Accidentally outing myself was one of the best things I’ve ever done, even if it panicked me at the time.
It was in 2015 and I was 13 years old and I had just come out to my close friends and family. Yet I was still nervous about peoples’ reactions to my sexuality.
I swim on a club team, Northern Dutchess Aquatic Club (NDAC), in the Hudson Valley of New York and had just moved into the senior boys’ lane. I already felt out of place and vulnerable because I was the youngest one in the lane and I only had one true friend.
During practice one day, the other boys got to discussing a previous swimmer. They were claiming that said swimmer was a “homophobe.” I made mental note of the swimmer’s name and I said, apparently out loud, “Remind me to stay away from him.”
I had no intention of any other teammates hearing those words but the teammate next to me, who was a year older than me and whom I wasn’t close with, whirled around, eyes wide, and shockingly gasped, “You’re gay?” At that point, everything stopped for a minute.
It seemed that he screamed it and that the entire pool must have heard him. Everything, including my heartbeat, froze. A wave of terror and nausea came over me as I stared at him wondering how I should answer. Eventually, I mumbled, “Yeah kind of” and looked down at the pool, holding my breath, and waited for his reaction.
He just went “Oh” and went back to swimming. I remember swimming mindlessly that day just thinking, “Is that it? Is there nothing else?”
I hadn’t felt relief yet as I was afraid that after practice that he would spill the beans and that my other teammates would have a negative reaction. I remember worrying, “What is coach going to think? Will they let me stay on the team?”
I didn’t shower and I didn’t stick around as I usually do. I just went into the locker room, changed as fast as I could, and practically sprinted to the car. I had a knot in my stomach for the rest of the night. I suspected that my teammates were talking about my coming out in the locker room after I left and I was worried about their reaction.
The next day I dreaded going to practice and was extremely nervous. I was one of the first ones on deck and I waited for my teammates to show up. One by one, my teammates trickled in, greeted me with their usual, “Hey Alex,” and sat down by me to wait for coach.
Nobody behaved any differently than they had the day before. The teammate who overheard my comment the day before eventually came in later than the rest. His behavior towards me was no different than earlier. At that point, I relaxed a tiny bit because I wasn’t sure if he kept it to himself or if my teammates truly didn’t care.
As the week continued, there were subtle signs that my teammates knew and that they didn’t mind. I confirmed my suspicions with a close friend who was also a swimmer on team. His reply was reassuring as he said, “Yeah we all pretty much know.” I felt incredible relief knowing that my teammates knew and that they were comfortable with my being there.
As I reflect on my accidental outing, it’s clear it turned out to be a positive thing for me.
I know it isn’t always a positive event for other people but for me, it was one of the best things to happen. Had this event not happened, I might still be struggling to come out to my teammates. I feel more comfortable now and I don’t have to hide who I am.
I have never truly talked with my coach about my sexuality because I thought that it would be super awkward.
However, at a meet in the following months, my coach stopped my mom while I was in the locker room and said, “Alex is my boy. I have been coaching him since he was 6 years old and he will be safe on any team I coach.” And since I came out, I have felt nothing but safe.
There’s no longer a discussion of my sexuality because it is simply a part of me. When other guys discuss whom they like, I too, discuss whom I like. There is no differentiating the conversation just because I am gay. We are all one team and we are all one family.
My coach is supportive of me and I know he will help me pick supportive coaches going forward. I look forward to swimming in college and as an out high school athlete, I have the advantage of picking coaches that are supportive and open to the LGBT community. If I was still closeted, I would only be able to pick up on hints rather than having open honest conversations with the coach.
The thing I want other people to know from my coming out story is that it’s OK to not be straight. It’s OK to not be cisgendered. It’s OK to be different. As a gay male athlete, I also want people to know that gay men can be just as competitive or athletic as other men.
Alex Liu, 15, is a sophomore at Red Hook High School in Red Hook, N.Y., and swims on the Northern Dutchess Aquatic Club (NDAC) Senior Squad. He can be reached via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or on Instagram: @alextheexoticpotato.
Story editor: Jim Buzinski