Red StillettoLast winter, I visited my alma mater to speak about my books and do a little Q&A session with a couple of local GSA groups in the area.

During the book signing, I got a chance to talk with a few of the students. One student, in particular, stands out in my mind. She was a basketball player and a relatively popular girl. I told her how impressed I was that she was out in high school. She smiled but confessed that she was thinking about quitting basketball because her teammates made fun of her. It broke my heart.

As a basketball player myself, I know the importance of team unity. I know how crucial it is to be a supportive teammate no matter what happens on or off the basketball court. I also know that one of the reasons I didn’t come out in high school was because I was afraid that the same thing would happen to me. I loved basketball. I loved being part of a team. But the fear of rejection kept me closeted. I was too afraid of what my friends would think, what my teammates would think, and of losing my “reputation.”

Saying that out loud makes me laugh. I’m 32 years old now, and I could really care less about my high school reputation. But at the time, it seemed so important. I was a popular athlete who had friends up and down the spectrum of “coolness.” For the most part, I was content. But I was also struggling with depression and anxiety. I thought that my high school life would be over if anyone ever found out that I was gay.

Kids who are out in high school today have so much courage. They don’t let their fears about a “reputation” get in the way. I may have enjoyed high school, but I often wonder what it would have been like had I had the courage to be true to myself. The truth is that I hated myself for not letting myself reach out to anyone.

A couple of girls were out in my high school at the time. I used to watch them as I passed by their lockers. I was completely enamoured with them. I wanted to know what their lives were like outside of school and I wanted to ask them all kinds of questions. Most of all, I wanted to know if they felt the same way I did inside. I never did speak to them. I was too afraid.

Before I left my alma mater, I asked the girl who had opened up to me if she loved basketball. She said she did, but that the “other stuff” kept getting in the way. She also said she would rather quit playing. I told her not to quit, and to never let anything stand in the way. I also told her that she had more courage at her age than I ever did. I’m not sure if it made a difference. But I hope that no matter what she decided, she’s proud of herself for staying true to who she is…regardless of what her teammates or anyone else think.