A college swimmer tells us his story

We at bradrobertben want to hear from other athletes who are dealing with their sexuality. You can use your name or not. We can offer you 100% confidentiality but we will need to know who you are before publishing.

We offer this great article sent to us by a swimmer:

The College Boy
Trying to tell your life story is a pretty overwhelming task; there are so many experiences we all go through that are worth sharing that picking and choosing where to being isn’t easy. So I’ll start by trying to explain who I am and my unique life story.

I’ll start with the basics: I am a 19-year-old Caucasian male, I am originally from Chicago (Midwest boy here), and I am a sophomore student-athlete (swimmer) at an Ivy League university. Thus, my college experience isn’t exactly typical. My average day involves waking up around 5:45, swimming for a couple hours, lifting weights for about an hour, quickly grabbing breakfast, going to class all day, another couple hours of swimming, dinner with my team, then back home to study for a few hours. My daily routine sometimes changes (some days I don’t lift weights, for example) yet that is a typical day in the life of me. My life priorities: study-swim-eat-sleep. Being a student-athlete at a university as difficult as mine and competing in one of the most time-consuming sports take a lot of work, but hey, no pain no gain.

I live in a house with 5 of my teammates, and we’re all pretty close. My whole team is pretty close. We spend more time together than a group of around 30 guys ever should … all day, every day. Let’s just say we all know each other too well. I am lucky to be a part of such a great group of guys.

My family, while we have our issues, is a good one. From the outside, I’m sure we look like the perfect family; my parents are still in a loving relationship, both are in incredible physical shape (my dad’s 8-pack is better than mine), me and my sisters get along well enough. My sisters both are/were athletes as well, we are all relatively good looking (my sister is a model). I grew up in one of the most affluent areas of the nation (the North Shore of Chicago for all of you from around there). I have been blessed with a life filled with incredible and unique opportunities.

I am a big sports fan. My friends mean the world to me. I am an incredibly hard worker. I love almost all music. Blah blah blah.

Oh yeah, and I’m gay (closeted). (Well, bi, but in our society I have found that bisexuals are grouped with and viewed extremely similarly to homosexuals).

Now all of you reading this probably understand that the previous sentence is just a small part of what defines me. Its placement at the end of my brief description of myself is fitting; it is not the most important thing about me. It is not what defines me. It is not the reason I like the things I like, or I do the things I do.

Yet had the average heterosexual person written this passage, the first sentence of my description would’ve read something like this: he is a 19-year-old gay man in college. See, what I have found is that homosexuality not the same as most defining characteristics of people. It tends to become THE defining characteristic of a person. Put otherwise, if a straight guy were to describe his gay friend to someone, his homosexuality would probably be the first thing he would mention about him. The only other thing like this probably is race. So that’s the first thing I have observed about being gay in our society. People make too big of a deal about it. That is one of the biggest reasons I am a closet case. But I’ll go into that in another post.

About Brad,Robert,Ben

We are three kids from three different time zones, with one common goal. This is our voice:
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9 Responses to A college swimmer tells us his story

  1. Terence N says:

    Actually, the reason why “gay” is probably mentioned first is because we live in a society that assumes that you are straight unless you say otherwise. When someone writes about themselves and says “I’m a 22 year old guy living in New York,” a heteronormative society assumes that this guy is straight. Until he says that he’s bi or gay, he’s straight. What comes along with that are just as many assumed “defining” characteristics as when someone says they’re “gay”: He may or may not have a girlfriend. He probably likes sports. He probably likes hanging out with his guy friends, but isn’t all that thrilled about being naked with them half the time….because he’s straight. He probably never thinks about fashion. He probably isn’t into chick flicks or girly things.

    Just because your average straight person doesn’t have to say they’re straight when they write about themselves doesn’t mean it’s “less defining” for them or that they’re less wrapped up in their sexual orientation. It just means that they exist in a society where they never have to respond to a contrary indication of their sexual orientation. Let a straight guy walk into a gay bar or a gay neighborhood or introduce himself to a group of gay men, and the first thing he will probably say about himself is that he’s a “straight 22 year old who lives in New York.” He’ll do this because now he’s in a subsection of society where the normative assumption is that the people there are homosexual. Just as “undefining” as being gay or bi would be when you live and work all day surrounded by exclusively gay or bi guys, being straight in a predominantly heteronormative society has no defined meaning; there’s no reason to bring it up.

    It’s only when you find yourself in a society where something about you is not the assumed norm that it becomes a defining characteristic. Otherwise, you have to rely on everything else about you to distinguish you: In a crowd of bi men, you are the only one who swims, or has green eyes, or likes zombie movies, etc.

    People also put value in the identity of being gay or bi because it has meaning beyond sexual attraction. As an “other”, it can mean that you are someone who exists in a discriminatory society, and that you refuse to be made to feel ashamed or abnormal because of it. If you’ve struggled and survived against adversity, it becomes important and it’s something you want to identify with in a meaningful way. For me personally, being gay is a significant part of my life and my identity, because it’s helped me see how social norms can be discriminatory. I had to struggle with my family’s homophobic attitudes and I had to work hard to establish LGBT-friendly resources in my community despite anti-gay sentiment. Who I am attracted to sexually shouldn’t be anything more meaningful than whether or not I like the color orange or what color my hair is, but because I face discrimination and adversity about it and find that I am willing to step up to the challenge to defend it, it has importance and meaning.

