Growing up, there was always something different about me from my male peers, yet I honestly didn’t know what it was.

I ran track, played football, and even swam for a little bit. I dated girls and there was no problem. I was even successful in academics.

Life was good, but there was still a part of myself that felt incomplete and missing.

The phrase “parents know best” has always seemed partially true, but it never set in for me until I was 16 years old when my father asked, “You’re not gay are you?”

My heart instantly sunk to the floor and, for exactly 1.5 seconds, I contemplated everything that had occurred in my life up until that point. With little hesitation, I laughed it off and said “no.”

“OK, good,” he replied.

OH MY GOD! Later that day I was crying to my best friend about how my dad had asked that, and he seemed so disappointed to even muster the words. My dad’s question didn’t change much for me at the time, but it stuck in the back of my head, spinning around back there, over the years.

Fast forward through five state championships and a partial scholarship to the University of Wisconsin, where everything began to blossom.

My first “social encounter” ever with another guy at Wisconsin led to some serious self-evaluation and dark times. He was more open about things in his life than I was, and once word-of-mouth spread it went like wildfire. My best friend, who didn’t even know at the time that I was gay, had gotten into so many verbal altercations just solely defending me because I couldn’t admit to her that the stories of me being gay were actually true.

Eventually seemingly everyone had heard it all, and I was in a world of spiraling emotion that needed to be let out.

Everything changed in 2014 over Thanksgiving break.

One night I was texting my friend that I was going through some things. I was in my room at home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin crying my eyes out because the rumors had gotten too much to deal with, and I had no one to turn to.

I sat on my bed having written a text that I was gay or bi and had the idea that I might like men. I stared at my phone, my finger hovering over the send button.

Click. I shot it off, wanting to instantly run two miles away from my phone and never look at the response. His response came faster than I could run.

“Oh, that’s cool,” he said.

The biggest sigh of relief came over me knowing that he wasn’t appalled. He even wanted to continue talking to me.

Everything in my life improved – all because of telling that one person.

From that moment on, having finally come out to someone in my life, everything in my life improved – all because of telling that one person.

Telling one person led to another and another, eventually leading up to my parents. Telling them was the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. Thankfully they were super accepting and understanding, even though lots of awkward conversations and tears were exchanged.

And the guy I first came out to? He eventually came out to me too. His name is Brad, and we’ve been dating now for about two-and-a-half years. Yes, we started just after that text message. Good thing I didn’t run away from the phone.

Brad and Justin have been together since shortly after they came out to each other in 2014.

With the blossoming relationship with my current boyfriend, who ran for the Univ. of Minnesota while I was at Wisconsin, in addition to some friends that I met at Minnesota, I made the decision to transfer and become a Golden Gopher.

The move to Minnesota was the “fresh start” I’d always seen on television shows and movies, but I didn’t realize was an actual thing. I decided to start everything new and not be this secretive person, so the friends I made knew everything about me from the get-go. I couldn’t go through the feeling of being someone other than myself any longer.

I started a journal to write all of my experiences, and truly being myself has given me so much strength, wisdom, and just a sense of pure happiness.

The best decision I think I’ve made was transferring schools and truly deciding to stay true to my character as a person while being here. In being myself, I have made the most genuine friends, made the greatest memories, and found myself in the process.

Once the real you is able to be seen, everyone will notice and nothing can stop you.

I’m still with my boyfriend, who lives with me in Minneapolis. I’m one semester away from receiving my undergraduate degree in Kinesiology with a minor in nutrition.

But most importantly, I’ve just realized that people can see through a facade if you are putting one up, and once the real you is able to be seen, everyone will notice and nothing can stop you.

You can read Brad Neumann’s full coming-out story here.

You can find Justin Rabon on Facebook, or on Twitter and on Instagram @JayyRayy_. You can also email him at [email protected].

Story editor: Cyd Zeigler