by Brittney Griner for the New York Times
When the N.B.A. center Jason Collins announced he was gay last week, I was thrilled. Not only was I extremely happy for him, I thought that maybe, just maybe, his courage and the wave of positive reaction meant that we were on the verge of an era when people accept and celebrate one another’s differences. I think that’s what makes life beautiful: everyone is different and we can all learn from one another.
It takes a lot of courage to come out.
I first came out to my mom in the ninth grade. Even though the story is kind of boring (comparatively), I remember it as if it were yesterday. I was leaning against a wall in our house at the time, not doing anything in particular. For whatever reason, at that moment I let my mom know I was gay. It wasn’t planned. It just popped out. She gave me a hug, smiled and told me she loved me, and I went back upstairs to my room. Simple as that.
I knew then that it didn’t matter what my sexuality was; my mom and family would always love me for who I am. For me, the simplicity behind coming out was both powerful and beautiful. No drama, just acceptance and love.
That’s why I never felt the need to publicly announce I was “out.” People have asked me if I’m at all bothered that my “announcement” after the W.N.B.A. draft last month didn’t receive as much attention as Jason’s. Frankly, it didn’t matter at all to me. I simply answered a question honestly and am just happy to tell my truth and to be in a position to encourage others to do the same. It’s all about living an honest life and being comfortable in your own skin. It strengthens me to know that Jason and I (along with so many other out pioneers and allies) are united in a mission to inspire others who may be struggling. I want everyone to feel at peace and O.K. with being who he or she is.
Just as basketball doesn’t define who I am, neither does being gay.
But that doesn’t mean life was easy growing up. I was bullied in every way imaginable, but the worst was the verbal abuse. (I was always a strong, tough and tall girl, so nobody wanted to mess with me from a physical standpoint.) It hit rock bottom when I was in seventh grade. I was in a new school with people I didn’t know, and the teasing about my height, appearance and sexuality went on nonstop, every day.
People called me a dude and said there was no way I could be a woman. Some even wanted me to prove it to them. During high school and college, when we traveled for games, people would shout the same things while also using racial epithets and terrible homophobic slurs.
(That’s nothing compared with the horrendous things people call me online today — if you don’t believe me, look at the comments about me on Twitter and Instagram.)
No one deserves to go through that type of abuse. When I was young, I put on a face as if it didn’t hurt, but it’s painful to be called hateful names and made fun of because people thought my feet were huge or that I looked like a guy. It was hard to hear antigay slurs under their breath whenever I walked by them. It always confused me; I never thought that to be beautiful, you had to look any certain way at all. In my opinion, you’re beautiful because you are you.
Still, some people have it worse. I think about what Matthew Shepard had to face when he was tortured and chained to a fence in 1998 — I am thankful that Jason, as a veteran professional athlete, took the opportunity to remind people so that it never happens again. I think about that often, but I also think about the kids in middle school and high school today who daily are made to feel so bad about themselves that they contemplate not wanting to live anymore. That really hurts my heart because I’ve been there.
I’ve had moments when I questioned my place in the world. At times, especially in seventh grade, life was lonely and I’d often feel sad. I never wanted to deny who I was, but dealing with the sadness and the anger that came from people constantly making fun of me wore me down at times. I relied heavily on my mom, family and friends to lift my spirits and help me through it — and still do.
It’s taken me a long time to figure out exactly where I fit. During that journey, I realized that everyone has a unique place in this world. I also discovered that the more open I was with my family and friends, the more I embraced others, and the more committed I became to doing the things I love, like basketball, skating and, of course, eating bacon (the greatest food of all time), the more love and confidence I received in return.
I just had to hang in there and be myself.
Jason Collins’s announcement, with the support he has received, has already made me more optimistic than ever that people are ready. More important, that the pace of change is picking up. That’s why I have become involved in the It Gets Better project, whose mission is to inspire hope for young people facing harassment and bullying. Because, people, it’s time for bullying to end. Nobody should have to hear the types of things I did or to feel the way I have.
The good news is that I do see change coming. It might be slow, but there are so many positive signs. After being drafted by the Phoenix Mercury and with more media acknowledging my sexuality, I’ve received more hugs, tweets, thank-yous and well-wishes in regard to being “out” than ever.
Countless people have come up to me and thanked me for being proud of who I am.
It’s my job now to, I hope, be a light who inspires others.