By Austin Hodges
As halftime began, my football teammates at Anahuac High School headed to the locker room. I headed to the other side of the field where, still wearing my football uniform, I put on makeup and got ready to do high kicks and splits with the drill team.
I could feel people in the crowd turn their heads as we marched to the sound of our captain’s whistle. As we got in formation and waited for the music, I was nervous, but once we started dancing, that feeling went away. It was an amazing moment.
The best faces to watch were those of the opposing players and their parents, when they realized a gay kid wearing makeup and doing splits for the halftime show was also kicking their butts on the field. I played offensive and defensive line—and I was going to kick their butts again after halftime.
My teammates and coaches never had a problem with me doing double duty. They welcomed me back to the game with support and applause. I like to think I opened some minds. I was able to show that gay people can both play sports and have, for lack of a better word, a “flamboyant” side.
Growing up gay in conservative Southeast Texas, I was embraced by my classmates and teammates in various sports. I can’t say the same for my family or community. Anahuac, in Chambers County, has a population of about 2,500. The culture stressed hardcore traditional values, and my family is Southern Baptist.
In elementary school, I was made fun of for being different. My only friends were girls, which led to more harassment. In middle school, I realized I wasn’t attracted to girls. In junior high, I found sports to be an outlet, and I competed in football, basketball, and track and field. I was also the only boy on the cross-country team.
Sports gave me something I’d never had—guy friends. Even though I knew I was gay, I was very much in the closet. Eventually, one of my coaches found out and went to his boss to say he didn’t think I should be allowed to play sports with other boys. I didn’t know this was going on until another coach pulled me aside to talk about it.
I was scared to death because I thought athletics was over for me, but that turned out not to be the case. Instead, the second coach told me he would make sure I could continue playing sports. This was the first time that a male figure gained my respect and trust, and this coach earned a special place in my heart.
In ninth grade, I had my first boyfriend, and my mom found a letter he wrote to me. She told my father, and when I came home from school one day, they awaited me with looks of disgust on their faces. As soon as I walked into the house, my dad started yelling at me, saying hurtful things that are too hard to type. My mom was screaming as well, saying it was my “choice” to be that way.
She grabbed my hand and said it would also be my choice to not let her burn me on the hot stove, pressing it closer and closer. My mom is a 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 tried to overdose on pills from the medicine cabinet. I went to bed that night hoping to die in my sleep. Luckily, I didn’t take enough pills to kill me. When I woke up the next morning, I decided nothing would ever bring me that low again.
I also decided it was time to come out at school. The first teacher I told was Mrs. Broomas, who taught biology. We had a sex-education quiz, and one of the questions was, “How could you prevent getting a girl pregnant while having intercourse?” My answer was, “I’m gay so I don’t have to worry about that.” When Mrs. Broomas got to my paper, she broke out laughing and smiled at me. She 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 they gave me hugs afterward. They told me that no matter what, they would always be my friends and support me.
After that, the whole school found out, including my athletics teammates. They all made sure I felt welcome with them. We were a family with the same goal—to win at whatever sport we were playing. In high school, I competed in football, cross-country, power lifting, golf, and track and field. Football was fun, but cross-country had special significance. Running gave me time to think and de-stress from the pressure of people who disapproved of me being gay. My cross-country teammates and coach were incredibly supportive, and became a substitute for the family I didn’t have
at home. A female coach was my substitute mom, although she never knew I thought of her that way.
In track and field, discus-throwing became my favorite sport. Discus is very manly, and I was told I wasn’t bulky enough for it, but I didn’t let that stop me. I attended regionals every year, and during the final meet of my senior year I broke my high school’s discus record that had stood for 30 years. My discus coach was a father-figure to me. He never gave up on me, and although I never told him this, I am forever grateful for his support.
After I came out, home was never home again. It was a place to sleep—where I would shut my door to be alone and avoid conflict at any cost. Every morning when the alarm went off, I was excited to go to school and join my adopted family—people who cared for me in the way a real family should. I was becoming the man I knew I could be by playing sports, even though my father said that no “faggot” athlete could be supported or successful. School was my getaway, and athletics was my family unit. Sports gave me brothers and sisters, parental figures, and many other things.
I graduated from Anahuac High School on June 3, 2016, ranked 13th out of 84 students in my class. I received the most scholarship money of anyone, including an award from Out For Education in Houston. I’m now majoring in geology at the University of Houston. In my first semester, I joined Pi Kappa Alpha, which is an athletic fraternity that has given me brothers. I also became a sexuality and gender-acceptance ambassador for the university. Although I don’t have an intercollegiate athletic career, I throw discus in track-and-field clubs, and I’m 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 not have stayed in athletics and gained the leadership skills that have gotten me to where I am. I also want to thank my other coaches, teachers, and teammates. Many of you will never know what you meant to me.
As for my parents, my mom has come to fully accept me, and my dad—well, I think he’s working at it. I forgave my parents long ago for what they did. I can’t hold it against them because that’s how they were raised. I don’t have terrible parents; I have normal ones who make mistakes.
A version of this article originally appeared on OutSports.com and is published here with permission.
This article appears in the July 2017 edition of OutSmart Magazine.