A chance meeting at a water fountain during a college volleyball game led to me meeting my boyfriend and changing how I saw myself as a gay man and an athlete.
It was a cold February night in 2018 at the gym at Carthage College in Wisconsin. As a couple of friends and I watched a volleyball game, I went to get a drink of water and bumped into Felipe Oliveira, a Brazilian volleyball player who was there to watch a match between Carthage and Marian University.
I can’t remember exactly the conversation we had but there was something about him that just made my heart warm. He and I traded numbers and talked for about a month. I discovered he was an openly gay college volleyball player and had written about his experiences for Outsports. As a swimmer who did not come out to my Cartage teammates, his article was an eye-opener.
The way that Felipe and many of the other LGBTQ+ athletes shared their coming out stories made me realize it is OK to be gay, play a sport and be proud of who I am. This was a lesson I struggled learning as a competitive swimmer.
Swimming has always been a huge part of my life and I carried that passion through my college career. The water was one of the few things that made me feel comfortable. Going to practice was therapeutic and it made me feel alive. Competing was the only thing that helped carry me through the day, and I am proud for knowing how much love and hard work I put into my swimming career over the years.
I retired from swimming in 2018 and made the decision to come out right after. But it wasn’t as easy as most people might think. I didn’t plan on coming out while I was competing because It wasn’t the right time for me. As much as I loved the sport and spending time with my teammates, it felt like I couldn’t carry the weight of being an out gay athlete on my shoulders. Not yet.
I needed to respect my space, and this is what I did. I remained in silence, pretending to be something I was not. It was suffocating, but I felt I stuck with it.
I never told my teammates because, like many other athletes, it was something that I didn’t quite know how to deal with. I didn’t know how it would affect me and my relationship with them. It’s something that no athlete should ever have to worry about.
I look back on those moments and I wish I would had been more honest with my them. It would have made my experience at St. Olaf and Carthage a lot better. But now, more mature, I understand that I was dealing with the situation the best way I could. If I knew what I know today, I would have told them on the first day of practice.
Coming from a heavily Republican family in Wisconsin with strong Christian values, I tried to hide myself among my family and my peers the best I could.
Many people struggling to come out with the underlying pressures of living in conservative households know the struggle of how the thought of suicide can creep into your life.
Suicide was a very real option for me. I thought that ending my life would be better for me than trying to live my life as a lie. I broke a lot of hearts because I wasn’t being true to who I was and it would hurt more people than just myself.
I knew that something needed to be done. I needed help, and this is when I decided that I was not going to give up on myself. Not without trying.
After spending more time with Felipe, I became a much happier person. He treated me far better than any person had treated me before and his overall happiness and personality gave me a sense of positivity and most importantly, love. I eventually asked if he would come to my house for spring break. We both had to lie and say we were just friends, but we were dating by then.
Felipe and I have now been dating since March 2018, and I can’t express how grateful I am for having him by my side through this journey. I don’t think I would be able to do it without him. Sometimes it’s not about being brave, but rather its being true to yourself. What is the point of waking up and getting out of bed every day, if you choose to live a lie?
Acceptance doesn’t happen from day to night. It is a constant process that requires consistency and desire to live an amazing life.
We all deserve happiness, and this is why I am sharing my story. Because even in the darkest moments of doubt, I found the inner strength that I needed to make peace with myself.
Matthew Dynneson, 22, swam for St. Olaf College in Minnesota and Carthage College in Wisconsin. His goal is to help and support those who, like him, struggled with coming to terms with their sexuality in both the community and the educational setting. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and Instagram (matt_dynneson).
Story editor: Jim Buzinski
If you are an out LGBTQ person in sports and want to tell your story, email Jim (email@example.com).