A RUNNERS COMING OUT STORY….... BILLY GLOVER
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'I Wasn't Going to Let Some Ignorant Man Mess With My Dreams and Tell Me That I Am Not Worth It '
By Billy Glover
I was 17 when I came out.
It was in Alaska in 1996, in the middle of winter, and my mother didn't want me to go off to college. At the time I was also injured and couldn't train. When you're an athlete and you can't train, it makes you so irritable. So dealing with being a closet case, being injured, not training, the darkness in Alaska in the winter, putting up with my mom not wanting me to go off to college … I finally just broke.
I remember standing in front of the mirror in the bathroom, staring at myself, thinking, "What the hell is wrong with you and why are you crying?" My mother was wondering the same thing. I kept telling her it was nothing and she wouldn't understand, but she was so persistent. "What's wrong?" she demanded. "Obviously, something's wrong!"
Finally, it just came out of my mouth. "Fine, I am gay!" I even shocked myself. I knew I liked guys and knew I was different, but I never thought of myself as being gay. Weird, I know.
Oh my god, I am gay! I had to cry some more.
My mom shut the door and sat down with me on the bathroom floor. Her face was completely pale and she asked me, "Are you sure?" I chuckled and said, "I guess so." She started to talk about her little brother and how she loved him so much, and how she hadn't seen or heard from him in about 10 years. He is gay and living in San Francisco and has had a hard time dealing with things and is scared of what the family would think. So he decided to separate himself away from everything.
My Coming Out Race
My mom said she didn't want to lose another person who meant so much to her. So she bought me a ticket to fly to Hawaii, to visit a close friend, and run a race for an AIDS benefit. I felt like so much was lifted off my shoulders. I felt more human than I ever had. For the first time I actually was being myself, not what others wanted me to be or some weird fucked-up version of masculinity that had been put in front of me in high school and society.
I went to Hawaii and was the youngest person ever to win that race, at the age of 17 (16:01 for 5K). It was funny--my first race after coming out had drag queens lined out all over the course. I remember finishing the race and seeing hundreds of gay athletes and supportive people everywhere. Everything is going to be OK, I thought.
I still was uncomfortable with everyone knowing, though. I went to Eastern Oregon University in a really small town in the middle of nowhere (La Grande, Ore.). I wanted to focus on my goals, my running and my artwork. I didn't want any distractions at all, and just wanted to just eat and sleep running.
I didn't expect to meet someone who would really interest me in La Grande. But then I met Randy, a waiter and actor. He was in the play "Angels in America." I couldn't help but think about him, both in my dreams at night and also when I was awake. He was also my landlord and lived downstairs in the same house. He was 32, and I was 19 at the time. We would end up being together for the next three years.
It was very difficult because he had been out for a long time, and I was just out but not to my team. He was very comfortable about his sexuality. I was nervous about anyone finding out on the team and what they would think.
One of the Boys
Guys in cross-country and track and field are all about the testosterone and being the big man. We often had the drinking games. One was called the "Century Club," 100 shots in 100 minutes of the cheapest beer. It is not as easy as you would think. Every minute on the minute, a shot. Some guys passed out at 65 and 70, but I made it to 102. My problem was that I viewed everyone of those guys as a brother and on a different intimate level. I felt so close to them, but at the same time I felt guilty because I wasn't who I really was.
In the fall of 1997, I qualified for nationals and finished 10th in the conference in cross country and qualified for nationals in the 4-by-800 relay. At this time I tried to get my boyfriend not to say he was dating me or be so "out," but he wasn't letting me off so easy. At the national cross country meet in Kenosha, Wis., a girl on the team was very persistent on getting to know me better. She wouldn't leave me alone. When we got back to La Grande, we went out to movies and things like that and became good friends.
I had no idea that she really wanted me and soon found out from the rest of the team that we were dating. Finally, I told her, "I am gay," and she was shocked. She wouldn't talk to me for about three months after that. Her running started to go downhill and the coach was wondering why. That's when she decided to tell him. A couple of days later my boyfriend ended up having the coach's wife over for dinner, because they had become friends in a ceramic class. I came home to the coach's wife sitting at our table. That's when my boyfriend introduced me as his significant other.
No Longer a Secret
A couple of days later, the whole team knew and no one said anything to me or talked to me. There was this horrible uncomfortable silence at every practice. I think some people had no idea what to think and wondered what other people would think if they talked to me, that maybe they would be thought of as being gay, too. The coach was pretty religious and he could not look at me in the face when telling me what the workouts were. He even asked me if I would like to attend some church with him. A couple of months later, the story of Matthew Shepard's murder was all over the news. I remember being so angry and scared at the same time.
