I must say when I read your book a few years ago, I could not put it down. I related to it in so many ways, I cannot even begin to explain. I remember reading it and weeping as you shared your life and as you came to terms with being gay in a profession where being openly gay would end your career. I understood and understand those feelings and fears.
Although I'm an athlete and play a number of sports well, my struggle has not been in the realm of professional sports, but rather within the walls of another organization where being gay is looked upon with ignorance and intolerance by the majority: the Christian community.
Over the course of my 30-something years, I've been a leader, missionary and served in many ministry capacities in the church; all the while, struggling secretly and in hiding with my gayness. It was not until four years ago that I truly accepted who I was as person, even though I've known I was gay for many years. I'm now experiencing more freedom, peace and the knowledge that God loves me, because he is the one who created me. I believe being gay is like being right handed or left handed. It is not a choice. You just are who you are. The real important things in life are not about being straight or gay, really. Sexuality is only just a part of what defines me.
But, my biggest challenge of late has not been about being gay, as much as it has been with trying to find a community that genuinely accepts me. In the minds of many people, I'm an oxymoron, either too gay for the Christian world or too Christian for the most of the gay world. That has alienated me from both communities. I don't "preach" to either group about my faith or my gayness, but when one finds out about the other, it generally becomes an issue of intolerance.
Obviously, I would love to sit and just talk with you, pick your brain, but I'll finally get to my question:
After coming out and having the world know about your sexual orientation, what has been the biggest challenge for you? What has been the most rewarding? And, what, if anything, would you have done differently?
Thanks so much for reading my abbreviated version of my story and thanks for sharing yours!
With deep respect and admiration for you Billy,
A Gay Christian Athlete in Kansas
Dear Gay Christian Athlete in Kansas,
Wow, just repeating your self-described "anonymous" name from your letter, should give everyone a clear indication of the obstacles that so many in the gay and lesbian community still must overcome. But also, how important it is for all of us to embrace who we are and believe we can live and prosper where we come from, no matter where that is. I believe it's the most effective way we teach people who don't know much about our community, that we are all really the same at the end of the day. We want to find love, be respected, and live a fulfilling life.
You asked me three very difficult questions, and I hate to generalize, but I'll do my best to be concise and clear as I can.
1. After coming out and having the world know about your sexual orientation, what has been the biggest challenge for you?
It's ironic that so many people think that coming out is the "end" of a long journey. However, in my experience, it is the absolute beginning of a new life. In my book, the quote that is most often said back to me by the people who have read it says in part, "being honest with yourself, your family, and those around you is a great foundation for living your life." To me, coming out means finally being honest with yourself. When my sexual orientation became public information, I believe my biggest challenge, was having to face up to the many lies that the closet forced me to tell. It was so hard looking back and thinking about the people most important to me, and "owning" the years of deception and stories I said to protect my secret and my baseball career.
2. What has been the most rewarding?
This question is easy to answer. Respecting myself and my relationship and finally being able to live my life without the shackles of secrecy. I finally understood that I had to respect my life enough to live truthfully and openly before anyone else would. I know that so many in our community are not able to do this yet. There are many reasons why. I think we should all respect everyone's journey in this life and understand how different it is for all of us. However, the more images people see of us living openly, as family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, the sooner the gap between us and our differences will close.
3. What, if anything, would you have done differently?
This question is far more difficult. I think all of us would change some things or decisions that we have made in the past. However, somehow, life is all about living with our choices. We all make mistakes, but it's not falling down that measures our determination, it's how quickly we get up and try again.
I made many bad decisions, but, for me, I think most of them were when I was trying to hide a secret, while being a public figure. I never meant to hurt anyone, but it seemed like it happened a lot.
If there was one thing I could change, it would have been seeking some help with the confusing thoughts in my head as a young man. I pushed those thoughts away, then ultimately succumbed to family and peer pressure and got married as a very young man. It took many years to get over that mistake, not to mention the heartbreak of hurting my ex-wife. Life is not perfect, neither am I, but that decision has kept a dark cloud over my head for a long time.
Regarding your difficulty fitting in as a Gay Christian or Christian Who Happens to Be Gay, I think you must follow your heart. If you're consistent, real friends will accept you as you are. You can't force spirituality on people if you respect them. It's such a personal thing. I suggest you find another way to meet people, such as sports or philanthropic work. You are bound to meet someone with similar spiritual beliefs, then you'll have TWO things in common. The rest is up to you!
Got a question for Billy? Send your questions to email@example.com.