It was a pick-up game at UCLA that finally led to me coming out as gay.
I had played in literally hundreds of Ultimate Frisbee games before and met many hundreds of other athletes. Ultimate was a minor social outlet for me, but it was mostly an opportunity to compete, something I could not get enough of in my 20s.
Yet until that day I’d never met anyone, anywhere, like PJ Henry. As soon as I walked toward the field he caught my eye, lacing up his cleats and laughing with a friend.
Who is THAT???!!!
I wasn’t one of these kids who always knew he was gay. In fact, until about junior high school the idea never crossed my mind. I liked girls, truly. Yet for whatever reason, that started to shift around seventh grade. I dated girls of course, because that’s what you were supposed to do. There just never seemed like any good reason to do anything else.
Until I saw PJ. I had never felt anything like it. Standing on the sideline of the Ultimate match, I felt myself wanting to stand next to him. When we were on the field I wanted to pass the disc to him. When the pick-up game was over, all I could think about was how on earth I could make sure I saw him again. We ended up spending the rest of the afternoon together, just two dudes hanging out. And I totally got his phone number.
So THIS is what straight guys feel for women.
That night, the next day and for days after I couldn’t stop thinking about him. At work, eating dinner, playing basketball — whatever I was doing I found myself thinking about him. Constantly. My sudden infatuation with this guy I’d just met helped me trace my feelings all the way back to junior high school. This thing I had for PJ wasn’t just a passing phase, it had been there for years. There just hadn’t been a good reason to do anything about it.
It didn’t take more than a week for me to finally come to terms with my reality.
Cyd, you’re gay.
A couple weeks later, I told PJ that I had to talk to him. I had something important I wanted to share. We walked around his neighborhood and settled on a couple benches in a park. There in the dark under towering eucalyptus trees I finally told someone else who I really was.
“Oh my god that’s awesome!” Being gay had, all my life, been the last thing anyone could ever be. It was despicable, repulsive, the lowest of the low. In that moment, PJ’s immediate, natural reaction filled me with confidence.
“Let’s go celebrate!” It was a weekday, so the celebration consisted of going back to his apartment and having ice cream sundaes. So silly, but so empowering to me in those moments after my coming out.
It wasn’t until the next day that PJ told me he was gay too. I had been hoping — and literally praying — that he was gay too, but I hadn’t been sure until that next day. I asked him why he didn’t tell me the night before.
“Last night was about you,” he said. “I had my coming out moment. My news could wait.”
PJ and I became inseparable after that. It became his mission to open my eyes to a gay community that was so very full of love and rainbows. It scared the hell out of me at first, but as I dipped my toe in the waters of West Hollywood, when The Abbey was — gasp! — serving only coffee, I quickly found a home in my new community.
It was only a couple weeks after coming out to him that PJ brought me to my very first Pride, in Los Angeles. It was there that I met Jim Buzinski, working a booth for the local gay flag football group. We immediately became friends, and the rest is history. Outsports, the National Gay Flag Football League and so many more incredible ventures have risen out of that day in 1996 when PJ introduced Jim and me. The domino effect in motion.
I told this story recently, at our Outsports Pride event in New York, with PJ sitting in the front row, to thank him for being the absolutely perfect person for me to first come out to, and for introducing me to Jim, who has helped shape the direction of my entire adult life.
Without knowing it, PJ also shaped the lives of LGBTQ people in sports he’ll never know.
Courage is contagious.