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Coming out relieves burden for high school basketball player

Emma Delsohn plays basketball at a Catholic girls school and feared what her coming out would mean. She tells about her journey of self-acceptance and team-acceptance.

Emma DeIsohn

Story from March 23, 2011

By Emma DeIsohn
For Outsports.com

I remember sitting in the kitchen late one night, with my mother and my father sitting at the table. My youngest sister was still oblivious to my sexuality at the time, so we waited to talk until she was asleep.

"I just don't want you to get bullied," my mom remarked. "Kids can be cruel."

"I know", I replied, averting my eyes. Although I had not fully come out to the general public, I was already becoming used to facing prejudice for being a lesbian. Some of my friends had grown distant when I told them, while others were kinder and ignored my confession altogether.

Still, the thing that held me back the most was my basketball team -- we had played together for three years, and had grown eerily close. I was most worried about instances concerning the locker room -- of course, I was not attracted to anyone on my team, but only I knew this for certain, and paranoia about lesbians was prevalent at my school back then. In short, this team of girls had become a place where I felt truly and genuinely at home, and I was not prepared to sacrifice that for my sexuality.

"I'm worried about Mary-Kate, I guess. I'll think about it," I concluded, as I headed back to my room.

"Just be careful," my dad warned. "You never know how people are going to react."

An all-girls Catholic school girl is not the ideal place to present an "alternative lifestyle" for the first time. I had grown accustomed to hearing I was a sinner and "chose" my sexuality from the more-ignorant staff members, but my classmates seemed a little more accepting. However, I couldn't shake the thought of my team finding me disgusting, or unworthy of their attention. Our team captain at the time, Mary-Kate, was our most valuable player: over 6 feet tall, an offensive nightmare, and an overall intense personality.

She was feared and loved by all, and actually liked me, despite the one-year age difference. I wanted to keep that alliance (I was one of the few younger class-men who could boast of having one) and was concerned my coming out would ruin it.

As time went by, I found it harder and harder to keep my sexuality from my teammates. I had been dating my girlfriend at the time for more than six months, and it was becoming increasingly obvious I was hiding something. Eventually, I cut my losses and mentioned my girlfriend in front of one of my teammates after a practice. I gave her permission to tell whoever she wanted. at the time, I figured word of mouth would be a little less scary and a lot less awkward. I walked quickly out of the gym, most of my team still inside, already feeling anxious about what the next day's practice would bring.

Walking into that gym that next day was beyond nerve-wracking. I picked up a ball, just like every other day, and started form-shooting. As I was lining up my elbow, one of my other teammates made a remark about my feet (I am extremely pigeon-toed, and had become used to the gentle abuse). However, the next voice I heard was Mary-Kate, verbally assaulting my other teammate for attacking my feet, even going as far to call me "awesome." Never had I been so obviously stuck up for -- she gave me an affirming nod, and kept on shooting. It was a moment of silent understanding, and from that day on, I did not hesitate to bring up my sexuality. I talked about it with my teammates, and even compared tastes in women with them (what is it with heterosexual women and Megan Fox?). We were still a family, and that meant more to me than I could ever express.

I am now a senior, and just finished my last season of basketball as team captain. I am fully out at my school, and speak openly and often about my sexuality and the need for widespread acceptance of LGBT teenagers. My basketball teammates continue to be my closest friends, and some of the most supportive people in my life. Mary-Kate has graduated, and now plays college basketball, but I remember the way she accepted me as a sophomore and try to mirror that open-mindedness in all that I do. I am thrilled that all the younger players have followed her example -- I often ask my team for dating advice, which is always received with excitement and fascination. Truly, though, the most rewarding part of sharing my sexuality with them is the genuine acceptance in their eyes. It's as if they were talking about the newest Ke$ha single: natural, and easy.

I spent three years in the closet. I know the fear every gay teenager faces right before they come out to someone important to them -- I felt it in that gym. Fortunately, I was greeted with the love every family should give to one another, and therefore will never regret my decision to tell my team when I did. If I could offer anything to the LGBT community, it would be to take a deep breath and be exactly who you are to those who matter. You might be surprised at the response.

Emma Delsohn, 17, is a senior high school basketball player in Southern California.