Halftime had just started, and my teammates on the Anahuac High School football team in Anahuac, Texas, headed to the locker room. But I headed to the other side of the field where, still wearing my football uniform, I applied some makeup and got ready to do high kicks and splits with the drill team.
I was the only guy in my school district to be on the drill team, which also made me the only gay guy on the team.
I could feel the crowed turn their heads as we marched to the sounds of our captain's whistle. The fans seemed a bit in awe and had no idea what to think seeing a guy out there doing drills. As we got in our formation and waited for the music to start, I was very nervous, but once the music started we got to dancing and my nerves went away. It was an amazing moment.
I would have to say that the best faces to watch were those of the other teams and their parents because they all just realized "the gay kid who wears makeup and does the splits" was kicking their butts on the field — I played both offensive and defensive line — and was going to do it again when halftime was over.
My male teammates never had a problem with me doing double duty with the drill team and neither did my coaches. I was always welcomed back to the game with support and applause from my teammates and coaches when halftime was over.
I like to think that by performing with the drill team, that I opened some minds. I was able to show that not only can gay men play sports but that they can also have, for lack of a better word, a “flamboyant” side as well and that it was OK that straight men and gay men can have both sides, that it was OK to be different.
Despite growing up as a gay person in conservative Texas, I was embraced by my school and teammates on various sports. I can’t say the same for my family, my home life or my community.
Anahuac, in Chambers County in Southeast Texas, has a population of around 2,500, which is smaller than most high schools in my surrounding area. The area stressed hardcore traditional values and my family is Southern Baptist.
Going through elementary school I was always made fun of because I was different. My only friends during my elementary years were girls and because of that, I was made fun of by the other boys in my class.
Moving into middle school I started to realize that I wasn't really sexually attracted to women. I found sports to be an outlet, once I was old enough to play in junior high. I played football, basketball, track and field, and was the only boy at the time to run cross country.
Sports gave me something I never had before: "guy friends.” Even though I knew I was gay, I was very much in the closet but somehow one of my coaches found out.
This coach went to his boss and told him that he didn't think it was a good idea that I be allowed to be in athletics with the other boys. I didn’t know any of this was going on until another one of my coaches, Jason Borne, approached me and pulled me aside to talk to me about it.
I was scared to death because I thought athletics was over for me, but that turned out to not be the case. This coach instead assured me that he would make sure I got to stay in athletics and continue playing sports and that me being gay made me no different than the other boys. This was the first time a male figure ever gained my respect and trust, and this coach earned a special place in my heart.
In ninth grade in high school I had my first boyfriend and my mom found a letter he wrote me. She told my father and when I came home from school that day my parents were awaiting me with a look of disgust on their faces.
As soon as I walked into the house my dad started yelling at me and saying many hurtful things that are just too hard to even type. My mom was screaming as well, saying it was "my choice" to be that way. As she saying this, she grabbed my hand and said just as it would also be my choice to not let her burn my hand on the hot stove as she was pressing it closer and closer.
My mom is a very stout woman and it took every bit of my strength to pull away from her so that she wouldn't burn my hand. The next weekend, when my parents left the house, I stayed home knowing what I was about to do.
As soon as they left I went to the medicine cabinet and tried to overdose on some pills. I went to sleep that night hoping to die in my sleep. Luckily, I didn't know what I was doing and I didn't take enough of them to kill me and I woke up the next morning. After that I decided that nothing would ever bring me that low again.
I also decided that it was then time to officially come out to everyone at school. I remember the first teacher I told was my biology teacher, Mrs. Broomas. We had a sex-ed quiz and one of the questions asked, "How could you prevent getting a girl pregnant while having intercourse?" My reply was, "I'm GAY so I don't have to worry about that.”
As she got to my paper she broke out laughing and just smiled at me. She then asked if she could read it to the class, and with confidence I told her she could. When she did, all the kids laughed and gave me a hug afterward and told me no matter what that they would always be my friends and still support me. Everyone in that class was either on my cross-country team or on my football team.
After that, the whole school found out and word traveled to all my teammates in athletics. Each of them made sure I still felt welcome with them and that we were all a family with the same goal, to win at whatever sport we were playing.
During my high school career, I played football, ran cross-country, did powerlifting, played golf and did track and field. Football was fun but cross-country had its special significance since running gave me time to think and de-stress from what people thought about me being gay.
My cross-country teammates and coach were incredibly supportive and they pretty much were the family I didn't have at home and my coach was a substitute mom though she never knew I thought of her that way.
In track and field, I decided to throw the discus; it was my favorite sport. It is a very manly sport and even though I was told I wasn't bulky enough for it, I never let that stop me. I attended regionals every year and at the end of my senior year at my final meet I broke my high school’s discus record, which had stood for 30 years.
My discus coach was a father figure to me, and wanted nothing more than for me to succeed just as a real father should. I never told him either how much that he did for me or meant to me. He never gave up on me and for that I will be forever grateful.
As supportive as my school, teachers, coaches, and teammates were of me and my sexuality, the same couldn’t be said for my home. After I came out, home was never truly home again. It was just a roof and a place to sleep, a place where I went and shut my door to be alone and to avoid conflict at all cost.
But every morning when my alarm went off to go to school I was so excited because to me I was going to my adopted family and to people who cared for me in a way a real family should.
I was getting to be the man I knew I could be by doing sports, even though my father said no “faggot” can do that type of stuff and be supported or successful. The school was my get-away and athletics was my family unit. Sports gave me brothers and sisters, parental figures, advice-givers and many other things a real family should provide.
I graduated from Anahuac High School on June 3, 2016, ranking 13th out of 84 students in my class and was awarded the most scholarship money in my class. The gay kid that some people thought wouldn't succeed just because he was gay, did.
I now attend the University of Houston and am majoring in geology. In my first semester of college I joined the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity, which is an athletic fraternity; it has given many brothers, and I also became a Sexuality and Gender Acceptance Ambassador to the university. Though I don't have a college athletic career, I do still throw the discus in track and field clubs and I also am a part of UH's cross-country club.
I give thanks to that first coach who pulled me aside to tell me he supported me so long ago. Without him I may have never stayed in athletics and gained the leadership skills that have gotten me to where I am today. I also want to thank my other coaches and teachers who to me were parents and to my many teammates who were my brothers and sisters. Many of you will never know what you truly mean to me.
Austin Hodges, 19, will be a sophomore this fall at the University of Houston.
Story editor: Jim Buzinski
Addendum: Austin posted this on Facebook after his article appeared to update people on his family situation:
“For those who may think my mom and dad are horrible people due to my recent story:
Yes, growing up, my parents did make mistakes by how they reacted to some things. But through time, my mom has come to fully accept me and my dad? Well, I think he's working at it but it's hard for him so he's moving very slow. I have forgiven my parents from what they did long ago because I couldn't hold it against them, it's not how they were raised.
And I forgave them because no matter what they are still my parents, they are still my family. Yes, they made it hard at times, but they still tried to give me everything possible that they could give. So for people who may be thinking I have terrible parents, I don't — I have normal ones who make mistakes. No one trains you to be a parent or to expect the unexpected. I love my mom and dad more than anything in this world regardless of what they did and am proud to call them such."