“Your coach told me you’re gay.” My mother said to me with a disgusted look on her face. My heart sank to my toes. My knees wobbled, my lips quivered, and all I could reply was, “huh?” After signing my National Letter of Intent to play basketball for the University of Richmond a few months earlier, that was the last thing I was expecting to hear a month before my high school graduation. My first thought was that I had been trying to have this conversation with my mom for years now, but she had been ignoring every sign and every attempt I made to open up to her. I was practically begging her for her attention, for her love, for her acceptance. My next thought was, how could my future coach, whom I had never had any personal conversation with, past my music preferences, know I was gay? My last thought, before my eyes filled with tears, was why it even mattered if I was gay or not. I was going to be playing basketball, and she would be coaching me. I didn’t think that my sexual orientation would ever deter my hoop dreams. From that point on, the relationship I had with my mom went from slowly shrinking to quickly sinking. After the fight we had that night, the relationship was non-existent, and it has been ever since. What hurt me most was that my mother’s response to this call was to treat her child differently and with less respect, rather than to protect me. She was too embarrassed to stand up for me and for what’s right, than to blow the whistle on this coach’s unacceptable behavior.
As relationships with other family members also plummeted, and my relationship with my mom became even worse, I was so happy to be graduating and getting away. At the same time, I was nervous for what was ahead. No, I wasn’t very nervous about playing college basketball. I was more afraid of how I’d be treated after being outed by my coach.
I was right. I was absolutely treated differently. Not only for being a lesbian, (which, by the way, no one ever asked, it was just assumed, and because I was less feminine than the other girls, they assumed a lot about me) but for being black, and I was judged for being from an urban area. I was ostracized for being the former—being Me—and I was abandoned by my family for the same reasons. My mom dropped me off in Richmond for summer school, and I haven’t had a civil conversation with her since. For a few months, I hadn’t had a conversation with her that was longer than nine seconds, until I decided, on my own, since I had been abandoned by my family and living on my own since I graduated, that I needed to transfer. Oh no, don’t take away our only thing to brag about—my (insert relation here) is the starting point guard for Richmond.
My starting spot concealed everything that was going on. It concealed the homophobia and the racism within the women’s basketball program, and it concealed the deep depression that I experienced. No one realized the weight I had lost, because I was doing so well on the court. Although I was beaten mentally by all of the subtle tactics and blatant occurrences, no one could take from me what I had earned. I had worked for that spot all summer and preseason. So when I decided to transfer, because I had had enough of the homophobia and racism that surrounded me, everyone thought I was crazy. From the outside looking in, everything looked perfect.
In the midst of all of this, I had the support of my girlfriend. This support was my saving grace. Although she and her family were a major support system for me (and still are my only support), she played a detrimental role in my family’s abandonment. “She changed you,” they claimed. No, I grew up. I found MY identity. I learned about myself. I realized the conditional love I was subjected to my own family, and I was no longer accepting it. I fell in love, and that’s what happens when you find true, genuine love—you both change. They refused to be embarrassed by their “butch” daughter, granddaughter, or niece. They tried to convince me that my girlfriend was “turning me against them,” but I could no longer be influenced by the negativity I constantly received. So I fought, and almost three years later, I continue to fight.
The only reason my mom had to know about my transfer was because I signed my NLI at age 17. Because I was a minor, my mom signed my NLI, also. Therefore, I needed my mother’s signature to approve the breaking of the contract. Getting this signature was a battle in and of itself. I had to beg my mom, whom I hadn’t spoken to in months, to sign these papers so I could get my release. It took about a week for me to convince her to sign the papers. The things she and other family members said to me, I will NEVER forget—the hatred, the vicious attitudes, the threats. After my mother had kicked me out of her house and said that she didn’t care if I rotted on the streets of Richmond, she finally gave up, signed, and faxed it over. When I left Richmond, after the fall semester, the drama with my family did not die down. I had to change my phone number, along with my girlfriend, her mother, and her father, because of the constant threats and harassment we all received. Because I was kicked out of my mother’s house, my girlfriend allowed me to live with her and her family. For some reason, now my family thought it was okay to call me, not to check on me, but to bash me, tell me how I am dumb for leaving Richmond, and curse at me. My mother and grandmother threatened to file a report to the police that I was missing, because I had transferred, and I was no longer living with my mother. I enrolled at Fairleigh Dickinson University, where I am now a part of the women’s basketball team. I’m thankful to be able to continue my education and still be able to do something I love. Nevertheless, to this day, the relationship with most of my family members is nonexistent. Although this was extremely difficult to deal with, the support of my girlfriend and her family was definitely a major reason I was able to get through everything. It took a while, but I have accepted the fact that I my family is no longer a part of my life. I have moved on, I have found happiness, and I have learned that family is defined by love and loyalty, not by blood. I have gotten stronger, and I have built the courage to speak up against what has happened to me as a non-gender conforming homosexual. My life took an unexpected turn, and I have grown tremendously from every negative and positive experience I have encountered. It is absolutely necessary to educate ourselves, as members and allies of the LGBTQ community, so that we can constantly spread knowledge and courage to others.
Although I was outed and abandoned by my family, I want to assure anyone going through the same thing that this is not the end of your life. The hardest part is not feeling loved—feeling alone. Not many people understand your struggle, but instead, contribute to it. However, your struggle is real, and I assure you that speaking up is much easier than hiding your true self. I was once told that it is okay to be gay, but not to flaunt it. I do the complete opposite. I’m too proud to hide my identity. Your sexual orientation and your gender is much more than a preference. It’s YOUR identity. Be proud. Own it.