I spent a significant portion of my youth trying to find value in myself. As a closeted gay kid in a religious family, I felt I had little value as a person. To fill that gap, I found recognition and appreciation in competition.
Growing up in Michigan, I always found comfort in sports. I was known as one of the athletes in my class and attached my sense of self worth to athletic achievement. I was unable to fully embrace every part of myself, which resulted in overly emphasizing competition.
The part I couldn’t come to terms with? Being the only gay kid in a seemingly endless sea of straight people.
I first realized I was actually gay in middle school, when all of my male friends began obsessing over girls in our class. I couldn’t relate with what they were raving about, so I made friends mostly with girls. I got a “social pass” because everyone always assumed I was dating my female friends, yet I was just trying to find a group of people I fit in with.
Although I eventually settled into a really solid group of friends in high school, I still felt phony whenever talking about relationships. I started to date girls, but never caught feelings the way my peers did. To an onlooker, I was just another straight, athletic high schooler; in reality, I had a pretty severe internal conflict.
Growing up, I was taught homosexuality was a sin. Trying to cope with the fact that your identity is inherently damaged is impossible and I was depressed throughout high school as a result.
My one saving grace was running. After switching schools in high school, I tried out for the track and field team. Because I grew up playing soccer, I always ran by myself for training; however, I never really considered the possibility of running competitively.
From the moment I came to practice, I immediately felt more welcome than I had in any previous space in my life. Runners are often described as being “cut from the same cloth,” meaning they’re all generally quality people. My teammates at Saline High School definitely lived up to that mantra. Beyond being a group of goofy dudes, they genuinely cared about each other. Running with those guys was my first taste of true community and friendship.
Looking back, I know that coming out to those teammates would have been met with nothing but positivity and acceptance. At the time, however, it was a harrowing task.
As an extraordinarily mediocre student, I relied on athletic recruitment to get me into college. I eventually chose to attend the United States Coast Guard Academy and to continue competing at the NCAA level. The hypermasculine military environment essentially reverted my progress towards self acceptance back to zero. I felt completely trapped, as if there was nowhere I could go to find acceptance and community. My athletic and academic performance suffered as a result, and I nearly dropped out on multiple occasions.
Eventually, I found a mentor in one of my teammates. He was a confident, out gay guy who was well-liked, which deconstructed my view of the institution. He got me more involved with my teammates and introduced me to a network of queer people in the Coast Guard. I finally felt like there was an intersection between my sexuality and my career.
It can be difficult finding a sense of identity when there’s nobody in your position to look up to. As a gay military member, it can be difficult to forecast a life without seeing other queer people doing it too. Being exposed to a great network of LGBTQ service members gave me confidence that I would be able to succeed.
My newfound support network catalyzed a series of “coming outs.” I started with one of my closest friends, Liberty, by asking her to go to Detroit Pride with me. This snowballed into me telling my siblings, parents and then becoming comfortable with posting on social media.
Although my secret was met with less fanfare and confetti than I imagined, every reaction was overwhelmingly good. Despite growing up in a religious family, my siblings and parents reacted positively and made sure I knew they loved and supported me.
I learned that, at the end of the day, people will love you regardless of your sexuality. Friends and family will love you unconditionally. It might take a hot second for them to process, but in the end the people who matter will be at your side.
Right around this time, I started to really get into running. Growing up, I competed because I needed athletic success to validate me as a person. Now I was able to compete solely to push my own limits as well as inspire future queer athletes and service members to succeed.
My dependence on sports to give me an identity quickly shifted into me leveraging sports for the opportunities it offered: traveling to national championships and big meets, making new friends and opening doors for future endeavors. In fact, in the winter of my senior year, I was told I had the Coast Guard’s blessing to pursue a graduate degree while continuing to compete at the NCAA level at Florida A&M University.
By coming out of the closet, I’ve allowed myself to have deeper friendships with my peers as well as shift my priorities. Growing up, I never would have expected to be in the situation I am now; however, looking back, I would not change a single chapter of my story. My challenges have made me stronger, and I feel more equipped to help guide other struggling LGBTQ individuals should we cross paths.
Although authenticity can be hard, there will always be people out there willing to go the distance with you. Stick to your guns, rely on your loved ones and continue confidently along your path.
Josiah Davis, 23, will be graduating from the United States Coast Guard Academy with a BS in Government in the spring of 2021. He runs track for the Coast Guard and serves as the Regimental Executive Officer for the institution. Upon commissioning, he will attend Florida A&M University in the fall. He can be reached by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Instagram (@Josiah_Davis).
Story editor: Jim Buzinski
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