Many times when athletes tell their coming out stories on Outsports, they also speak about the feelings of elation they get when their teammates wholeheartedly accept them for who they are.
After professional tennis player Daria Kasatkina came out as gay in a series of Youtube interviews last July, she also experienced the phenomenon of her teammates embracing and uplifting her. In her case, those gestures of love gave her a support group at a time where she needed one the most.
Kasatkina is a native of Russia — a fact that added a sense of peril to an already daunting public coming out process. On top of that, during the same time period, she became a vocal critic of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, labeling it a “nightmare.”
In Vladimir Putin’s Russia, most people are justifiably afraid to come out or speak against the government. Kasatkina was doing both at the same time.
Because of this, she was unable to travel back to her homeland and had been separated from her family for a long time. Furthermore, according to a Tennis World report, an unidentified Russian politician is seeking to have her classified as a “foreign agent.”
Although she was finally able to connect with her mother during recent pre-season training, Kasatkina has been unable to see her father for more than two years.
It was during this time of personal upheaval that Kasatkina opened up to the tennis world about being gay and found out that her teammates had her back during a time when she needed all the support and acceptance she could get.
In an interview with The Guardian’s Simon Cambers, Kasatkina revealed that after coming out, “That was great because I didn’t face any negativity, especially from the people I know.”
While Russia is place where the LGBTQ community finds little support after coming out, Kasatkina’s teammates filled in the void and came through for her.
“This topic is very sensitive so I was ready for some negative reaction, but there was nothing like that,” she admitted, “I’m very thankful because that makes me feel so good. Some of the players were coming to me — sometimes they’re still coming to me — to say ‘Yeah, it’s cool’ or ‘Congrats’ to me.”
Not only were these words of encouragement good for her mental health, they also helped Kasatkina on the court as well.
In the wake of the positive response from her peers, she revealed, “I felt less pressure. I put this pressure out of my shoulders because when you have to think about tennis but also to think about some deep things inside your head, it’s just not good. I remember after saying all these things, I just felt much better.”
Currently dating figure skater Natalia Zabiiako, Kasatkia came into the Australian Open ranked eighth, but she lost her first-round match to Varvara Gracheva. Despite the obstacles that she faced, she has continued to be steadfast in living honestly and speaking her mind against the Russian attacks on Ukraine.
“It’s difficult that I cannot see the people I love often,” she lamented, “Actually, I can see them almost never. I didn’t see my father for two years. But it is what it is. It’s life, unfortunately. I have to say thanks that it’s not a worse scenario. I’m just happy they’re healthy and I have them.”
Thankfully, she has her teammates too.