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Ask Billy: Coming Out to Your Family

Welcome to RealJock.com's ongoing "Ask Billy" column featuring sports and life advice from Billy Bean, former professional athlete and author of "Going the Other Way: Lessons from a Life in and Out of Major League Baseball." Have a question for Billy? Send him an email at billy@realjock.com.

Dear Billy,

Thanks for being an inspiration. Even though I'm anything but a jock or better yet an athlete, I am gay and would like to know: Were you abandoned by family and friends when you came out? If so, how did you handle it? I'm African American and have experienced some of this.

Respectfully,
Michael R.


Dear Michael,

I appreciate your compliment very much about being an inspiration. I have been equally inspired by many people I have met since my book was released and have been humbled so often by people who have come to me and explained how my story was very much like their own. I think many of us in the gay and lesbian community find this happens when we actually sit down and share our hearts with each other. The truth is, it is healthy to share our stories. I know this has helped me ease the burden of some of my decisions that I made in my past. I know if I had shared my feelings with someone when I was in the Major Leagues, I might not have waited so long to explore the "secret" that was buried so deeply inside of me.

Were you abandoned by family and friends when you came out?

I was very fortunate that my family was supportive from the very beginning. It's ironic that this was so bittersweet for me at that time. I hid my secret not only from myself, but also from them, because I was so afraid of how it would make them feel. I felt a huge responsibility as the oldest child in my family of six children. My stepfather was in the Marine Corps. and we had a very strict upbringing.

Growing up, I can't remember ever meeting a gay person (or at least a person who admitted they were gay to me), so I didn't know how my family would feel about that. As an athlete, I grew up in a very masculine environment that seemed normal to me, and it just didn't seem possible that being gay could be a reality for me.

Looking back, I am very frustrated that I had waited so long to tell my family. All those lies from the closet were so damaging and painful, and I realize now that they weren't necessary. Honestly, it has not been an easy transition for my family over the years, but I love them because I know they have tried their best to understand that all people are not the same, including their son. My relationship got better with them once I was able to be truthful.

I am very sorry that you had some rejection by your family once you came forward with your truth. I am lucky to have two very close friends who just happen to be gay and African American as well. Unfortunately I have learned from them over the years that acceptance by their families has been difficult. It's important that gay and lesbians in the African American community continue to come out and live openly, because it is the only way we will be able to show their families that our sexuality is something we are born with and do not choose.

We must also understand how difficult coming out can be for many in our community, when our families do not accept us as we are. Over the past six years, I have allowed my friends to become part of my family. I encourage you to be close with your friends when you need a hand to hold or a shoulder to lean on. In time, your family, or hopefully some of them, will remember what a great person you are, and not judge you by a label or antiquated stereotype.

I wish you well Michael. Keep your head held high.

Billy Bean

Do you have a question for Billy? Send him an email at billy@realjock.com.