I never expected to come out as gay sitting at the lunch table at my high school in North Carolina, but that’s what happened to me.
A few weeks before the golf season was to start in 2017, I was sitting at the lunch table surrounded by classmates who all liked to gossip. The “news” of the day was that a kid in the junior class had come out as gay.
You would have thought by the way they were talking that the U.S had launched a nuclear missile against North Korea.
I soon got a sense that the conversation would turn to me. About 10 minutes later, after the gossip session had ended, it did.
One of the guys turned to me and asked, “When is your coming out going to be”? It was as if I was supposed to hold a ceremony. I started laughing, since that’s what they expected. But he asked me the question again and I said without hesitation: “I guess right now.”
At that moment, the table went silent and everybody’s eyes got big. You would have thought that an alien was approaching them or something. They responded with “really?” as if they couldn’t believe what I had said. I said, yes, really.
I’ve always had a hard time telling people who I really am and feared that people would resent me. However, when you play a sport and are well known in the community, that adds another layer of pressure and fear.
Add in to that was this idea among many at my school that golf was a “gay” sport and I was quickly labeled. As I walked down the halls people would make comments about of me being gay and questioning my sexuality. I just ignored them for about two years as I focused on golf.
I have always lived in a very Republican area, so for people being gay wasn’t a normal thing. I feared people would resent me and that I would lose my reputation in the community as a leader.
I have always used golf as a safe place. I play at my high school in Hendersonville, N.C., and have come close to making the state tournament. I love golf because it’s an individual game, but if you make one bad shot, you could be done.
I found that out first hand when I was competing in a regional tournament to go to states. I shot a 75 and the cut that year was 74. I was one shot short. That tore me up, but I learned to move on.
A few weeks later I was sitting at the lunch table where my coming out journey would begin.
When I said I was gay, all the pressure was gone and I wondered why it took me so long. I knew by the time that my next class ended a lot of people would know.
I was right. People asked me on Instagram and other social media if it was true I was gay. I said yes and asked if that was a problem. They all said no.
I didn’t get any negative reaction from my golf opponents and I didn’t expect to. When you go out and whip somebody by 15 shots you expect them to shut up and not comment.
The lack negativity told me I made the correct decision.
I came out because I just wanted to be myself and feel free. A lot of people thought that revealing it would take my focus off what I wanted to achieve. But I knew that it would do just the opposite and it did.
I got a lot of encouragement from a lot of different people, from coaches to students and everybody was so very welcoming to the fact that I was gay. T.S. Elliot said that “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” Through my coming out process I learned that’s absolutely true.
What made me come out was then-high school wrestler Dylan Geick and his book of poetry, “Early Works.” After reading it, I told myself that he totally embodies what it means to be who you want to be. I heard him in interviews talking about his journey and I realized that I’m not alone. He truly understands that.
I am studying criminal justice and my goal is to be a detective with a federal agency. I also want to raise awareness for LGBT suicide prevention. My coming out has taught me that you have to serve a cause greater than yourself. That you have to lead and make a difference and that’s what I will be trying to do as an out gay young man.
Ben Palmer attends Blue Ridge Community College in North Carolina. He is studying Criminal Justice and his goal is be a detective. He can be reached via email (email@example.com), Instagram (benpalmer34) or YouNow.
Story editor: Jim Buzinski