“Who is that dude over there on the hill?” Coach asked in the middle of an afternoon practice. “He is weird. Is it your boyfriend, Erika?”
Some teammates remained silent. Others snickered. They knew who the guy, dressed in a button-up, skinny jeans and boots sitting on the hill, was watching.
“That’s my boyfriend, coach,” I responded.
His mouth kind dropped open as he dropped some tennis balls that he was holding in his hand.
I grew up in a family in which sports are a big part of life. My mom is a body building gold medalist at the Olympia in Colombia and Arnold Classic in Spain. My parents even met at the gym. I always knew sports were going to be a big companion in my life.
I remember locking myself in the restroom at the age of 14 and crying. Cutting myself was my only escape because I felt like I had a secret that I did not understand. I struggled with insecurities because being gay made me feel insecure. I kept memories in silence. This led to creating the worst scenarios in my head before coming out. I did not know who to talk to, so I kept my secret for as long as I could.
Coming out was a little different for me. I lived in Mexico for a big part of my life, and I moved back to the United States when I was 17. Before I moved back to the U.S., none of my friends from Mexico knew that I was gay.
When I finally got into a new high school in Forest, Va., I decided that I needed a fresh start. I came out to my close friends in high school, and I decided to play tennis. While I was already out to some people in the United States, my friends in Mexico still did not know that I was gay. Since all of my friends in Mexico were straight, I felt like I needed to hide who I am.
When I finally called my mom and told her I was gay, I don’t think she believed me.
“Are you sure?” She asked. “Because you don’t joke with that kind of stuff.”
I told her that I was sure and I was hiding it for a big part of my life. She was a little hesitant, and she wondered why I hid that big part of my life from her. Despite all that, she said that she loved me and she supported me.
When I came out to my younger brother, he laughed and told me that he already knew because my girlfriend and I looked more like friends than a couple. But after that, he told me to never let anyone make me feel less for something I should be proud of. That brought us closer.
Coming out to my brother and family was hard because I didn’t want them to suffer any kind of prejudice for having a gay family member.
I decided to attend Lynchburg College in Virginia because the coach at the time made me feel welcome. I knew that I wanted to keep playing tennis at a higher level, and this was my chance to show that being gay does not have anything to do with who you are as an athlete.
Growing up I was taught by people that you cannot be masculine, athletic and gay at the same time. Yet being a student-athlete has pushed me in both ends of the academic and athletic stream and has proved them wrong. It has shown me what I am capable of and what I can accomplish.
One of the things I needed from my team was trust. I wanted to be their support, and I wanted the to be part of mine. But I knew that in order for them to trust me, I had to let them know who I really am. When I came out to them I got very positive responses, and that was the moment when I realized that this team and the school were the right place for me.
This is my family away from home.
At the beginning of my sophomore year of college, new tennis players came in and we had a meeting with our new coach. Again, I was a little nervous about them knowing that I am gay. What I did not know was that one of my new teammates saw my posts on Instagram and had already figured it out. It was no big deal.
Some of the guys were surprised because I did not “act gay.” Overall, they are supportive, and my teammates even want to approve guys before I date them. As it stands now, they make me feel comfortable about my identity and relationships. When I was on the phone with my ex-boyfriend, they would randomly yell “hello” to him. They welcomed him to all of our functions, and they normally asked me how we were doing as a couple.
Tennis has not only become a sport, but a place where I can show who I am. My insecurities go away, and I can become a person who people admire. There is no prejudice for who I am as a person and athlete. Hearing my teammates cheering together brings a satisfying feeling to me. Sports saved my life, because when I felt like I have no one to talk to, I have this place where I can always rely on my teammates, who are my family.
Coming out has given me the strength and security to stay true to myself. I even decided to join a fraternity. I am now part of Phi Kappa Tau, and I could not be happier. My brothers support me and we have created this amazing environment where I was able to bring my boyfriend around our functions.
My mom once told me that you need to listen to yourself in order to find who you really are. Thanks to my family, the tennis team, Lynchburg College and Phi Kappa Tau, I am more secure with my persona. I am able to say that I am happy, I am an athlete, I am a fraternity man, I am gay, and I have not regretted coming out for one second.
When I feel like I have no one to talk to, I have this place where I can always rely on my teammates. They are my family. I have learned that when my identity is questioned, all I need to do is to answer with PRIDE.
When I thought that I didn’t have anywhere to go, tennis saved my life.
Dominick Gutierrez is a sophomore at Lynchburg College in Virginia, majoring in Economics and Finance. He is also a brother from Phi Kappa Tau, Zeta Epsilon Chapter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find him on Facebook, or on Instagram @dguti96.