Growing up with two parents who were preachers and with numerous other relatives who are pastors or preachers has made it very hard for me to accept I am gay. It’s something I still struggle with, even after being accepted on my college track team.

My struggles with accepting myself even caused me to lose a boyfriend, though that whole event wound up with me finally starting to embrace who I am.

I am on the track and field team at Denison University in Granville, Ohio. Coming there two years ago from Southern California made me leery about revealing my being gay. I assumed a bunch of white frat boys wouldn’t accept a gay, black teammate, but the real problem turned out to be me.

It was September 2016 when I started to see this guy at Denison. He was really open about being gay and I was not. He told me he would never tell anyone about us but he wanted me to come out and I didn’t want to. We regularly argued over this issue.

One night we went to a Waka Flocka concert and my boyfriend and I got separated in the crowd. My friend asked me who I was looking for, and all I kept saying was “I am looking for bae.” She kept asking who “bae” was, but I didn’t want to tell her. Soon we saw a few of my teammates and my friend asked them if they knew who my “bae” was and they all said no.

I took a chance and told everyone that “bae” was a guy. They were happy for me and told me they accepted me. Later, I told my boyfriend and he was delighted. Problem solved? No.

Instead of relief, I felt an emptiness in my stomach and an anger, because I realized that I told all my friends and teammates I was gay. I left his room feeling mad and didn’t want to talk about it again. This led to the guy and I breaking things off.

I knew I wasn’t comfortable being gay, and I assumed my friends and teammates would also be uncomfortable. I thought that they would not want anything to do with me. I know it sounds all messed up, but that was my thought process as an 18-year-old.

For as long as I could remember I knew I felt different, but I didn’t know why. I would always try to fit in with my peers and like the same things they did because I thought maybe if I like and talk about the same things they did, they wouldn’t question my sexuality or who I was. That didn’t stop them.

Throughout grade school and middle school people always asked me if I was gay. I always said no because I did not know if I was; I just knew I was different. Growing up in Southern California with two parents as preachers was hard because I knew they did not support the life I was living and that is why I couldn’t tell them or anyone else in my family because of how religious my family is. Almost every male in my family is either a pastor or a preacher and I knew I didn’t want that for myself. Growing up as a preacher’s kid was difficult sometimes just because of who I was.

Once I got to high school I thought that if I got more serious about the sports I was doing then they wouldn’t think I was gay, especially my parents. I tried various sports and fell in love with track. Once I started to excel, the teasing about being gay mostly stopped, but still didn’t mean I was happy.

I decided to come out to a close friend and her response was, “I’m so happy for you and I’m glad you’re able to tell me.” After I told her, I told a few other friends but not everyone. I assumed that if people knew I was gay I would be stereotyped and treated differently. I wasn’t proud I was gay. I actually hated being gay, especially coming from a Christian family where being gay was not an option. After telling my few friends I was gay, I did not tell anyone else.

I was saved by Angelo, someone who became my best friend. We met in my senior year playing volleyball and clicked right away. When I met him, I knew he was gay but I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want him to know I was. One night after we played volleyball we were hanging out and I thought maybe if I just started talking about an ex-boyfriend he would start talking about his experience with being gay.

Isaac with best friend Angelo.

I was very nervous to talk about being gay but I just wanted him to know because I wanted someone to relate to. Out of nowhere I mentioned my ex-boyfriend and he replied, “I knew you were gay and so am I.” I replied, “I knew you were gay too.” Since then we found out how much we were alike in our experiences with being gay and he is the one person I can count on to talk to about anything.

After being accepted by 60 schools, I decided to go to Denison University. I thought going out of state would help me become more myself and get away from the life I had in California. I told myself that I would be out in college, but once I got to Denison I quickly changed my mind. I didn’t want to be out because I didn’t like who I was, so I was living a double life.

Lying all the time got to be exhausting. I soon felt like my life fell into a hole. I wasn’t doing well in school, I wasn’t performing the way I wanted to in track and I kept lying to my friends.

Things changed after I came out at the Waka Flocka concert. It was weird — I was angry for coming out impulsively and it caused me to lose my boyfriend. But, to my surprise and relief, my friends and teammates expressed they were accepting of me.

My teammates still saw me as the person I was before and that made me feel better about myself. Me being gay didn’t change the way they saw me and that’s all I wanted. When my teammates knew and gave me their support, I thought I should tell my coaches.

A couple of days before I was going to tell my coaches, we were at a track meet and one of my teammates told my coaches that I thought one of the guys was cute and I wanted to date him. My coach started to laugh about it and I knew then that he knew I was gay and I felt even more better about myself.

After coming out, I started to perform so much better that I even broke the 60-meter hurdle record at my school and was runner-up in the conference meet in triple jump.

I still have a hard time accepting myself, but it’s a day by day thing. Me coming out showed me that I stressed about it for no reason. I have got nothing but positive responses since I have come out and talking about it with other people has shown me that everything will be OK.

My biggest fear of coming out was not having anyone support me and I am glad that I didn’t experience that. It’s been a rough three years, but it was worth it because I finally get to be myself.

Isaac Reed III, 20, is a junior at Denison University in Granville, Ohio. He is a member of the track and field team specializing in hurdles and triple jump. He is majoring in Psychology and minoring in Economics. He can be reached via email at [email protected] or on Instagram: @Isaac_dathird and snapchat: reed_16.

Story editor: Jim Buzinski