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Austin Hendrix Waited 2 Years To Come Out To His Cross-Country Teammates. They Were Ready

Austin Hendrix is a 21-year-old senior at Eastern Michigan University. He runs cross-country for the school, and he’s pretty good at it. But it took him two years after showing up on campus and forming bonds with his teammates to come out. Which seems all for naught: It’s really been a non-issue. Isn’t that wonderful?

After coming out in high school (in Sylvania, Ohio; population 20,000), and having word reach his (accepting) parents, Hendrix went back in for two years when he arrived at Eastern Michigan. Eventually (and perhaps you can relate), it became too much, and he finally escaped from the closet once more and told his teammates. “You’re supposed to fit this model – if you’re a gay male, you’re (considered) feminine, you can’t be athletic,” he says. “You start thinking, ‘Maybe I’m the only one. I don’t have anyone to look up to, maybe there’s something wrong with me.’ It does make it difficult. And you’re surrounded by all straight men or women so you don’t have anyone to really go to or confide in. It would just really help to know you’re not alone. I think that’s what it comes down to.”

Two years ago, as he and his best friend on the team talked about accepting people despite their differences, Hendrix finally shared his secret. Though surprised, the teammate said it didn’t change anything. That unconditional support gave Hendrix the courage to tell a few other teammates. And then a few more until the whole squad knew. His straight roommate, James Hughes, thinks he found out on a run, but isn’t quite sure of the details anymore because it was such a nonevent. “It surprised me when I first learned it,” Hughes said. “I never expected it, I didn’t see it coming. And then, instantly, all I could think about was, ‘I hope I never said anything to offend him.'”

All those months – years, really – of anxiety and trepidation, and no one cared. The ridicule and hatred Hendrix feared never materialized. The tight-knit squad didn’t disintegrate. Turns out, acceptance comes a lot easier when teammates already know who you are. When you’re the guy who helped keep the pace during that 10-mile, lung-busting run, the guy who’s shared those long bus rides to meets, the guy who has the same winged ‘E’ tattoo, the guy whose points helped your team win the conference title.

“You really know somebody when you’re out there running with them over an hour a day, two hours a day at times. You get to know every little thing about them,” Hughes said. “If someday they come out and say, ‘OK, I’m gay,’ it’s like OK. It doesn’t change anything. I think all athletes can relate to that. They’re practicing, they’re on the court, they’re on the field. It shouldn’t change anything if they’re really friends and good teammates.” Finally liberated from the weight of all those secrets, Hendrix found every aspect of his life improved.

Hendrix never did sit down with his running coach John Goodridge. And it’s not that his teammates were keeping the secret from Goodridge; it just didn’t matter, and it never trickled up to the guy running the team. Which is why Goodridge only found out he had a gay runner on his team a few weeks ago.

Hendrix said he would have gone to Goodridge had he had any serious problems. But he didn’t, so why bring it up? After all, straight athletes don’t announce their sexual orientation to their coaches. “Austin is Austin. He’s one of the most dedicated, coachable athletes that I’ve worked with, and it’s just been a thrill to see him develop,” Goodridge said. “This is not an issue for this team. If it was, I’d have known about it.”

Now Hendrix is the co-president of Eastern Michigan’s Student Alliance for Gay Athletes and Allies, a sort of GSA for athletes, and similar to what Maryland’s three-time All-American wrestler Hudson Taylor (now a coach at Columbia) is doing with Athlete Ally.

I love this story. An out athlete, whose sexuality just doesn’t matter, and whose teammates are meeting what’s for some of them the first openly gay person they’ve ever known. But we all know so many other kids don’t have it this easy. Which is why it’s amazing to see Hendrix not only excelling as an out runner, but leading an effort to help other gay athletes have a safe space when they’re ready to reveal all.

[AP]

By:           Ryan Tedder
On:           Apr 9, 2011
Tagged: , , , , , ,
  • 15 Comments
    • Jase
      Jase

      Nice to see a well written, positive story on Queerty for a change. Why don’t we see more stories from this Ryan Tedder and less of the crap that we get from JD

      Apr 9, 2011 at 2:10 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • JusticeontheRocks
      JusticeontheRocks

      Click on the links to read the full, very powerful, story. Seems like Austin, his teammates and his coach are all doing exactly the right thing. Good on all of them.