Here was Mathew, in a small rural town in the middle of nowhere and gay, and he was killed for being himself. It made me so angry at society. I began to think that I needed to be at a college that represented me when I represented them at races. I called Portland State University and the coach there was happy to hear from me because I would have been a nice addition to the team, maybe second or third on the team.
I packed up all of my stuff into a little U-haul truck and left for Portland, Ore. Finally, I thought, I would be able to surround myself with others like me, gay and athletic. I had visions of what a gay community would be like. I had never been to a gay bar or been around more than two gay people at one time. I thought a group of people who are part of a minority community would treat each other better and would be a tight- knit community. I might feel like I was home.
I got to Portland State and settled in, and when I showed up to practice for the first time the coach told me I had a lot of paperwork to fill out and that it might be better if I forgot about joining the team. But I was as persistent as my mother and did everything that he asked, and each time he would come up with a reason why I couldn't run for the team.
Finally in a conversation with him on the phone, he told me they "don't have room for your kind on our team." [Editor's note: Officials at the Portland State athletic department told Outsports that the coach denied making this comment. They did say that the rest of Billy's account of his Portland State experience was "essentially accurate."]
A Homophobic Coach and Clueless Teammates
All I could think about was Matthew Shepard, an ignorant society, everything I had been through, the move and the $13,000 I was spending to attend. I went to the affirmative action group on campus. They told me that this was a serious issue and wondered if I wanted to take it on. "Who else is going to?" I replied. I wasn't going to let some ignorant man mess with my dreams, and tell me that I am not worth it.
During the time the school was dealing with the issue, I remember being so nervous and scared. Never did I want to be put in this position, I just wanted to run for a team. I never viewed any of my teammates as sexual objects, but rather as brothers. Finally, the coach was forced to have me on the team. For my senior year in 2000, though, I had a coach who did not speak to me. At least my last coach in Eastern Oregon would pat me on the shoulder or nod at me.
When I came to PSU and I was having so much problems with the coach, I wanted to go back to Eastern Oregon, where I could at least run and put up with stuff. I remember talking to one of my former teammates named Sara. She was always such a good friend, especially after she found out about my sexuality. She told me that I might not want to come back because some of the other guys on the team threatened to quit and some threatened to hurt me physically. I really had nothing that I could do but tough it out at PSU.
The guys at Portland State, though, always thought of me as one of the guys. Once in a while a guy on the team would slip and say horrible things like "all fags should die" or "you fucking faggott" to each other. They would quickly realize that I was a fag and become quiet.
I had a roommate in the dorms from the team named Brian. I had told him I was gay. He just never really believed me. I remember having a guy over to watch a movie one night, and when Brian went to bed, the guy and I snuggled on the couch. Brian woke up and came out and said, "Dude, there is plenty of room to watch TV, you guys don't have to cram on the couch like that." He always asked me why I never had any girlfriends coming over. He never believed I was gay.
Another guy on the team would always talk to me when he was drunk and say things like, "It is totally cool that you're queer and everything, but never ask me if you can suck my dick, OK?" "It is cool, but I don't go that way." I think a lot of these guys think that when they hear I am gay that I instantly would want to stare at their ass or want to try something with them. I am like everyone else–I do have some standards and I do have a type.
Later that year, Portland State decided not to renew the coach's contract. I remember how supportive my mother was through all of it. She wanted to come down and kick some butt, but I told her it wasn't necessary. She did write a scathing letter and threaten a lawsuit, though. I still had to go out and run and be with this coach that I may have helped get fired. He never did speak to me again.
I graduated in the summer of 2001 and then didn't run for about two months after getting out on my own. I found it hard to run without the structure of a team. But I found something else that has brought some new excitement and interest--triathlons. I hope to make it in the Olympics someday, maybe with a little help from the new friends that I have made.
Just last summer I found out that my twin brother, Jack, is gay. He got kicked out of the military with his boyfriend of a year. He decided to come out to us before the military outed him to our family with their investigation. My mother was never really comfortable about asking me about my boyfriends or my sexuality, but I always knew that she cared. She was never able to meet my boyfriend Randy in La Grande, but when my twin brother came out and introduced his boyfriend, they became great friends. I think that she is becoming more comfortable, and is starting to know that everything is going to be OK.
Billy Glover, a graphics design graduate, lives in Portland, Ore. He is focused on his training, working, ceramic sculpture, painting, gay softball and gay volleyball.
April 7, 2003