How I Became a Gay Athlete

As we all celebrate Pride in Kansas City, it’s clear to see that there is no such thing as a cookie-cutter gay (and some gays even eat cookies). I’m sure we could fill the pages of Camp with our various experiences as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and as allies. This is just my personal tale of being gay and an athlete.

I slowly started to come out in college, and my news was mostly greeted with the same look of “really?” and “you don’t act gay.” For most of my early 20s, I was overweight, but proud and open about who I was. Eventually, I started doing cardio work and spent time on the elliptical machine at the gym.

Then one day I decided to play a pickup game of basketball. As I missed shot after shot, as I found that I couldn’t change direction quickly and I easily got winded, I realized that although I was in pretty decent shape and had some muscle mass, I couldn’t actually do anything with those muscles other than look pretty. That was when my fitness goal changed.

I began my journey to athleticism as a runner, figuring it was the easiest step to making my body more functional. As anyone who has ever switched from an elliptical to a treadmill and then to actually road racing can tell you, your body moves very differently and responds very differently. I’m not one to half-ass an effort, so I decided that my first road race was going to be the Chicago Marathon. Then, halfway through training, I decided that although running was fun, I wanted more of a challenge. Again not wanting to half-ass something, I decided to join the Kansas City Carnivores Rugby Club.
Rugby is an amazing sport, designed for hooligans but played by gentlemen. It is a sport that creates a family. It is also a sport that is not for the faint of heart. There are many teams in Kansas City, but I decided to join the Carnivores because it was a chance to further dispel the stereotypes that many have about gay people in sports. Gay-oriented rugby teams, a worldwide phenomenon, are governed by the International Gay Rugby Association and Board. Joining the Carnivores made me part of something larger and had a positive impact on gays in sports.

Mark Bingham, a passenger who was on Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001, and fought back against the terrorists, was an openly gay rugby player. He is often credited with helping to break gay stereotypes and introducing the world to international gay rugby after his death. He was a member of the San Francisco Fog RFC and helped to form the New York City-based Gotham Knights. His life and death have inspired many people, and IGRAB’s biennial world cup tournament is named after him as the Bingham Cup (in 2014, it will be in Sydney). A documentary about Bingham’s story, "The Rugby Player", is told using his own footage and stories. The movie will be screened June 20 at this year’s Kansas City LGBT Film Festival.

Just as Bingham had a positive impact on so many people, becoming an athlete had a positive impact on me as a person. I had been out and I thought I was happy. Looking at old photos of myself, though, there is a definite change in how I look then and how I look now. Athleticism has proved to be a focus in my life that was missing before. It’s a focus outside the rat race of work, and it makes me realize that I still have so much more to do to advance myself as a person.

There is a weird interest in the life of a gay athlete, as if being gay and being an athlete are two mutually exclusive ideas. Maybe this comes from old high school trauma of closeted gay youth being bullied by the football captain. So through conditional logic, if that athlete bullies me for being gay, then none of them can be gay. But in reality, not all gays are athletes. Not all athletes are gay. But it is possible to be gay AND an athlete. We sometimes forget that little conjunction “and” when talking about LGBT individuals, focusing instead on the “gay” adjective. Gay man, gay waiter, gay athlete. We all know that our community is so much more than that.

It’s time to reintroduce the “and” to our lives. Gay and an athlete and a volunteer and an activist and a fundraiser and a bad karaoke singer and a rugby player. That’s why I play rugby and run -- to remind myself and the world that it takes more than one or two adjectives to describe me.

Photo by Tanushree Rao on Unsplash

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