Celebrating Our Differences | Queer Athletes On Coming Out

When we think back on growing up, I’m sure we have plenty of awkward coming of age stories to go around. But for a special group of us, that's not enough, they have to navigate the extra obstacle of discovering their sexuality and gender identity in a largely heterosexual society. For young LBGTQIA+ athletes that can be even more challenging with the pressures of sport, teammates, and the desire to perform your best while feeling free to be yourself.   

 

In honor of PRIDE MONTH, we’ve gathered our athlete friends who have been through it and lived to tell the tale, to share their stories and offer some advice to hopefully lend a helping hand to the LBGTQIA+ athletes of today! Let’s go! 


Tell us a little bit about yourself:

 

I’m Elena Kiesling, a queer female indoor and beach volleyball player from Munich, Germany. I am a queer studies scholar, with a PhD from the University of Mainz. As a former professional athlete, I love sharing my knowledge and experience as a professional coach.

 

When did you realize you were LBGTQIA? 

 

During an intense volleyball match, I had an interesting showdown with the opposing team’s libero. After the match she invited me out for a drink, at which point I had no clue about anything. The following months were a whirlwind of emotions and I broke up with my current boyfriend, only to fall head over heels for the first woman in my life.  

 

Was there anyone you looked to for guidance or inspiration?

 

I always looked up to my older friends, since they live life fearlessly. Even though all of them are “straight”, they allow me to be myself and explore all possibilities without the fear of rejection.

 

How did you eventually come out? 

 

I never came out, because for me liking girls was nothing special to announce to the world. Why would I have to declare who I like?

 

What were you most excited about after coming out? How did you feel?

 

I didn’t come out. I was never in the closet. ;)

 

How did you let your teammates know? Did anything surprise you about how they reacted?

 

I brought my girlfriend to practice, to impress her with some volleyball skills. Since it felt normal for me, I did not pay a lot of attention to the reactions of my teammates. However, now I realize they showed me a lot of support and love by accepting my new relationship for what it was.

 

Having gone through it, are there any words of wisdom you can give the next generation of LBGTQIA athletes regarding coming out?

 

Although I have never actively “come out”, but witnessed a lot of coming out struggles, the best advice I could give is do not pressure yourself. Every situation is different. Do not feel forced to come out if you are not ready. And do not feel forced to make a big deal about coming out, either. If you feel lost, reach out!

 

What is the best way to support our LGBTQIA friends?

If you see someone struggling, ask what you can do to support them. That goes for everything going on right now. Educate yourself and show solidarity!

 

 

Do you celebrate PRIDE month? If so, what’s your favorite way to celebrate?

 

I do not celebrate PRIDE month, because its historical background is not reflected in today’s parades and celebration. Queer people of color and black queer people were the leading figures during the Stonewall riots and I don’t think their voices are present enough today.   

 

Do you have an LBGTQIA icon? 

 

I never really had a LGBTQIA icon….maybe I will be the next one ;)

 

Tell us a little bit about yourself: 

Hi there, my name is Annie, I am 19 years-old and I play water polo with the Sydney Stingers Club. I find labels a little limited but any of bisexual, pansexual or polyamorous describe me well enough. My greatest achievement in water polo so far has been earning a gold medal with my womens team at the 2020 International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics championships held in Melbourne.

 

When did you realize you were LBGTQIA? 

I never had a pivotal moment when I realized I was LGBT+. I understood early-on that I couldn’t relate to being completely hetero, but felt restless to find a label for myself. Now, I’m more comfortable with the idea that labels are just method we use to categorize an infinitely diverse spectrum of people.

 

 

Was there anyone you looked to for guidance or inspiration?

I’ve been so lucky to be a part of my Queer friendly waterpolo club and hence be amongst many gorgeous LGBT+ role models in my sport. They inspire me to be proud and work hard in the pool, and by their side I’ve been able to march in my first Sydney Mardi Gras this year.

 

 

How did you eventually come out?  

There has been immense progress in LGBT rights and visibility and consequently heteronormacy is not as quickly adopted and enforced by Australians. I feel relieved that I’ve benefitted from those before me and haven’t needed to do a formal coming out. I optimistically see it as if I were straight, where one isn’t obliged or expected to share sexual preferences with others, but it also doesn’t need to be a kept secret.

 

Do you celebrate PRIDE month? If so, what’s your favorite way to celebrate? 

Being in Sydney it feels like February, a month packed with Mardi Gras celebrations, is my month to be loud, proud and dripping with glitter. I find that June feels a little more reflective, a reminder to keep demanding progress and to be thankful for those who have done so before us.

 

Do you have an LBGTQIA icon? 

I am obsessed with Yungblud as a queer icon, singer/songwriter and general human. The way he prefers not to think of himself in labels and identifies more with the concept of fluidity is so relatable, and I love how he provides visibility and credibility for that being an option. I respect how he doesn’t shy from femininity and makes a point to push against the bizarre gender norms our society has set in place for people to uphold.

 

 

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