Living my life authentically and openly has not always been easy. There have been times I was fired for being gay, or I have dealt with my fair share of homophobia over the past 30 years.
But I am proud to have consistently advocated for equal rights for all. I am out in every arena and live my life openly. I have soccer to thank for that. Soccer is my first love, and the people involved helped me love myself.
From a very young age, I was extremely athletic and bounced off the walls. But little girls in that era more than 30 years ago were not supposed to do that. We were supposed to be “ladylike” and wear dresses, sit still, and “be quiet.” People started calling me a tomboy as early as I can remember. But I never wanted to be a boy. I just wanted to play sports.
I grew up in an extremely strict household in Orange County, California, and my family had strict gender roles. Girls or women had “inside” chores while boys and men had “outside” chores. I was required to clean the house and do laundry while my brother had to mow the lawn or take out the trash.
When my parents put my brother in soccer, he absolutely hated it. One day I was standing on the side of the field about age 4 and ran onto the field while he was playing. My mother was mortified, but the coach just said to give me a ball and to let me play on the sidelines. That moment began my love of soccer.
I played every sport at recess and I was typically picked first by the boys for football, basketball and soccer. I carried a basketball with me everywhere through junior high school, but my first love was soccer and that still hasn’t changed.
My parents put me into soccer programs when I was about 7 and I started playing competitively at age 11. It was from another teammate that I first heard the term lesbian in seventh grade and I realized that that was not a good thing and I immediately shoved that “feeling of being different” deep inside.
I was a very affectionate little girl, but I was also painfully shy and just wanted to be liked. Nothing unusual for girls that age, but being called a lesbian and told by a teammate to stop hugging her was definitely a turning point into thinking I wasn’t like my peers. I was also a straight A student and very naïve.
My club soccer team was not very fun at that time either as I played with a group of “mean girls” for a year. I just did not fit in. I was small and not physically mature. I was not crushing on boys like they were. And I wasn’t dabbling in drinking or hooking up with boys in any way.
I just focused on playing soccer and getting good grades and not bringing attention to myself. I made the varsity team at Troy High School as a freshman at age 13. The majority of the team were seniors and my sanctuary of love and support started with those players who protected me both on and off of the field. They helped me overcome my shyness and they embraced me like a little sister. I won many accolades in high school both as a soccer player and as a student. It was at Troy where I became a true scholar-athlete.
As I got better as a player and made the district, state and regional Olympic development teams, I began playing soccer year-round. Club, high school, and Olympic development teams required all kinds of travel and I loved every second of it. My world was soccer and for the first time I felt like I was a part of something that allowed me to be me. I was known to be fearless and loyal on the field and it was on the soccer field that I met my first love, although I didn’t understand what that was. I didn’t have words for what I was feeling about her, I just knew that it wasn’t like how I felt about my boyfriend.
My boyfriend was great and he also played soccer. As he put it when I first came out to him, “It all makes sense now! You were my best friend.” He was from England and I always joke that I am lucky my one and only boyfriend wasn’t American — he wasn’t pushy in any way and never pressured me to have sex, unlike American boys.
My first love was three years older than I was and I just adored her. I started recognizing that some other players weren’t crushing on boys and were just nice to me. And a few of them came out to me. They told me what it meant to be gay for them and some of them introduced me to their girlfriends. On the side, I began going with them to some LGBTQ support groups unbeknownst to my parents, of course.
I lived two lives my entire high school career and once my first love left for college, I was devastated because I knew I wouldn’t see her anymore. I never acted on any of my feelings, nor did she, but I knew how I felt. I just had no words for it and I couldn’t ever fail my family or friends, so I just continued living two lives.
Everything changed the moment I was able to go to college. I received a scholarship to play soccer at Cal Berkeley and I was going to be 30 minutes away from the person I had fallen in love with two years prior. My first love found out I had made the soccer team and she came to my first game. She surprised me and got to watch me score my first goal during our first game. And after the game was the first time she and I got to speak about her relationships and that she was gay. And I said the words, “I’m gay, too” for the very first time out loud.
The sheer amount of relief I felt being able to say those words and to say them to her mattered a lot. She introduced me to a lot of her friends and since I was no longer living at home, I could finally come out to a few people. I began reading everything I could to help me understand my sexuality and I started going to therapy and peer support groups.
I began telling my family and friends in 1990 and never went back in the closet again. My teammates at Cal are still some of my closest friends and they had my back on the field and off. And they always will. My Roomie, as we still call each other, was on the softball team and she was also out. Having those friendships from Cal have been life-altering. It took time to tell my parents, especially my mom, but over time people started accepting me for who I was. I haven’t been the luckiest in love and still haven’t found my person, but I have won the friend lottery.
My teammates and coaches helped me love myself and encouraged my multiple paths in life. They have stood by me through love and pain and wins and losses. I have always lived my life as an out lesbian in every arena, professionally and personally, and I can say that it is because of the love and support of my teammates and friends. To be accepted for who you are and loved for who you are is something everyone should feel.
I believe being a lesbian is a gift and a blessing. I view the world through my own lens and I believe I have a purpose to give back and to help others. I feel lucky to have been given the opportunities I have had to play soccer at such a high level and to be accepted by my teammates and coaches from a young age. Now I use those life experiences to help other athletes transition from their sport into the business world. And I encourage every single client to live their life out loud.
Kim Brady is the founder and business coach behind Kim Brady Business Coaching (www.kimbradybusinesscoaching.com). She helps former athletes to leverage their athletic experiences and philosophies to become champions on the business playing field. Kim is a former marriage and family therapist who specialized in working with severely abused children; she was a four-year Division I scholarship recipient for women’s soccer at UC Berkeley and has coached youth soccer for 14 years. When she isn’t working with her clients, you will find her watching soccer, traveling whenever possible, and chasing sunsets by the beach.
Story editor: Jim Buzinski
If you are an out LGBTQ person in sports and want to tell your story, email Jim (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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