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I was captain of my school's football team and known for the way I put my body on the line. This is Australian football, so think rugby or gridiron if your not an Aussie. I loved school and literally felt like a star my final year. I'd walk into the yard and younger students would stare. Everyone knew me, I was popular, successful and looked up to as a role model. If only they'd known I was gay.
I only realised myself that final year. When I did I felt like a fool and a total fraud. There are no masculine role models for young gay men. I thought I was a bit of a freak. The majority of gay men 'out' in the public eye are more in line with the stereotypes. I thought that was what being gay meant you had to be. I felt lonely and alone because I simply didn't fit anywhere.
I was a leader amongst straight guys. I loved what they loved, sports, cars, drinking beer. I played rough in everything I did. I'd be the last person to complain about the mud, the cold or getting hurt. I loved hard competition and winning. And was good at it.
I had girlfriends and fooled myself each time that I was in love and straight. I wasn't - it was the excitement of being 16-17 and being naked with someone for the first time. I would fantasise about couples even when I was with girls, but I ignored that I would usually focus on the guy within that couple.
What gave it away was something outside my control. I had a sexual dream about a boy off a TV show that left me so aware whatever I'd felt for my girlfriends wasn't what I should have been feeling. That's when I knew I was gay and I was 18.
I literally went numb and lived in a sort of fog for about 6 weeks. I really don't remember much of it. I do know I did a couple of things on the football field that made people gasp in horror. They all feared I'd been maimed by collisions. I was lucky to be a muscular guy - and I always walked away unharmed. The opposition wasn't always so lucky, but the fact is the person going in harder usually ends up better off. And at the time I honestly didn't care about my own safety - so I was going in harder than anyone.
I decided to be celibate. I lasted until school ended and university began. I looked at a guy a little longer than I should have and he took it from there. And yes, he was soft and squeally and perfect. That amazing feeling of meeting someone you want to spend every second with made it very clear what I needed to do.
I came out to my parents and friends who were all shocked. No-one had picked it. I lost a lot of friends. My mother cried, my father told me people were happy to suspect, but really would rather not know. This was the first of many 'don't ask, don't tell' moments that can't help impact and make you feel there's something wrong with the way you turned out. "Don't tell your grandparents, they wouldn't understand." "We're not sure it's the right event to bring your boyfriend to." It's always subtle, but there's an underlying message that being gay is something to be ashamed of. I sometimes wonder if people even know that's the message they give out with these requests.
Everyone is different, but I am much happier because I claimed who I was and acted on it.
I understand why the 10% (At least) of sportsman who are gay don't come out. There are fortunes at stake and sad but true, many young men will not buy a brand promoted by a gay man. No-one will admit this, but behind closed doors it's discussed by coporations and teams who advise players to be 'discreet'.
Sometimes I think if you're a gay man who can easily be 'spotted' as being gay, you're likely to have a terrible time at school, but a better chance of a fantastic life thereafter. If you're an ultra masculine guy and you're not ever suspected of being gay, school's much easier, but you run the risk of a pretty dark life - there's not much sunshine in a closet.
Eventually a very brave young man will 'out' himself before the sponsors have lined up. I can't wait for it to happen - because I know when it does, teenagers who are now like I was, will have someone to look up to.
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