      Apr 9, 2011 at 2:31 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • EdWoody
      EdWoody

      While it’s great to see him out and happy, I seriously question his original premise: “gay males are expected to be feminine and non-athletic.” He has had a remarkably narrow experience of life if he thinks that’s true. Doesn’t he have the news or the internet?

      Apr 9, 2011 at 2:58 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Toferdavid
      Toferdavid

      There are many gay running groups around, google front runners and your city

      Front runners, new York

      Apr 9, 2011 at 3:22 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • alejandro
      alejandro

      @EdWoody: he’s from a small town.. it clearly says that.

      Apr 9, 2011 at 5:10 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Mark
      Mark

      “While it’s great to see him out and happy, I seriously question his original premise: “gay males are expected to be feminine and non-athletic.” He has had a remarkably narrow experience of life if he thinks that’s true. Doesn’t he have the news or the internet?”

      The news and the internet does not make a big deal of gays in all corners of the nation believe it or not. Its like people thinking all black people are ghetto or something. And of course he has a narrow life experience hes a college kid thats the point.

      Anyways the article doesnt really suprise me. Whether the rest of gay american wants to believe it the sky isnt falling in every community. Alot of communities being gay is currently a non issue or rapidly becoming a non issue.

      Apr 9, 2011 at 9:05 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Coffee&Chicory
      Coffee&Chicory

      wonderful story. thanks.

      Apr 10, 2011 at 10:56 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • why
      why

      Why are these stories anymore??? Its not like its the 80s or 90s.SO he came out…ok sure whatever ho hum. Besides its XC everyone thinks we are queer anyway

      Apr 10, 2011 at 11:06 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • PLAYS WELL WITH OTHERS
      PLAYS WELL WITH OTHERS

      It is important to put stories like this out there, to give other Gay student athletes encouragment that you are not the only ones………

      In high school my best friend Kyle and I were on the wrestling team. I got involved with a loony toon boyfriend who once we broke up threatned to “tell everyone” that Kyle and I were Gay…..There were a decent amount of out kids in the student body so we weren’t that ascared of their reaction.

      The wrestling team was a different story. We decided to do a pre-emptive strike and come out to our teammates. Most were cool but three guys demanded a team meeting to express their “concerns” about having two gay dudes on the team. They pulled out the standard cards from the homophobe deck like we would be “checking them out” in the showers. Kyle replied “Don’t worry, you guys got nothing to worry about. We only check out the hot guys”….After the most supportive outbust of laughter we could have ever hoped for the matter was dropped……..

      Apr 10, 2011 at 12:27 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Enron
      Enron

      A lot of the fear with all male teams who might have a gay team mate is the fear it creates of possible unwanted attractions. Also, there is this lame fear that, if there is gay team member, then it means, our booty is up for grabs. So, there is this paradox of male sexuality and weakness where there is a fear of is a gay guy strong enough to compete and will he try to dominate me?

      Apr 10, 2011 at 3:49 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • @ A dear,
      @ A dear,

      cross country runners aren’t athletes

      Apr 10, 2011 at 11:42 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • gomez
      gomez

      @@ A dear,: lol, you mad?

      Apr 11, 2011 at 1:59 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • alan brickman
      alan brickman

      a truly inspiring story….eat your jealousy and go home…

      Apr 11, 2011 at 9:13 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • TimInHouston
      TimInHouston

      @ Plays Well With Others: “We only check out the hot guys.” Zing! That was the perfect response.

      @ A Dear,: Please report back after you have completed an early-morning run with a cross-country team.

      Apr 11, 2011 at 12:23 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Nielsenissonny
      Nielsenissonny

      Most of his fellow runners dont care

      http://www.letsrun.com/forum/flat_read.php?thread=3996586

      Y should we?

      Apr 11, 2011 at 9:36 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·

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