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How gay beach volleyball player uses TikTok to build a community

Charlie Siragusa has found social media vital to building his brand but more importantly to find a community with other queer people from different walks of life.

Charlie Siragusa went to college first at BYU and later at UC San Diego where he played volleyball.
Charlie Siragusa went to college first at BYU and later at UC San Diego where he played volleyball.

What makes me unique?

I had to ask myself this when I decided that I wanted to pursue professional beach volleyball. Making it as a pro athlete nowadays is more than just being at the top of our sport. It also means building a successful brand around ourselves. A large part of our careers is convincing potential fans and sponsors that our athletic journey is worth following. This is especially true in the age of social media.

A few months ago, I had to figure out what made my own story special. After some thought, I came up with three things:

First, I am a beach volleyball player, a sport that, although having a smaller following in the United States, is pretty much universally loved.

Second, I am 6 feet 8, which relative to the general population is unique.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, I am gay. This one caused me the most angst.

It’s easy to say that I’m a 6-8 beach volleyball player because, unfortunately for me, 6-8 beach volleyball players are not all that uncommon. My journey is special because I am an out gay man pursuing a professional sport, which, sadly, is still pretty rare.

Most of us are taught that to make it as an athlete, we need to fit a mold. We need to have a certain body type, a certain technique, a certain demeanor. For male athletes, this often means embodying the “macho masculine” paradigm set by many of our sports’ most successful athletes. Being gay, at least historically, has not been a part of that.

This being said, anyone who knows me is well aware I couldn’t care less about fitting any mold. I have always had little fear of simply doing my own thing. Some of my coaches probably viewed my willingness to buck the status quo less favorably, but it is one of my greatest strengths.

That attitude has pushed me to pursue professional beach volleyball, a sport where it is virtually impossible to make a living. It is also this attitude that made me realize that, as I started to try to build my brand, I needed to showcase the fact I was an out and proud gay athlete.

Charlie Siragusa hitting a volleyball
Charlie Siragusa has qualified to represent Team USA at the World University Championships in Brazil in September.

My first step was starting to post on TikTok last October. Up to that point, I had been a bit wary of posting about being gay on social media. Even though I had been out for years, social media has always felt a bit different.

Surprisingly, it is not even the “internet trolls” that worried me. At the end of the day, those are just strangers. What caused me the most anxiety were the real-world consequences of posting on social media. I worried about what the people from my everyday life would think about me being so candid about my sexuality on the internet.

Nevertheless, I was not going to let those fears stop me. I thought about people like Gus Kenworthy and Adam Rippon, two men who are huge inspirations. Not only were they two openly gay U.S. Olympians, but also, thanks to social media, they were more than just athletes. We saw a glimpse into their actual lives as gay men beyond merely pursuing pro sports. As their fans, we felt even more connected to their journeys because we knew them as people. It was my hope that, through social media, I could do that for another young queer athlete.

I believe that TikTok is the most powerful social media platform. The algorithm allows you to find your tribe within a matter of minutes. It’s funny how it took us years to realize we are gay, but it only takes the TikTok algorithm a few minutes. Thankfully for me, the algorithm delivered, and quickly connected me to thousands of people interested in following my journey all over the world.

I’ve done TikToks centered around my height, beach volleyball and being a single gay man. A recent one called “meeting older straight men” about people assuming I am a basketball player has garnered 260,000 views. I’ve been super lucky to connect with other queer people from different walks of life, many of whom were athletes themselves.

@charliesiragusa

I wish I could capture straight men’s dissapointment when I tell them i play volleyball instead of basketball.

♬ original sound - Charlie

Beyond just the internet, I also found the people in my real life were extremely supportive. Many of my volleyball teammates even wanted to be a part of my TikToks. I actually had a series where I asked my straight teammates funny questions. We live at a time where people almost universally understand the power of social media and genuinely respect those of us willing to share pieces of ourselves with the world.

Before everyone thinks social media is sunshine and rainbows, it certainly is not. I have had to deal with all kinds of trolls and criticism. This has forced me to learn how to discern valid criticism from irrelevant hate.

Additionally, committing to social media is essentially committing to a second job. Allotting time to plan, shoot, and edit content can cut into other areas of our already chaotic lives. This becomes even more frustrating when videos “flop” with low views and engagement.

@charliesiragusa

Since yall always want to know whether I date short guys or tall guys .

♬ original sound - Charlie

Still, all things considered, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity that being open and proud has provided me. I have already been able to work with several brands interested in me not only as an athlete, but also a person.

I wish I could tell my younger self that one day people would respect me for the very thing I feared the most. It has been incredibly empowering to see how good things can come when we simply have the courage to be ourselves.

For now, I get to go full speed in chasing my beach volleyball dreams. I am working to break onto the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour, hopefully by the end of the summer. I also recently qualified to represent Team USA at the World University Championships in Maceio, Brazil, in September, something that has been a dream of mine for a long time.

Charlie Siragusa was named to the 2021 and 2022 U.S. Beach collegiate national team.
Charlie Siragusa was named to the 2021 and 2022 U.S. Beach collegiate national team.

Hopefully, I can do my LGBTQ family proud and be an example for the next generation of queer athletes like so many of you all have been for me.

Charlie Siragusa, 23, is a beach volleyball player based in Southern California. He grew up in the Rochester, N.Y., area and went to college first at BYU and later at UC San Diego, where he was named to the 2021 and 2022 U.S. Beach collegiate national team. He can be reached via email (charliesiragusa20@gmail.com) TikTok (@charliesiragusa) or Instagram (@chaliesiragusa)

Story editor: Jim Buzinski

If you are an out LGBTQ person in sports and want to tell your story, email Jim (kandreeky@gmail.com)

Check out our archive of coming out stories.

If you’re an LGBTQ person in sports looking to connect with others in the community, head over to GO! Space to meet and interact with other LGBTQ athletes, or to Equality Coaching Alliance to find other coaches, administrators and other non-athletes in sports.

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