18-year-old Michael Martin is senior at Musselman High
School in Inman, West Virginia. He’s a sports star, a goalie for the soccer
team and captain of the swim team; additionally, he’s played for the school’s
football and tennis teams. He also happens to be gay, and an essay he wrote for
OutSports about his decision to come out — as well as the way in which he did
it — is truly an inspiration. There is so much good to be drawn from the story:
Martin’s courage in coming out to a conservative community; the loyalty and
strength shown by those who have supported him; the barriers it breaks down for
LBGTQ athletes; and more. You’re going to feel extremely warm and fuzzy by the
end of this. I promise.
According to Martin, he had known for a considerable amount of time that he was attracted to boys, rather than girls. But due to the cultural climate of Inman, he didn’t feel as if he could tell anyone about how he felt. But, he writes, “When I started to talk with [his now-boyfriend] Jem, I was comfortable with myself and wasn’t ashamed like I was in years past. For me to be happy… I needed to come out. I didn’t want to hide how I really was anymore. I didn’t want to live every day with a secret hanging over my head.” So Martin and Jem, who attends a different school, both attended Jem’s homecoming dance in October. They each arrived as the “dates” of two of their female friends — but when the final song came on (Taylor Swift’s “Love Story,” for the curious) their partners stepped out. It had been a big night already, with Jem being crowned homecoming king; it was made all the bigger, though, when they had their first dance together — which was also Martin’s first dance with another guy. After homecoming ended, Martin asked Jem to be his boyfriend, with the answer being a resounding yes.
Two weeks later at the Musselman homecoming, Martin came out to his own school, as well. Jem arrived as the date of a female Musselman student, while Martin went stag; again, they danced, and they mostly let the action speak for itself. “Only some people knew about me before the homecoming, so it was a shocker for some seeing me dance with another guy,” he wrote; they did, however, answer anyone who asked if they were together affirmatively, with some girls responding, “That is so cute!” Writes Martin, “It made us feel accepted.”
Martin acknowledges that coming out to a conservative community has been difficult. Not everyone has been understanding about it; some people have looked at him differently; and he’s had a lot of offensive words lobbed at him. But rather than dwelling on those who have put him down or harassed him, he puts the focus on the people who have supported him: His best friend, Ben, who told Martin, “There is nothing that can change our friendship,” and promised not to tell anyone else until he was ready; his soccer coach, who created a safe environment by “[laying] down the law that there was not going to be any racism or discrimination based on sexuality,” even before Martin had made the decision to come out; his other friends, who stood up for him when others shot derogatory words and names at him. His family had trouble with it at first, but he writes that they are “starting to come around and support me. I just had to keep telling them that I can’t change who I am and that I am the same teenager that I was before.”
These are the people the world needs more of. These are the people with whom we should surround ourselves. These are the people we should aspire to be. All of us, every day.
As MTV News points out, there’s been an outpouring of support for Martin and Jem on social media; the comments on Martin’s Instagram homecoming photo are nothing but positive, and Twitter is alive with messages from both Martin’s friends and complete strangers:
It’s proof positive that even if you live in an area you
fear might not be accepting of who you are, there’s always support out there.
There’s always a community. Sometimes you might have go a little further afield
to find it, but it’s there. And one day, hopefully, you won’t have to go further afield for it. It’ll already be there,
waiting for you, and for everyone.
Martin ends by pointing to Los Angeles Galaxy player Robbie Rogers, who is openly gay, as an inspiration (his best friend Ben even gave him Rogers’ recently published book, Coming Out to Play, for his birthday); he closes with this simple, yet powerful statement:
“I have learned that being gay does not mean you are a lesser of a human being. If I can come out in a small town in West Virginia and be accepted, and dance with the homecoming king, it shows things are changing. I hope my performances and story help inspire other gay teens to show their true colors and not be afraid to play the sport they love.”
Yes. Yes, yes, and yes.
Head on over to OutSports to read the whole essay; it should be required reading for every single person on this planet.