Growing gay in Mexico is really hard. “Machismo” is a big deal in here and bullies are everywhere.

I had really tough times from the very beginning of my life, as everyone knew that I “was” gay but me. I was bullied for not being “man enough” from elementary school through middle school. When I wasn’t at school, I was bullied at the squash club where I used to train.

I was part of my city junior squash team from 2008 until 2016, winning gold, silver and bronze medals at the nationals in Mexico. Playing squash is in my family’s blood — one of my sisters is a Pan American champion, and the other one decided to quit squash to focus on her designing career, but she was an exceptionally good player.

Currently, I play short tournaments back in my city. Grabbing a racket is what I did and what I do to escape from everything.

My junior teammates (ages 12-16) were not comfortable with me being different, calling me faggot. Four of them, whom I used to call friends, wrote me a letter telling me that I should just die, because I am gay. I forgave them two days later. I’ve never been a resentful person, and that’s why people just kept bullying me the whole time. I preferred to be bullied and have those friendships than just cut them off and be alone.

I grew hiding what I like from everyone because I knew that I was going to be bullied for a long time. I had to hide that I am a big fan of Taylor Swift, and that sucks.

I really tried to like girls in a romantic way but it just didn’t happen. I was into guys and I couldn’t just change it. I had to deal with anxiety and depression disorders for almost five years. Luckily, squash was there for me.

I came out to my family when I was 15 years old when I had my first boyfriend. Telling my family was a big deal.

I remember telling my mom while we were walking outside my house. “I am gay,” I said while I was crying. I saw her face and could tell she just couldn’t accept it. “You broke my heart,” she said. Imagine being told by the person that you love the most that you just disappointed her. I cried my ass off that day.

I think my mom’s biggest fear was of what people would think, but as she saw that I didn’t care anymore about anyone’s opinion, she started to accept it. When I told my dad, he hugged me, started crying and told me that he loved me no matter what. On the other hand, my two sisters were full supportive from the start.

I didn’t tell anyone else that I was gay, and they just knew because of rumors of me dating guys. I didn’t make a big deal of it because I thought that it was OK to be gay, but I felt I had to keep it as quiet as possible.

I thought this until the Pulse nightclub shooting in June 2016. I heard the news and started crying, feeling powerless. Why was it not possible to be gay and express it, even in safe places? I posted on Facebook and Instagram this message: “I’m gay and we all deserve a life #GaysBreakTheInternet #F*ckingProud.” I started to receive a lot of messages, even a few calls, from people telling me that they love me unconditionally.

Luis Hernández with his boyfriend Alfonso.

After that day, people who used to bully me just kept quiet every time the saw me. Some of them asked me to forgive them and I did. I was officially out, and I felt more comfortable with myself.

It’s just amazing how you can grow both athletically and mentally if you start to love yourself and fight your demons.

Having peace with myself gave me results as I kept training. It’s just amazing how you can grow both athletically and mentally if you start to love yourself and fight your demons. Confidence starts growing and everything becomes easier.

Every time I have those anxiety attacks again, I just grab my racket and start hitting the ball. I am not a professional player, but I’ve been part of the squash world since I was 8. It is what I love and it is my escape. It is a tremendous sport, and I want more people from all over my country to play it. The moment I have a racket on my hand, the whole world disappears. It’s just me, my racket and my opponent.

I have been wearing the Outsports’ “Courage is Contagious” bracelet that I got at New York’s LGBT Pride this year. It just feels right to display it. I’m proud of who I am and no one can take that from me.

It has also helped immensely to be with Alfonso, my boyfriend of 18 months. He is wonderful guy who fills me with joy. It’s amazing how we’ve grown since we don’t hide from anyone, especially our loved ones. ”

I want to change how the world feels about gay people, in sports and in life. I want to make sure that they feel loved and that they are not alone.

It’s a matter of time until everything falls right into place. It feels amazing once you start to feel free. Inner peace is everything, do not let anyone or anything to make a mess of it.

Don’t give up! It gets better!

Luis Hernández, 20, is a Computer Science’s student of Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí in Mexico. He currently plays regional and national squash tournaments. He can be reached by email ([email protected]) or Instagram (@luishddz).

Story editor: Jim Buzinski