Coming Out In Sport
It’s #NationalComingOutDay this Sunday & after being asked for a quote to sum up ‘coming out’ it prompted me to write my thoughts on the whole experience.People often ask me “when did you come out?” I always say – Well, I was 21 and the moment I called my Mum went a bit like this:
Me (in tears after a break up):
Mum, I’ve got something to tell you…
Mum: What’s the matter? Are you taking drugs?
Mum: Are you pregnant?
Me: No (Of course bloody not unless the immaculate conception occurred whilst I was in Starbucks)
Mum: Well what is it then…ARE YOU GAY!?
Me: Yeeessssssss (Cue wailing and more tears)
Mum: For gods sake Bethan I’ve known for years! Right see you later for dinner.
-END OF PHONE CALL-
I went back home that evening expecting at least a little probing from my Mum, you know, the normal questions like “how long have you known” or “So that’s why you watched League of their Own like a million times”.
But there was nothing, no questioning or weird atmosphere. It was normal & I didn’t like it. I had kept this “secret” for over 6 years. Lying had become the norm and making up pretend friends and events had become second nature. I felt guilty and this was my chance to explain my actions.
I firmly asked my Mum “ Why won’t you talk about it?” And her response was simple and loving. “ Because it doesn’t matter & I love you just the same”
Looking back I realise how lucky I was to have such an amazing response but subsequently I have met many men and women whose experiences have been harrowing and still haunt me to this day.
So I thought it was done and dusted. But the thing with coming out is that there isn’t an announcement on the news so everybody finds out. And there isn’t a sign you can wear that says “Hi everyone I have just come out – Cheers x”
Since that day I have had to come out over and over and over again. Here are a few examples;
Family – a decade long process. Let’s face it; it won’t be in the Christmas newsletter! “Hi Everyone, Beth has some great news SHE IS GAY”
Doctor’s – We all dread THAT question!!
Florists – “Yes I am quite aware I am sending roses to a girl”
Work – So do you have a boyfriend?
Hotels – Oh sorry it looks like you’ve been booked a double bed. I’ll swap it to a twin…(Cue pushing two beds together)
Any form that asks for Emergency contact and relationship to you.
Job applications – Gosh, am I really a separate box?
Restaurants – Is it appropriate to hold hands over the table?
Holiday companies – Yes just the one room thank you.
Jewelers – Hi I would like to buy an engagement ring…No not for me.
Any PDA – Walking down the street holding hands – let go or keep holding?
Social situations – So your partner, what does he do…
Half the time, of course, people don’t care and it is in fact my 16 year old self still scared to be my authentic self.
There are times when I jump out of the closet feeling confident and scream “I AM GAY AND THIS IS MY GIRLFRIEND”. But sometimes I am scared of the response and I am so far in the closet that I could be in Narnia.
Over the years I’ve been lucky that my coming outs have been reasonably pain free. But the worst was when I told my best friend from school and her immediate response was “ You don’t fancy me do you?”
Like a dagger to my heart it was the response I feared most and it was part of the reason I didn’t come out in school (I went to an all-girls school).
So lets’ be frank – it can be awkward for everyone involved. It’s awkward to come out and it’s awkward to ask. From my own experience for years everyone knew I was gay but no one took me aside and kindly said “Listen I am not sure if you are gay, but if you are then please know that it is ok with me”.
Although I have made light of my situation I must reiterate that for millions of people the experience can be painful and heartbreaking. For some they will never come out & have to live with this burden their whole life. We as a society must ensure that we create safe environments for LGB&T people to be able to be their authentic self.
So whether it is in a social circle, in the workplace, school or in a sports clubs, be aware of how your actions and language could affect someone who is battling with this decision of when and how. We need everyone no matter of sexual orientation or gender identity to be part of this process & remember your actions could truly change someone’s life for the better.