Growing up in a small East Texas town allows you to become one of two things: a dreamer or complacent. From the start I was a big dreamer.
As a child I always knew I wanted a bigger life outside of Athens, Texas. I fantasized about moving to a big city and having friends, both male and female friends. Growing up I only had female friends. I don’t think I had an actual male friend whom I considered to be a special part of my life until I came out as gay. It was a long road of emptiness.
As a child, boys never wanted to play with me. I was obsessed with two things: singing and gymnastics. Those two things just didn’t fit into the normal stream of life for most young Texas country boys.
I got a lot of flack from boys calling me “gay,” “sissy” and writing me off as weak because I didn’t have a dream to play for the Dallas Cowboys. At the time I told myself I didn’t care. I didn’t realize the void I had until I was older.
When I was 16, I changed schools, leaving the private school I had attended for 11 years and moving to public school. I reinvented myself. I was not doing gymnastics at this time and joined the cross-country and tennis teams.
Despite having no experience in either sport, I picked them up pretty easily. I loved working hard and pushing myself and for the first time starting making friends who were boys. I wouldn’t call any of them close, but because I was a hard worker and contributed to the team I was accepted.
I got back into gymnastics after high school when I joined my college club gymnastics team at Texas State University in San Marcos. I also started coaching the sport as well. As an athlete I continued to compete on the club team until I was 24 and for the first time in my life became close with men, my male teammates.
It may sound strange to some people, but becoming so close to my male teammates filled a void. I always wanted guy friends and as a child always felt nervous around other boys. Gymnastics gave this to me, sports gave this to me. I remember finally telling one of my teammates I was gay and his reaction of “finally” really shook me. I was under this impression I was fooling everyone, but they all were just waiting for me to share with them. We all became so much closer after this.
After college I moved to Dallas and starting coaching gymnastics full-time. I started a boys competitive team and saw similarities of some boys who reminded me of my younger self. I noticed the boys who had mannerisms like me, who were more artistic and loved pretty things. I also could see how the other boys would treat them. That’s when I knew I had an opportunity to not only make a huge difference in these young boys lives, but also teach lessons.
Coaching was never something I imagined I’d make as my life’s profession. After graduating from college and attending graduate school I had every intention of becoming a social worker. I enjoyed helping people, but the profession did not provide me as much satisfaction as coaching gave me.
In 2009 I moved to Colorado with my boyfriend. Through crazy circumstances I took a job managing a gymnastics facility and within a year the owners gave me the option of buying the gym. I took a chance, leaving social work behind and took this small gym and passion I had for the sport and things took off. I started a boys program and after a few years I had created the second largest boys team competitive program in Colorado.
I knew that if I wanted this program to be a safe space for all types of boys I needed to be an example. I needed to be out to both the parents and the boys. My mission was to provide a safe space where boys like me could come and participate in something the loved and not be teased or ridiculed. The way to do that was to make my life seem as normal as any other family.
My boyfriend was involved in all gym functions and surprisingly accepted by everyone. The boys on my team knew who he was and it never mattered. I was providing these young boys with something I didn’t have growing up — a gay male figure who was proud to be himself.
After owning the gym for 10 years and breaking up with my boyfriend I decided to make a bold move. I sold my gym and moved to LA. I had been involved in CrossFit while in Colorado and had owned and started my own CrossFit gym during my tenure. I decided to make a switch to personal training and coaching CrossFit. The gymnastics background has helped enhance my ability to train adults.
I take a similar approach to teaching skills as I would in gymnastics and continue to create an atmosphere that is all-inclusive, especially to LGBTQ members. Stepping into a gym can be nerve-wracking and intimidating and the extra stress of “Will I be accepted for being me?” no longer has a place in the fitness and sports community.
I feel very fortunate that the fitness communities I’m involved with allow for such diversity and I’m proud work with owners, coaches and members to provide safe spaces.
When I have an LGBTQ member come to me and say this is the first time they’ve felt included with the straight guys in the gym or that they’ve become friends with a straight bro guy for the first time it takes me back to that feeling I had as a kid. Always wanting to be accepted for being me. It makes me really proud to be part of something special.
JR Jaquay lives in Los Angeles where he is a full-time CrossFit Coach and personal trainer. He and his boyfriend Shawn are the proud pops to two mini-Schnazuers, Lemon and Lulu. They are looking forward to expanding their family to two-legged children in the next few years. You can reach JR on Instagram at @jrthegymnasticscoach
Story editor: Jim Buzinski
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