I was having a lunch break at my job in Boston on Dec. 29 and decided to come out publicly as gay.
A month prior, my partner Fergus and I had created an Instagram account — thatgayrugger — and I decided to finally share something I had long kept separate from my rugby career. I wrote my post, hit send and turned off notifications and tried to go about my day as normal. It was a chance to start 2021 by beginning a new chapter with the person I loved.
When I first signed with the New England Free Jacks of Major League Rugby, I told myself this was my opportunity. A chance to not only push my limits as a rugby player, but to put myself in a position to do some good for a community that was important to me.
I had been planning for several years to come out publicly. I had even set dates for when I planned to do it, but always found a reason why it was not the right time. What moved me to come out on Dec. 29 is that, like so many others, I was having a very difficult 2020.
Fergus lives in England and he and I struggled with the pandemic and trying to figure out ways that we could be together. Being separated from him with no real certainty of when we could see each other again was heartbreaking. In addition, like many others struggling across the globe, I had to physically isolate myself from my friends and my family.
We did our best to remain positive and keep things in perspective by reminding ourselves that our struggles paled in comparison to those experiencing losses of family, homes, jobs, and more worldwide. While Fergus and I struggled with the distance and uncertainty, my family puppy and best friend, Ruby, died suddenly in November.
Already feeling extremely low, the loss hit me hard and I felt myself sinking further into depression. It became clear that I needed to make changes if I wanted to pull myself out of it. I sat down and wrote out a list of goals and one of them was making a public coming out post. However, a month passed and I still had not made progress towards that goal
Coming out is never an easy decision, but there were a few reasons I was motivated to do so.
The first was that I knew it could have a tremendous impact on rugby players in the United States.
The second, and most important, was because I wanted to finally be able to celebrate the man I love, Fergus. After three years of being through everything imaginable together, it became more and more difficult to not feel comfortable publicly sharing stories of our love and adventures.
During that time, Fergus made his social media private so that he could share our adventures with close friends and family, while keeping it separate from my rugby aspirations. As someone who had been fully out for several years and open about himself, I knew that this was more difficult for him than he led on.
While Fergus encouraged me to come out, he never pushed me. But I knew that not being fully out was taking a toll on us both and I felt that coming out publicly would have a positive impact on our happiness.
Despite how difficult it was for him, he selflessly encouraged me to go at whatever pace I was comfortable with. I love him more than anything, but at times he struggled with feeling like I might be ashamed of him and I hated that because I felt the opposite. I felt so incredibly lucky and supported by the kindest and most genuine person I had ever come across.
As time went by, it became clearer that this was who I was going to spend the rest of my life with. I knew that I needed to make a change because it wasn’t fair to myself or him that we could not publicly express our love for each other.
He was there for me when things were getting tough. As I continued to put off coming out publicly, I fell on some of the hardest times I had experienced as I grappled with feeling like a failure. I felt like I had the potential to do such a great thing but kept falling short.
Fergus would remind me that whether or not I achieved my goal, he loved me and thought I was the most incredible person he had met. That I could never be a failure to him. I have no doubt that without Fergus I never would have had the resolve to put myself out there in this way. His love and support gave me a strength that I did not know I had.
Fergus had been encouraging me to start a rugby Instagram for a while, as a way to network with potential clubs. As my decision to come out unfolded, the idea behind the Instagram became more focused around something I set as a personal goal — to encourage and promote LGBTQ+ involvement in sport. Since coming out publicly and launching my Instagram I went from having 0 followers to now more than 4,000. I never could have imagined how much my story would impact those living so far from my home.
I have had people from all over the world — including France, Belgium, Scotland, England and Lebanon — reach out to me and share their stories. This has been especially crazy for me as someone who has never had much of a social media presence and lived most of his life privately. I have even had past teammates contact me personally to tell me about their struggles with being open about their sexuality and the impact I have had on them.
The days following my coming out post have been pretty overwhelming — but amazingly so! I’ve been so touched by all of the positive interactions, vastly outweighing the negative responses (of which I’ve had very few).
I’ve really enjoyed taking the breaks from the social media side to get back into training. I’ve found I feel much more present and authentically myself already. I have also had so many former rugby teammates, friends, acquaintances and strangers reach out and show me love and support. I feel so much closer to everyone in my life and more comfortable being myself.
My advice to anyone who is not ready to come out yet is to take your time. Just know that when you are ready to make the leap, you have your entire life ahead of you. A life full of love, happiness, acceptance, and possibility.
For everyone out there who is fixated on all the possible backlash as I once was, please give yourself time to think about the potential unexpected positivity and love. You never know how many people you may impact and it has brought me such a feeling of relief and pride since coming out.
I finally feel as though I can see a future and a path for myself in life. For once in my life I feel weightless, as though I can just live and not always feel an all-encompassing caution of wondering where I can be myself and who I can be myself around.
I can’t wait to see what the future holds and to find ways to inspire others and make sports a safer space for LGBTQI+ athletes and their allies. I have long dreamed of traveling the world and helping to inspire young LGBTQI+ athletes to pursue sports and not feel like they need to hold back a part of themselves. It feels great to finally get to be my whole self and I want our future generation of athletes to get to know that feeling.
Devin Ibanez, 27, played for Major League Rugby team, the New England Free Jacks, in their 2019 exhibition season. He represented Team USA at the 2017 World Maccabiah Games in Israel, where they won a gold medal. He also won the 2018 D1 National Championship with his club team, Mystic River Rugby Club. When not playing, Devin has coached rugby at Westlake Boys High School in New Zealand, his alma mater Brookline High School and most recently with the Northeast Academy. He holds a degree in sport management and education from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is looking to relocate to the U.K. to play rugby so he can be closer to his partner. He can be reached by email (Devinibanez@hotmail.com) or Instagram (@thatgayrugger).
Listen to Ibanez talk with D.Gil on the Outsports podcast, The GAMEDAY TEA by clicking here:
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