Nikki's Story

A lot of people know me, but they don’t know that much about my sport, water polo. Water polo is a high energy, contact sport in which two teams compete, racing the clock to score more than the other team before time expires. Water polo players wear one-piece swimsuits and caps with ear guards, but that doesn’t mean we are any less aggressive than padded football players. It is an extremely physical sport, yet the referees stand on the deck. This gives players the freedom to grab, push, and shove underwater and do “whatever it takes” to win a match, giving the sport a no-blood-no-foul mentality.

As a gay water polo player, I did everything I could to hide my sexuality from my teammates, especially in a sport that is so physical. I desperately did not want them to know the secret that I was hiding, because I didn’t want them to think I was touching them inappropriately or looking at them in the locker room. Even so, being a fairly tight knit team (we knew each other like we were sisters) gave me the idea that most people might have an idea without me openly saying I was gay.

Despite my fears, I started dating women during my sophomore season at Cal State Monterey Bay. I like to consider myself a pretty open person, so when a cute girl pursued me, I just went with the flow. Although I had reservations at first, I continued to date her, but I didn’t want to label myself: I thought love was love, I didn’t think I had to be gay to date a woman. My first girlfriend and I dated for a little over a year, and after our break-up I quickly went back to dating guys; because there was just no way that I could be gay. It was naïve for me to think I could date men again: I knew I was gay, but still told myself “it was just this one girl”

About eight months after my first girlfriend and I broke up, I began dating another girl. Again, I took with me the idea that love was love, and that I didn’t need to be gay to date another woman. But this time, the relationship was a lot more serious, and I began to see myself being able to spend forever with a woman. I let down my guard a lot and started changing my view of lesbian relationships. Although I wasn’t ready to put that label on myself, I was starting to open up to the idea that being straight may not be who I truly was.

While all of my self-discovery was occurring I continued to pretend around my teammates. I still didn’t want any of them to know who I truly was. The more I hid myself, and my happiness, the more miserable I became. I was under a lot of pressure to continue hiding who I was.  Outing myself meant outing the people I dated, and that wasn’t fair for me to do. I continued to hide and I continued to suffer emotionally and physically, putting stress on every relationship in my life.

 

Not only did I put pressure on myself to remain silent, I also felt pressure from my coach and my family. My coach, who I was incredibly close with and admired, was extremely religious and had made statements to me about not believing in homosexuality. And in my family gay jokes were habitual. I didn’t realize until much later why it offended me so much when my parents looked out on to a softball field and generalized that softball teams were creating lesbians.

During the 5 years that I was in college, I was engrained with the idea that I would be suppressed for my entire life, and never accepted. I wasn’t actually able to accept myself and begin the coming out process until a couple months after college. I started telling close friends about 4 months after I graduated, and I told my family about 6 months after graduation. I wasn’t comfortable telling my old teammates until 10 months after I graduated and left the team.

My revelation has come with mostly acceptance, even some “We always knew” statements. But it hasn’t been met with complete acceptance; there has been some backlash from people who have shaped my life, people who I have great respect for. Unfortunately, not everyone will understand just yet, but I have had friends who have been strong sources of support as I have come embrace exactly who I am.

I am more comfortable with myself now than I have ever been, and I finally realized that I can’t be all things to all people.  Although I didn’t come out until after college, I now know that the teammates that said “we knew” would have accepted and supported me.  Through all of this, I have decided I am going to be true to myself, above all else.  I learned that the locker room fears were mostly my own and that being religious doesn’t mean you can’t support a teammate who is gay. I can’t live in the past, but I can tell my story now, and I hope that other athletes will learn to do the same.

If I ever had the chance to support another gay athlete who is afraid to come out, I would tell them to be themselves, and surround themselves with people who love and support them. I would tell them the fear we have is a lot of our own insecurity, and coming out can only set you free.