This letter is to you from yourself. It’s an electronic letter and is not sent in an envelope with a stamp. This is how mail is being sent today, 29 years later. The world I live in now is in many ways so much better, but in many aspects, not enough progress has been made.
The reason I’m sending you this letter is because I know that you feel like shit right now. I would like to give you some tips along the way, so that you will understand that things will get better.
Some days ago, you realized what’s going on. Now you can´t sleep at night and feel that you’re not worth anything at all anymore. You are wondering if people can tell by your looks. Do people know? I smile a little bit at the fact that you have not found out yourself until now. I mean, you were born this way. You could at least have taken a look at your CD collection and you should have realized a long time ago.
Peter, you are gay.
You are 13 years old and love sports and have participated in sports for as long as you can remember. You have always seen yourself as a top athlete and are in sports to be the best. Deep inside you know that it’s track and field you want to go for. Or at least, that’s what you were thinking until you understood that you are gay.
Now you believe that you will have to drop out of sports, because you actually think that there is not one single person in the entire world that is gay and good at sports. You also think that sports guys need to be masculine, self-confident and straight to be successful.
I can tell that you that you are not alone. There are many guys and girls who are participating in sports and who are in the closet like you. Many more than you can imagine.
You will also learn that the toughest football players can be gay and queer. You will have to put your own prejudices aside.
You hear the expression ”fucking fag” almost every day. In school, in the looker room and even among people you define as your friends. There is a certain tone in their pronunciation (or screams as it usually is), that underlines the fact that a gay person is worth nothing.
In recent days the gay jokes have felt like machine gun fire pointed right at you. Even if no one knows, your self-image shrinks every time you hear those words. In the future, you will look for where it’s far from OK to express yourself like that, but unfortunately you will hear that kind of language your whole athletic career. Not from everyone, but from way too many. Sometimes it will be cool.
One day you will understand that the reason for this is because there are people who know how to lead, and those who do not.
You have decided to never tell anyone that you have fallen in love with guys and not girls. The reason for your decision is that you like being the person you were before you found out that you are gay. And other people liked that person as well.
You have the label of being “the typical sports guy”. That image contains a lot of unconscious expectations from people around you. And you do your best to live up to those expectations.
You will try so hard to keep your current image, because you want people to like you and you want to be a top athlete in the future. You have also learned the magical sports formula: Be a talent, have high goals, work hard and be the best when it matters. You have learned to follow the formula to be the best. You’ve heard that story so many times. “Be yourself “is not something that you have heard will lead to gold medals.
Life will show you that it’s exactly that fact. Being yourself — freeing yourself — will make you jump far.
Coming out will be your biggest challenge in life. It will be so much harder than winning the Swedish Championships and competing in the Olympics. After coming out you will do your first-ever eight-meter jump.
Unfortunately, you will never dare to be the true you when you are out training and competing with the national team. Your athletic career will be relatively short. New visions and goals will be born and they are not about sports anymore. You visions are about growing as a person. They are about love.
That’s also where you will find your biggest victories.
What you are experiencing right now is a lack of role models. That’s why I’d like to tell you that I’ve brought my best friend on a journey around the world to meet with other athletes who have come out. We call them “Rainbow Heroes”. They make a difference for people like you. You would have loved to hear what they have to tell you. You would have been able to identify yourself in them and would like to achieve what they have achieved in sports.
Try to fall asleep now. You will need it. Playing charades takes a lot of effort, and you will do it for 10 more years. Tomorrow you will silently have to receive the machine-gun fire again.
Peter Häggström Lindecrantz is a former long jumper who won six Swedish National Championships and competed in the Olympics in Sydney in 2000. He´s worked as a sports commentator and is the founder of the sportswear brand YMR Track Club. Together with former world champion in high jump, Kajsa Bergqvist, he is the host of the TV-show Rainbow Heroes. You can find him on Instagram @peter_haggstrom, or on Twitter @peterhaggstrom.
Story edited by Cyd Zeigler