I’ve been playing soccer since I was 4 years old. Always the first one on the field and the last one off. No roller coaster could compare to the adrenaline rush taking over as I put on my cleats, taking my ball out of my bag, and just having the time of my life on the field.

As I grew older I got bullied in school about the way I dressed and the way I spoke. I wasn’t a “typical black kid,” in part because of my vocabulary, and I was “gay” for the way I dressed and carried myself.

It didn’t bother me until I read a blog one night about what it’s like being a gay man in a hyper-masculine society. As I was reading I was noticing how everything the author wrote in his blog was relating to me in coincidental ways.

I started to question my sexuality and my faith in God because parts of my family would have considered my actions and thoughts an abomination. If we are all taught to love one another, how could we do that when we’re told that we’re going to Hell and that we’re an abomination to the Lord? It was a redundant trap that kept swirling through my head when I went to church with my family.

What I was struggling with most was my connection to my favorite sport. I started playing out of anger and sadness. The bullying at school got worse, causing my grades to fall and my mind to go in a thousand different directions. I did not know what to do.

‘Love starts with loving myself first.’

For years until I came out I manipulated soccer into becoming a gateway that drove me past my own insecurities, my depression, and my hate towards myself and others because it was simply my only go-to. I would run myself to literal exhaustion every day. The only benefit of that would be my lack of thinking about being gay, getting bullied, and having to deal with life in general.

My continuous hiding led to a knee injury leading into my senior year of high school that took out any chance of me playing soccer on a collegiate level. I had received offers from multiple small, private schools around Kentucky but was heart-broken when I had to make calls that I couldn’t participate in the soccer programs they offered me. That drove me deeper into that same self-hating pit.

I can’t play soccer now without getting super upset. It was a whirlwind of chaos.

When figuring out where to go to college I strategically wanted to either go somewhere far away from my hometown or somewhere I knew someone else wasn’t going. I was trying so hard to escape my past life and issues, and the last thing I needed was someone I knew going to school with me bringing in constant reminders of the pain of middle school and high school.

Ultimately I chose the Univ. of Louisville because it was close to home and it is, in my opinion, one of the most culturally diverse colleges in Kentucky. I wanted to fit in without fitting. I wanted to be a nobody. Just a clean slate.

Although I couldn’t play soccer competitively in college I do play pick-up games with random people I would find at our school’s gym. I was playing one day with one of my good friends and they noticed that I was playing like I was nervous or afraid, like I was playing with built-up tension. It was then that I realized that a new school with new people still won’t change the way I feel about myself and the anger and sadness that was still within me. Something needed to give.

By this time I hadn’t felt genuinely happy in years, and I still couldn’t play soccer and feel that “rush” that I always used to feel.

What was I doing wrong? I decided there were three things: not letting go, not forgiving, and not accepting myself. Letting go of the anger I felt towards those that bullied me, not forgiving myself for torturing myself, and finally not accepting and loving who I am. If no one is isn’t going to love or appreciate me then dammit I’ll do it myself.

Love starts with loving myself first.

It was after a game of intramural basketball with my fraternity that I came out to that same friend who noticed my tension while playing soccer. I told him how I’ve been feeling, how I’m dealing with it and at the end of the text I said “I also don’t care about how you feel because this is who I am—except I do care because you’re my best friend.”

That text opened so many doors in our friendship that I didn’t even know existed. He was there for me, comforted me and made me feel like an actual human because that’s what we all are at the end of the day.

When I finally came out to myself and my friend, my mood jolted. I wasn’t where I wanted or needed to be but I felt improvements coming with myself. I wasn’t hating myself but I was in a confusing and fuzzy stage of “This is who I am, so how am I going to embrace it?”

‘I am living every day happier than the last because I know I’m accepted and loved by others.’

I ended up coming out to two more best friends whom I love dearly before I came out to the world a month later. When I was asked about why I wanted to come out and what made me do it, it was because I wanted that distinct adrenaline rush and heart full of happiness when I played soccer.

Now I get that same sense of happiness when I play soccer that I once had. I feel the rush when I’m just living life, and I couldn’t be more thankful for my friends and family for helping me get to where I am today.

I want others to hear my story because I want people to know that everyone deserves love no matter your race, sexuality or religion. I want others to know that there is light at the tunnel, but it takes deep soul searching and courage to get there. I’m still learning to be me and I am living every day happier than the last because I know I’m accepted and loved by others.

I will continue my journey to find myself and my purpose in life while fully accepting the person that I am and who I’ve become. I’m living every day like the happiness I get from playing soccer. It is when I’m living like this I can continue to find peace within myself while spreading every where I go.

Bio: Taylon Crume, 19, will be a sophomore at the University of Louisville in the fall of 2017. He studies Political Science (Law and Public Policy) and Psychology. He can be reached at [email protected], @taycru1 on Twitter and Instagram, @itstaylon14 on SnapChat, and Taylon Crume on Facebook.

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