It was during a heated game of Risk with friends during the summer before my senior year of high school that I decided to take a huge risk of my own and tell them I was gay.
It was in a town about 45 minutes from where I grew up in Olympia, Wash., and I was incredibly nervous.
I had been stressing out about my sexuality for the previous three months. It got to the point where I was visually anxious and wasn’t eating much because I was so scared that somebody would find out.
I woke up that summer morning and I told myself that I was going to share with someone that I was gay. I was shaking so much about telling someone that I’m surprised I didn’t crash the car.
What if my friends didn’t like me anymore?
How would I tell them?
Will they tell anyone else?
All day I had been very quiet and my friends started to notice. While we were playing Risk, one of them asked me if I was OK and I knew I couldn’t hide any longer.
I didn’t respond to him. Instead, I broke down and started to cry. My friends became concerned and assured me that I could tell them what was on my mind. I tried to say what for me were two life-changing words to them, but I couldn’t.
I thought back to that morning, being sick of hiding and making myself miserable and decided I had to let them know. So I grabbed my phone and typed “I’m sorry I can’t say this out loud, but I’m gay.”
I handed them the phone and before I could get a reaction I left the room. I didn’t want to see my friends look at me differently. I was convinced that they wouldn’t like me anymore.
But as I was walking away I hear a friend say, “We don’t care that you’re gay. We love you no matter what.” I was so convinced that nobody would accept me that those words took me off guard. It was such a relief to hear such positive feedback.
I felt a sudden rush of joy and I was so thankful that I could finally get this burden off my shoulders, even if it was just sharing those words with a few friends.
My telling this small group of friends was the culmination of years of worry and anxiety. When I was in middle school and throughout high school, I knew I was a little bit different from everyone else.
I had most of the same interests as my male classmates except for one big one — girls. My friends would always like to talk about girls they found attractive, but whenever someone would ask me about if someone was attractive or not, I would panic.
I didn’t want to stand out so I would just agree with them. Being a dual-sport athlete playing football and running track made me want to try to blend in. I was in the limelight around school and I didn’t want anyone to think anything negative about me. Constantly hiding had taken its toll on me.
After that fateful game of Risk, I ended up telling the rest of my close friends that I was gay over the next few months. They all told me that they didn’t care and that they had my back. I expected at least one person to not be accepting of me, but that wasn’t the case.
The same thing happened in college at the University of New Mexico. Throughout my sophomore and junior years of college, I had decided to come out to people just in normal conversation. If someone asked me about girls, I would respond, “I’m not the right person to answer that. I’m gay.”
Another fateful event happened during the summer between my third and fourth years of college as I was browsing the web and reading about gay athletes like me. I eventually stumbled upon Outsports and was reading different coming out stories. I was mainly focusing on different track and field athletes because I could relate to them the most.
I found an article written in 2017 by Kylon Drones, a track athlete at West Texas A&M, which stood out to me because he was a decathlete like me. His story was very similar to mine. We both struggled to say “I’m gay” out loud when we first came out, we had the same strategy of coming out to people in college and we were at schools reasonably close to each other. He was pretty cute, too.
I saw that his Instagram link was at the bottom of the article, and I just had to message him. I didn’t have any gay friends at the time, so I wanted to try to make one.
I messaged him late at night and said, “Hey I read your story on Outsports and I was really inspired by it. I’m a decathlete too and I could really relate to you.” I went to bed thinking about how it would be awesome if I got to meet Kylon sometime.
He replied the next morning and we just hit it off. We talked all day and it just felt natural. After a week of talking, I asked Kylon when he was heading home for the summer. He told me that he was leaving in two days.
Determined to meet him, I asked him if he would want to hang out that next day, and he said yes. I didn’t want to go an entire summer talking to Kylon without meeting him, so I decided to do it.
When I told my friends I was going to drive four hours from New Mexico to Texas to meet someone, they thought I was stupid. But one friend thought I should do it, because I would have a great story to tell whether it worked out or not. That was all the assurance I needed, so the next day I drove across the state to meet Kylon.
Everything went extremely well and I could tell that by the end of the day we had a connection. A couple of months later we started dating and I ended up coming out publicly on Instagram thanks to this experience.
I got messages from a ton of people telling me how they were proud of me for being comfortable enough to be in the public eye. I am thankful for Outsports for allowing this relationship to happen.
I never really officially came out to my teammates like many other athletes have done. Instead they just found out over word of mouth and Instagram.
I had many of my teammates come up to me and say that they thought it was awesome that I finally felt comfortable being my true self. I am very thankful for having such a positive experience with publicly coming out as it allowed me to clear my mind and not worry about the little things anymore.
This mindset really helped me out this last track season by allowing me to focus on having fun instead of stressing about doing well. I ended up having one of my best seasons and qualified for NCAA Regionals in the long jump.
Throughout this experience, I went from being terrified of my true self, to being proud of the man that I have become. I learned that people don’t care about your sexuality, they care about who you are as a person. The person who cares the most about your sexuality is yourself.
Ryan Chase is a fifth year senior at the University of New Mexico where he is majoring in accounting and is a member of the track and field team in the decathlon and jumping events. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Instagram @chaserp11.
Story editor: Jim Buzinski
If you are an out LGBTQ person in sports and want to tell your story, email Jim (email@example.com).