I’ve had to come out twice while playing college hockey and the second time was more out of exhaustion than anything.
It was January 2018 in my freshman year and I was new to my club team at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston. My teammates were in the locker room and everyone just started to joke about being gay or saying gay things.
I stood up and said, “You guys can’t use the word fag unless you are one. So, from here on out, I’m the only one who can. I’m gay.”
I then sat back down, put my helmet on, and went onto the ice. I wasn’t upset, I just was exhausted by everything going on.
Some of the guys came up to me after practice and apologized for making jokes and saying things they shouldn’t say. I expressed that I wasn’t offended by the jokes, but that everything at once can be overwhelming.
I’ve learned a few things from this whole “coming-out process.” The first is to be proud of who are as a person — be authentic and genuine and refuse to let others dictate how you live your life. I’ve also learned the importance of positivity — keep your head held high and strive to overcome the hurdles that can get in the way of your happiness.
I’ve formally come out twice because I have played hockey for two different colleges and wanted to be authentic. I was never outed and most people never suspected me of being gay. Still, I faced internal pressure to express my true self and to stop censoring my actions around my teammates and friends.
I had always felt like I was walking on eggshells, which can be a very tiresome and draining experience. Prior to coming out, in environments that I assumed would be less accepting, such as being in the locker room with “the boys,” my entire body would get warm and my heart would start racing.
I was afraid that I wouldn’t be accepted for who I was and that I could even potentially be forced off the team if I expressed that. I became hypervigilant of how I was expressing myself and was even more cautious when I was in the locker room or anywhere with my teammates.
It was extremely exhausting trying to maintain this facade. Things like joking around about what girls we found attractive, or who was dating whom, things that guys talk about, became tedious. I was over it. I wanted to feel comfortable in my own skin, I just never knew how to do it.
The first example of how to be proud of who you are came during my freshman orientation at the University of New Haven in Connecticut.
Ian was an orientation leader and he stood on stage in front of a packed auditorium. I watched in awe as he came out to 1,000 people without knowing any of them. From that point forward, he was a role model for me. I never thought I would be able to do something like that, but he inspired me to try.
I immediately wanted to ask him for help because he showed me that by stepping on stage and introducing himself as a “gay fraternity member,” he was proud of who he was and that it is OK to stand out. I later became close with him through the connection of the hockey team and still look up to him as a big brother.
There were many obstacles my freshman year of college threw at me, the most prominent of which was my internal struggle of how to express my sexual orientation. I would often stay up late at night just thinking about how to hide my “gayness,” or playing out scenarios in my head of how I could finally come out to my roommates and teammates.
At the time, I was playing both football and hockey. It would get to the point where I would get so overwhelmed, I would put my head under the covers and cry myself to sleep. This became my routine. Lack of sleep and the amounting stress only worsened as I got sick with mononucleosis.
Soon after, I had to give up my dream of playing Division II college football in order to stay healthy. Stepping away from the sport I loved was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do (probably only being topped by coming out to my family and friends). Everything I went through in my first semester triggered something in me.
I wanted to feel normal and decided I was going to try and be accepted for who I was. I wanted to peel back the layers and that’s what I finally did. I sat down with my roommates, looked them both in the eyes, and said, “Guys, I’m gay. I’m sorry if this changes the way you see me, but it’s who I am. If you don’t want to live with me anymore, then that’s fine.”
They both proceeded to stand up and give me a hug. They said, “Listen dude, we’ve got your back no matter what. Nothing has changed. We are brothers, and that’s how it will always be.”
Hearing this shocked me. I didn’t know what I expected from them, but it gave me the boost I needed to finally come out to my New Haven hockey team. Although it was scary, I felt like it was time.
I didn’t want to make a scene about it, so I walked into the locker room before practice when everyone was getting ready as usual. I just said, “Guys, I’m gay.” No one really reacted or made a face. They all knew Ian, and thought of him as just a regular guy. They all were accepting and even encouraged me to be happy.
They asked me why I didn’t tell them earlier, to which I replied that I was simply afraid of not being accepted. I was thankful that they had Ian to look to as an example and that they just saw me for me.
Being gay usually confines you to certain stereotypes and not having a full understanding of the LGBTQ community can lead to certain misunderstandings. I thought I would be alienated and left out of everything, but it turns out my teammates were understanding and uplifting.
The following semester I decided to switch my major and continue my education at Wentworth. While switching schools gave me career opportunities that were better aligned with my interests, it meant I had to start over.
I didn’t know anyone on campus and all the personal courage I had in New Haven needed to be rebuilt. I eventually joined the club hockey team, but I felt as if I had taken steps backward. Again, I was afraid of being seen as different.
I crawled back into my shell and hid who I was. It wasn’t until halfway through my first semester that I got tired of being hypervigilant. Like at New Haven, hiding my true self took a toll on me, and some of my teammates could tell. Closing myself off, I never gave details of what I did outside of hockey or school.
Similar to New Haven, I found myself uncomfortable in places that I felt like I wouldn’t be accepted and that’s what led me to come out that day when hearing “gay” jokes became too much. I was so glad I did.
Ever since that day, all of my teammates have had my back both on and off the ice. Feeling like I was able to be myself was a huge weight off my shoulders. That confidence helped my skating too.
A key moment for me was being able to take my team head shot with my Pride flag draped over my shoulders. Looking back at this picture, I see me being my most authentic self and radiating positivity. This is a message I want to send to all athletes, but especially those who feel they have to hide a part of themselves from their friends, teammates and coaches.
I learned a lot over these two years, not only about myself, but also about the people around me. I learned to keep my head up and never give up. In the end, all that matters is that you are happy.
While I was shocked at the acceptance I was met with, I was happy to be embraced as a part of my team family. In the end, keep your head up, on and off the ice, and stay positive.
Adam Fyrer, 21, will be graduating from Wentworth Institute of Technology in the summer of 2021. He is studying Construction Management. He is a member of the school’s club hockey team. Prior, he attended the University of New Haven and played football and hockey. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Instagram (adam_Fyrer).
Story editor: Jim Buzinski
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