    The goal at the end of the day, of course, is to strive toward a society that isn’t heteronormative/homophobic, that won’t assume that every guy is straight unless he says he’s bi or gay, where we don’t discriminate based on sexual orientation and distinguish them from one another in a meaningful way beyond differences in sexual attraction. Once that happens, then sexual orientation won’t be a truly “defining” characteristic (at least not with much of anything attached to it socially) and then things that truly define you as a person–your interests, your attitude, your beliefs–will become more important. If no one has to fight to defend their sexual orientation, then there’s nothing about it that’s more important than anything else.

    Being out or closeted is a personal and complex issue for each individual, so I’m not one to tell someone when they should or shouldn’t be out. However, if you’re closeted because you don’t want to be defined by your sexuality, the irony is that in reality (again, because of the society we live in) you’re also allowing others to define you as heterosexual by default. It might not be a problem for you, which is fine, but it’s not the same as people making no assumptions about your sexual orientation and who you are. They’re just quietly assuming that you’re straight and everything that comes with it. Personally, I think that being out and demonstrating that you’re an individual is the first step in heading toward a society that won’t define you because of your sexual orientation. In reality, we haven’t gotten there yet, so you will always run the risk of having others define you because you’re bi or gay, but you’ll be one more reason for someone else to think “Oh, I can’t just assume that because he’s gay or bi, he’s also like ____”.

    • Steve says:

      If this piece only exists as a comment on this website and not in any other journals, newspapers, websites/blogs, etc., then it needs to be… as it is fundamental for both straight and gay to read and understand what it means (and doesn’t mean) to be gay…or straight, for that matter. Excellently written… succinct, clear, and to the point. Thank you.

      And keep up the good work on the website, as it’s a great source for all to learn, read and contribute opinions.

  2. Jim at Outsports says:

    This is Jim from Outsports.com. Really enjoyed this piece, nice writing and hope to see more from this swimmer.

  3. Champion collegiate wrestler Hudson Taylor, who is straight, has launched Athlete Ally, a website where players, coaches, fans, and parents can take a pledge to end homophobia in sports. Taylor generated controversy at the University of Maryland when he competed with a Human Rights Campaign sticker on his wrestling headgear. Today he is a coach at Columbia University.

    http://www.athleteally.com/home2/

  4. Rob says:

    I find this story particularly interesting only because of how close to home it is for me personally.

    I was an all-state swimmer last year in Michigan, (200 Medley, 100 Back), and I declined several offers to swim in college for smaller schools, nothing Ivy League. I told my parents, who don’t know about my sexuality, that I was done with the amount of hours I had put in to the sport, when in reality I didn’t want to continue to subject myself to living in the closet for fear of the animosity or bias that may obliterate years of friendships and bonds I had built up with my fellow swimmers. I hated living in constant fear that my whole swimming career could be voided by a couple misplaced words.

    Since then I’ve gotten over my fear, and now I coach and swim only on my free time between classes and coaching. However at the back of mind, I still have a steel defense against the first person who questions my legitimacy as a Coach based on my sexuality. It’s a battle I imagine I’ll have to fight one day as a coach, and again if I ever become a teacher.

  5. Matt says:

    You guys are doing a great job here. You truly are role models for men and women of all ages, straight, gay, bisexual, trans-gendered, or simply questioning!
    I’ve posted this at Outsports, but after reading Terence N.’s comments, I want to post it here, too. I’m not the author, but it needs reblogging:

    Heterosexual Privilege
    This list is based on Peggy McIntosh’s article on white privilege. These dynamics
    are but a few examples of the privilege which heterosexual people have.
    Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer-identified folk have a range of different
    experiences, but cannot count on most of these conditions in their lives.

    On a daily basis as a heterosexual person…

    1. I can be pretty sure that my roommates, hall-mates and classmates will be
    comfortable with my sexual orientation.

    2. If I pick up a magazine, watch TV, or play music, I can be certain my
    sexual orientation will be represented.

    3. When I talk about my heterosexuality (such as in a joke or talking about
    my relationships), I will not be accused of pushing my sexual orientation
    onto others.

    4. I do not have to fear that if my family or friends find out about my sexual
    orientation there will be economic, emotional, physical or psychological
    consequences.

    5. I did not grow up with games that attack my sexual orientation (i.e., fag tag
    or smear the queer).

    6. I am not accused of being abused, warped or psychologically confused
    because of my sexual orientation.

    7. I can go home from most meetings, classes, and conversations without
    feeling excluded, fearful, attacked, isolated, outnumbered, unheard, held
    at a distance, stereotyped or feared because of my sexual orientation.

    8. I am never asked to speak for everyone who is heterosexual.

    9. I can be sure that my classes will require curricular materials that testify to
    the existence of people with my sexual orientation.

    10. People don’t ask why I made my choice of sexual orientation.

    11. People don’t ask why I made my choice to be public about my sexual
    orientation.

    12. I do not have to fear revealing my sexual orientation to friends or family.
    It’s assumed.
    Source:http://sap.mit.edu/content/pdf/heterosexual_privilege.pdf

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