I am of Persian descent and raised in Norway, so my coming out as an openly gay soccer player at a Baptist university in South Carolina was a unique experience.

It was prior to the start of the 2015 season at Anderson University. The semester had not started, so we practiced a couple times every day for two weeks. As a result I’d spend hours and hours with my teammates.

The first night after we had moved into the dorms I was getting to know my roommate and he started talking about girls. I knew that this would be a good time to tell him, and when I got asked if I had a girlfriend, I told him “No, actually I’m gay.”

He took the way I had hoped. He was very supportive, like it wasn’t a big deal. I was pleasantly surprised because he is from Bermuda and, as he told me in a text, “Bermuda can have a lot of small-minded people in the sense of them not understanding how the rest of the world is.”

A few days later, we had just finished a training session and everyone was in the locker room blasting music as we were changing. The team captain all of a sudden stopped playing music and said, as a joke: “Guys. I’m gay.” We all laughed, but then I followed up and told the whole team that I was also gay.

Of course, they thought I was joking as well, but I tried to stay serious. I don’t think they were sure whether or not I was joking, but no one treated me differently. The more I got to know my teammates, the more we all got comfortable talking about my sexuality, and they showed great support after that.

My teammates’ positive and supportive reaction to me being gay eliminated any nervousness about attending a conservative and religious school.

A little background would help describe what my environment was when I came out. Anderson University is a liberal arts school affiliated with the South Carolina Baptist Convention (the school has a graduate school of Christian ministry and offers a Doctor of Ministry). We would pray before some classes, and religion was even introduced in some of my business classes like accounting and finance. It was very odd for me, because I am not religious, but I still try to stay respectful to those who have a faith.

My teammates’ positive and supportive reaction to me being gay eliminated any nervousness about attending a conservative and religious school. They put aside any negative beliefs about being gay based on their religion and treated me as part of our soccer family. It made my time there enjoyable and I still count my teammates there as friends.

My time at Anderson continued a trend about coming out that started when I was playing for a team in Norway.

As I told more and more people, rumors started to spread, and I told myself that if anyone asked me directly I would confirm that I am indeed gay. From that moment on, I thought I wouldn’t have to come out to anyone anymore. But then I got a scholarship to play on college level and moved to South Carolina. Even if I felt uncomfortable coming out, I still wanted to own it and make it as normal as I possibly could.

I decided to transfer schools for reasons unrelated to me being gay and started my junior year at Bloomfield College in New Jersey. This meant I would again have to come out to my teammates, but I was now three years older than when I first faced this in Norway and was totally comfortable with who I was.

Coming out to my teammates was more of a casual thing this time. I would tell them in a more humorous way rather than being all serious, which makes it more fun for me.

Everyone on my team is very accepting of me, and they treat me just like they would treat any other teammate. We occasionally joke about my sexuality at practice, which I always take part in because it’s fun, isn’t mean and shows they treat as an equal because everyone on the team cracks jokes all the time.

Playing on three different teams in the last four years since coming out for the first time has been a mental challenge, but it has definitely helped me grow and shape the person I am today.

I feel fortunate to have had so much support wherever I have played. Whenever people ask me how it’s like to be gay on a soccer team, or how my teammates reacted to it, I always tell them that it is what you make of it. Even at times when I was a little uncomfortable telling people I was gay, I would dive in and try to make my coming out as casual as possible so people could see that it wasn’t a big deal.

I’ve heard people talk about homophobia in sports, but honestly, I’ve never experienced it. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but regardless, I’m 100% happy I decided to come out when I did. If it wasn’t for that, I would not be the same person I am today.

Once you jump over that hurdle of coming out, things will start to look up. If you need someone to talk to, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

Arman Bashiri, 22, is a junior at Division II Bloomfield College men’s soccer team in New Jersey. He is majoring in Finance. His hometown is Oslo, Norway. He can be reached on Instagram (@Abashirii) or by email [email protected]

Story editor: Jim Buzinski