When an openly gay high school student wasn’t finding the love and support he needed at home, he found both in an unlikely place: his school’s male-dominated athletics department.
Austin Hodges, now a college sophomore at the University of Houston, grew up in the small town of Anahuac in southeast Texas, a conservative community known for its “hardcore traditional values.”
In an essay for OutSports, Hodges reflected on the challenges he faced growing up LGBT in the town of 2,500 and how he learned to take pride in his sexuality.
“Going through elementary school I was always made fun of because I was different,” he wrote. “My only friends during my elementary years were girls and because of that, I was made fun of by the other boys in my class.”
“Moving into middle school I started to realize that I wasn’t really sexually attracted to women,” he recalled. “I found sports to be an outlet… I played football, basketball, track and field and was the only boy at the time to run cross country.”
Participating in sports not only brought him a sense of purpose, but also something else new: guy friends. Though he was “very much in the closet” at this time, a coach found out about his sexuality and tried to kick him off the various teams.
“This coach went to his boss and told him that he didn’t think it was a good idea that I be allowed to be in athletics with the other boys,” he explained. “I didn’t know any of this was going on until another one of my coaches approached me and pulled me aside to talk to me about it.”
While he expected this coach to side with the other, he was instead surprised to find in him his very first ally.
“[He] assured me that he would make sure I got to stay in athletics and continue playing sports and that me being gay made me no different than the other boys. This was the first time a male figure ever gained my respect and trust.”
Though school was slowly becoming a safe space, the same could not be said for home, which erupted in discord when his mother discovered a letter from his first boyfriend.
“As soon as I walked into the house my dad started yelling at me and saying many hurtful things that are just too hard to even type,” he wrote. “My mom was screaming as well, saying it was ’my choice’ to be that way. As she saying this, she grabbed my hand and said just as it would also be my choice to not let her burn my hand on the hot stove as she was pressing it closer and closer.”
After this painful experience, he decided to take his own life. Thankfully, his attempt was unsuccessful, a failure that inspired him to open up about his sexuality.
When he finally did come out, he was greeted with warmth and love by his friends, all of whom said they would always stand by him.
“[Soon] the whole school found out and word traveled to all my teammates in athletics,” he wrote. “Each of them made sure I still felt welcome with them and that we were all a family with the same goal, to win at whatever sport we were playing.”
As his confidence grew, he decided not only to play for his high school’s football team, but also to perform on its drill team, which often left the opposing team very confused.
“Halftime had just started, and my teammates… headed to the locker room,” he remembered. “But I headed to the other side of the field where, still wearing my football uniform, I applied some makeup and got ready to do high kicks and splits with the drill team.”
“I would have to say that the best faces to watch were those of the other teams and their parents because they all just realized ’the gay kid who wears makeup and does the splits’ was kicking their butts on the field—I played both offensive and defensive line—and was going to do it again when halftime was over.”