My life changed forever on Dec. 27, 2017, and I don’t have a single regret.

On that day, I came out publicly as an openly gay pro wrestler in an interview with David Hudson of Gay Star News. To say that I wasn’t prepared is a huge understatement. Something that had been my biggest fear my whole life turned into one those character-defining moments that you never imagine in a million years would happen to you.

I never dreamed that I would ever be comfortable as an out gay man and athlete and become someone who inspired other LGBT people. The last nine months have been a whirlwind, but in a good way.

Growing up as an athlete, I had many misconceptions of what it meant to be gay. My misconceptions were also shared among my fellow athletes. As a young athlete, I had nobody to look up to in the sports world or on television.

Everyone I saw who was portraying an LGBT character was either a sassy comical sidekick, weaker than their heterosexual counterparts or overly feminine. I Identified with none of these portrayals, which led me to believe that I was alone in the world and that I was a mistake in some way.

What people don’t understand about the true burden of being gay is you always have to worry about everybody else’s feelings towards homosexuality.

As a student-athlete, I couldn’t solely focus on my sport like my straight teammates but had to deal with crippling fear of how I’d be treated if they ever found out I was gay. Think about how many athletes never get to reach their potential because of fear. What people don’t understand about the true burden of being gay is you always have to worry about everybody else’s feelings towards homosexuality. It is always about them and not about you.

I was tired of hiding and decided to share my story publicly so no 14-year-old athlete in a high school locker room has to feel afraid or alone anymore.

Before I did the interview, I asked a good friend of mine in the wrestling world Danny Burch (Martin Stone) for advice and he told me that I always said to him that athletes have a responsibility to promote positive social change. Despite that, I never thought my coming out story would have the effect that it did.

The number of messages I received was overwhelming, and I am still answering emails from around the world. Some were sharing their coming out stories with me, others were heterosexuals telling me about their friends, some were asking for advice and others seemed to be lost. I have even heard from gay people living in countries where being gay is illegal and punishable by death who told me that my story gave them hope.

Mike Parrow with his fiance, Morgan Cole.

I did have some negative feedback from the gay community because I talked about how I was masculine-shamed. My intent was not to attack gay people who are feminine. I just wanted to tell the truth about myself. I believe that feminine gay people have way more courage than I did and I would never fault anyone for being who they are.

There were times when I didn’t know what to say to people who reached out. Luckily, my fiance Morgan Cole told me: “Just be you. Just tell them what worked for you. Just be honest, and be an open book. That is better than the same old faux-positive ‘everything was so easy’ line.” It was excellent advice.

The article gave me tremendous opportunities to do interviews and spread my message. I even went to London to be on “Good Morning Britain” and it was a crazy experience.

This year I had the opportunity to work for Evolve wrestling in New Orleans for Wrestlemania Weekend, and not until then did I realize the effect my story had. For a pro wrestler, Wrestlemania Weekend is pretty much the biggest weekend of the year — every company comes to town and fans travel from around the world.

I never realized how many LGBT fans had felt forgotten by the wrestling world.

I never realized how many LGBT fans had felt forgotten by the wrestling world. They felt that they had no voice in wrestling and thought that the wrestling companies were basically going to give them same tired gay characters. But something changed and I’m an example.

Because I am 6-4 and weigh 300 pounds I am not the underdog. I’m strong, very aggressive, my matches tend to be extremely violent and tend to be more hard-core. But I didn’t understand until that weekend the magnitude of what just being me meant.

I’d walk down Bourbon Street and people would come up and ask to hug me and start crying and say thank you. Trans fans, lesbians, drag queens, gay men — it ran the gamut. People said that my story helped them come out to their friends and family.

It is hard to know how to react in those situations, so most of the time I would just hug them, and cry with them, because that is what they needed. We keep our feelings bottled up inside for so long, and sometimes it just feels good to let them out with someone that understands all that you going through.

I was approached at a gay bar on Bourbon Street by two brothers, one straight, one gay, who said they had come to see me from England. The gay brother nervously told me that, “Mate, for the first time in my life, I felt that I am not alone, and that someone was like me and loved wrestling as much as I do, and we finally have a badass.” Moments like this make it all worth it.

This year‘s WWE Wrestlemania had a first for LGBT fans: Finn Balor’s ring gear was rainbow colored and his entrance featured members of the local New Orleans LGBT community. What he did was important because allies can show that you can have gay friends and support them. He showed that being LGBT is OK and it isn’t a weakness.

But with all the positives, there are still issues to be resolved.

I was a guest on the “Swerve City” podcast and we were discussing unspoken homophobia. Heterosexual males are OK with the stereotypical characterization of what being gay means, the idea that being gay made one weaker than they are. I believe in this day and age, because of comments on social media, that promoters are too afraid of repercussions to do a gay storyline, for fear of somehow “messing it up” from a PC point of view.

Since coming out, Parrow has been very public about his relationship with Cole, referring to him as “Hubby” on social media.

People have hard time engaging with the issue, especially when they meet gay men who do not fit their preconceived notions. For 30 years I used to share these same misconceptions, which added to my fear. People in pro wrestling and in all sports still use the word gay as if it is derogatory.

I still have promoters who can’t grasp that just because I am openly gay, I do not need people to somehow feel bad or sympathetic for me as an underdog. I was born this way, and it is not an incurable disease. I am a competitor, just like everyone else and I have always despised losing. Even when they don’t say it, it is apparent in their actions that they still think being gay is a form of weakness. That is the stereotype I am determined to change.

I will never regret coming out, as it was the best decision of my life, and I finally have the freedom to be who I was meant to be. I now control my own narrative.

During June Pride month, MLW and BeINSports gave me the opportunity to walk to the ring wearing the pride flag. The support that I’ve gotten from wrestlers, friends and family has been overwhelming.

Life is a series of obstacles: When we beat these obstacles, it only makes us stronger. Not everything’s been easy since the article has come out, but I’ll say this: I finally feel like I can breathe.

The one thing I can hope for is that more athletes come out and stop living in fear. I have finally reached the point where I can truly say that I am happy. I found the love of my life who unconditionally supports my crazy lifestyle, and I am finally able to perform as an openly gay athlete.

If I could leave you with anything, it would be my hopes for the future in sports. I want LGBTQ athletes to have the opportunity that their counterparts do to reach their full potential.

Mike Parrow is a pro wrestler based in Orlando. He can be reached via Twitter and Instagram.

Story editor: Jim Buzinski