“I was blessed to find out who in my life was real; which relationships were based on love,” writes Derek Schell, who was openly gay on his college basketball team.

Since coming out in October of 2013 as an openly gay college basketball player, I have realized many things about life and human nature. While many of these valuable findings have been of self-discovery, the overwhelming majority have been of the world around me. Most of these lessons have been mirrors for me, reflecting back exactly what I had been missing for 22 years.

Personally, I have come to know what it means to take in a breath of air and not be afraid of being unworthy of that breath. I look at my reflection and like what I see; not because I had a good workout or the rare good hair day, but because it no longer is a projection of who I am. The front is gone and what you see is what you get.

One of the most exhausting parts of the closeted life is the constant filter one has on their thoughts, words, and actions. I’m no longer in constant fear of judgment. These are some of the lessons I learned and guidelines I gained from coming out:

  • People will have their opinions whether you do everything in your power to control them or not. To put it simply, let it go.
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  • Everyone has so much going on in his or her own life and they are spending way less time thinking about you than you imagine. You care more about your life than they do.
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  • There are people that are unfamiliar and uneducated and those that are homophobic and ignorant. Recognizing this difference saves a lot of time and effort in terms of who you give your attention to.
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  • Maintaining the equilibrium in your life is a fearful and naive mistake. Don’t cling to the status quo to avoid “upsetting” anyone. It’s your life to live, not someone else’s to protect. I was blessed to find out who in my life was real; which relationships were based on love.
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  • Delaying happiness is detrimental and only fills you with regret. There is no “right time.” Every day is a chance to be authentic.
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  • Circumstances are just an excuse. The surroundings and atmosphere in which you find yourself don’t deserve to hold you back. In every scenario, you can succeed despite adversity.
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  • Sometimes your mind is a dangerous place to live. It’s better to live entirely in the world, ignoring all the voices telling you that you don’t fit in.
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  • You’re never going to be perfect so stop trying. Sometimes LGBTQ people feel the need to overcompensate because they feel they are flawed. You’re not. It will be a long chase if you are looking for perfection.
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  • Never take into account other’s opinions of yourself before your own. You are the most important person in your life and always should be. Don’t get me wrong – listen to other people, but never let their thoughts overpower yours.
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  • Playing as an out athlete allows you to relax around your teammates, play to your full potential, and see two previously separate worlds coexist in an exciting way.
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  • Finding a support system and community of encouragement can pretty much get you through anything. Fellowship is forged by common ground and strangers become family almost instantly.
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  • Being different is one of the coolest feelings in the world. Being gay, while such a small part of who I am, went from a gigantic cloud to one of the things I am most proud to be.
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  • Sometimes it’s hard to avoid getting caught up in the praise or attention of being out. You’re just another human trying to make it in this world. Stay on the ground.
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  • A lot of people aren’t as lucky as I was to find love at a young age. Stay patient, stay hopeful, and above all else, don’t settle for anything less than you deserve. Finding the right person is better than any temporary high.
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  • It’s impossible to change some minds. I learned the hard way trying to please and convince everyone that I was justified in being me.  Choose your battles wisely.
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  • Coming out to coaches and teammates is completely personal and there is no right way to do it. Your coaching staff will guide you through the process and having your teammates support on and off the court is the ultimate good feeling.
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  • Stay off the message boards and comment threads. Those people are trolls with nothing better to do with their lives. Be above that.
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  • Trust is a two-way street. You must be willing to trust in people so they can trust you in return. This is the reason coming out strengthens any relationship in the long run.
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  • Playing the game you love is the same as living your life. On paper it could seem clear what the outcome will be but you never know. Don’t decide in your head how people will react to your new-found honesty.
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  • Don’t beat yourself up over losing a “friend” after coming out.  Someone who can’t handle your honesty isn’t someone you need in your life. Embrace those who are willing to love you unconditionally.
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  • Fight the feeling that one negative response outweighs multiple positive ones.
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  • Sometimes a closeted mind can be irrational. So many fears that exist within aren’t actually real.
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  • You can still shower with your teammates and they won’t care. At all.
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  • Homophobic language in the team setting isn’t always intentional. Most slurs are inherently programmed as a societal norm. Speaking up and letting your teammates know it’s offensive is an easy way to end it.  Most don’t even realize they are using the words that somehow push us deeper in the closet.
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  • Family is a good place to start. Telling a close friend or family member can get the ball rolling and might create the circle of comfort you were always looking for. While it takes some time, having the support of family will eliminate many other fears.
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  • Deceit is heavy and honesty is light. Continually lying to those that care about you the most builds up and finally being truthful releases that entire burden.
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  • Life is tough. It’s not fair to expect to handle all of it on your own. Even if it is to one individual, coming out gives you the freedom to vent your thoughts and ideas and not have to carry them wherever you go. An outlet to simply talk to someone openly is an amazing thing.
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  • “They wouldn’t understand” is a slippery slope of thought. Using this reasoning builds an illogical notion that you’re alone in your journey. Being open is the only way to give them a chance to understand.
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  • Sport creates unbreakable bonds. Your high school or college teammates are teammates for life, and no fraction of who you are will ever change that. Keep that faith in people.
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  • There is no “right way” to live. The way that you want to live your life is the right way. Don’t let anyone else change that with their own insecurities or expectations.
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  • You gotta love yourself before anyone else can. It’s a cliche but it’s true. Confidence in who you are is contagious.
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  • If you need to take it slower, take it slower. I needed time after coming out to my friends and family before I came out to my coaches and teammates. Coming out is the result of a personal journey that can be a rollercoaster of ups and downs. Make it yours and be happy with your decision.
Derek Schell2

From left, Derek Schell with fellow out athletes Matt Kaplon, Chandler Whitney and Conner Mertens at the LGBT sports summit hosted by Nike in June.

 

Overall, I learned what a blessing it is to be alive and I’ve learned not to take anything for granted. I now dedicate part of my life to helping other LGBTQ youth/athletes and improving this space in schools and on the playing field.  My colleagues and I are always available to anyone who is going through this journey.

I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even have a plan. However, I do know exactly who I am, what I stand for, and how much being my true self gave me the strength to get here. Coming out was a two-year process that ended in taking control of my life. No longer ridden by fear, I can live how I live, love who I love, and do it all with a real smile on my face.

Derek Schell is a former basketball player for Hillsdale College in Michigan, where he graduated this spring. He can be reached at Twitter: @dschell4; or via email: derekschell3@gmail.com. He wrote this article for Outsports in commemoration of National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11.

Top photo by Jeff Sheng from his Fearless Project, his photographic study of out gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender athletes.

Originally posted 2015-04-02 10:15:38.