hold onto it, you're helping everyone else take steps in the direction of understanding and acceptance. When Michael Sam came out, I remember thinking, "If an NFL player that is in the public eye can do this, SO CAN I!" He was shouldering a much larger weight, but did it. That inspired me.

Manchester, Manchester, #Manchester. You sure throw a hell of a rest day. #MCRuk: Thanks for a great night and for being progressive in how people think about what is really happening. To my friends who are on that “are we still talking about this?” thing: yes, we are; if for no other reason than that I want people in my life to feel as comfortable with this as my does. to you gnomies cause you’ve made my life so much better by being so open to snit we never talked about before. From straight to queer and everywhere in between, find your lane & people will get on board. Took me a long time to look in the mirror and even say #gay, and that’s sad. Gotta find a way to love the real you or you’re just some fake ass thing to everyone else. Bawse up and do you. I promise you it will be worth it.

A photo posted by H€YO BRENDAN ❌ BE ONE OF ONE (@heyob1) on

After I came out, a number of times I would hear, "But you can't be gay!" My physical traits and ability to excel at sports made it impossible for some to even consider me gay. That notion or idea that there is a cookie-cut definition of what is gay is something that I would like to see change; but again, only visibility will make this happen.

Visibility does not mean that you need to slap rainbow stickers on everything or wave the flag in someone's face. Visibility occurs when you are simply authentic and genuine. The more visible you become, the less of a label it becomes on you. Sure, at first when you come out, that will be something to talk about, but when you simply go out and live proudly as you are, gay just becomes another, but not solely defining, characteristic. It does not become the first label that your friends pin on you. Visibility can make it somewhat invisible. It will not take over your life.

I am not the gay friend. I do not get introduced as, "This is Brendan, he's gay." I am the friend who will try to destroy you on a bicycle. I am a brother, uncle, best man, entrepreneur, intrapreneur, and state champion. Of course, if dating comes up, "he's gay" gets added on. That's cool. It's just an add-on item like you're checking out at Amazon. Poor analogies aside, live authentically with pride and you will inspire others, gay and straight, to live their life more fully. When you make yourself visible, you too are like Michael Sam, or any public figures that can inspire other people to be comfortable in their own skin, and at the same time, change the perception of what gay is. Define YOURSELF.

You're sharing such an awesome part of yourself with others. IT'S YOU, BAWSE UP AND OWN IT. The more Outsports athletes there are, the better this movement becomes. You can help someone else become authentic too.

Think for yourself. Be bold. DO YOU.

Brendan Housler, 34, is a Category 1 road racer and cycling coach. During the day, he sells orthopedic and neurosurgical medical devices. His list of racing palmarès can be seen here, and can be contacted at [email protected] or on Instagram (@heyob1). He is open to speaking engagements and is planning to release his first book in Spring 2017.