For world jujutsu champion William Seth-Wenzel, his coming out process as an openly gay fighter included having his boyfriend at meets cheering him on.
“For me, it felt weird at first to ‘show’ my boyfriend in public at competitions,” Seth-Wenzel, 22, told Outsports. “But that quickly changed when I got used to it and realized that everyone accepted it.”
The Swedish athlete won the title in November in Fighting System under-85k (187 pounds) at the 2018 Jujutsu World Championships before the home crowd in Malmo. His boyfriend, Pontus Formgren, was among those cheering him on as he won five consecutive fights to claim the gold medal.
“Winning the world championship in Sweden was just amazing, it was a dream come true,” he said. “My whole family and a lot of friends were there, cheering for me. It has been my greatest goal to win the worlds for many years now.”
Seth-Wenzel is also proud to have won as an openly gay athlete, having come out gradually in the last two years. His interview with Outsports, conducted over email and Instagram, is the first time he has talked publicly about being gay.
“Doing martial arts and being gay is quite rare I guess,” he said. “Not being gay maybe, but being out as gay is not very common. I don’t know anyone who is out and gay in the sport.
“I think its important that people like me show their sexuality so other people get the courage to come out as well. I know the feeling of being secretly gay in a macho-dominated sport. It sucks because you have to lie about your identity all the time.”
Jujutsu is a Japanese martial art, where fighters do both punches and kicks and includes segments that feature take downs and submissions on the ground, with a submission counting for points. (It is not the same as Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which is a different martial arts discipline). Seth-Wenzel has been practicing it since he was 6 and in 2017 won the junior world championship.
Being in such a macho sport where dominance is the goal caused some of his fellow competitors to initially question whether Seth-Wenzel actually was gay.
“In the beginning of my coming out process, I got some odd questions from some international fighters,” he said. “It was basically like the other fighters wanted a confirmation from me if I was gay or not. They had obviously seen pictures of me and my boyfriend on Instagram, but still they needed to hear it from me that I was gay.”
That confusion cleared up, Seth-Wenzel said he has been accepted in the sport, even though he never had an official coming out to his teammates and competitors.
“When I came out two years ago, I first just told my closest friends who I trusted the most,” he said. “I got great support from them, and after a couple of months I also told my family. My aunt was also gay and, therefore I knew that my family would accept it, but it still felt very hard telling them.
“Some of my closest friends are also in the sport, and it was not that hard to tell them, but I never told my friends in my club or on the national team. I guess they just figured it out.”
Seth-Wenzel met Formgren, a PR professional, a year ago on a Tinder date. “On our first date we had some drinks at a bar and I remember that I thought how handsome and funny he was,” Seth-Wenzel said. “We share many interests and values that makes us so perfect for each other.”
Seth-Wenzel and Formgren are very open about their relationship on their respective Instagram pages, which is how I discovered them. It also shows how comfortable Seth-Wenzel is with being out in his sport. As he prepares to compete again at the world championships later this year, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We need more role models for those who haven’t come out yet,” said Seth-Wenzel, who is also in school studying industrial engineering and management. “I would be very happy if I could help or inspire someone to do that.”
William Seth-Wenzel can be reached via Instagram or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org