In a revealing interview with Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine, out Puerto Rican boxer Orlando Cruz discusses why he chose to come out, when he knew he was gay, and what life in the closet was like as one of the sport’s top dogs.
The top-ranked featherweight, who is nominated for a 2012 Queerties, says that he felt accepted by fans at his first bout since coming out in October. “They kept calling out my name—much louder than during my earlier fights,” Cruz tell’s Spiegel‘s Lucas Eberle. “My opponent, the Mexican Jorge Pazos, had said beforehand that what I did outside the ring was none of his business. I think that is the right attitude.”
Cruz came out after more than a decade as a pro boxer because, he says, being a knockout king wasn’t enough: “I have only lost 2 out of 22 professional fights. I knocked out some of my opponents in the first round. But I never really received respect as a person. That’s something I had come to realize over the past few years. The end of my boxing career is no longer that far off, and it was time for me to make peace with myself.”
Now 31, Cruz first realized he was gay as a teen under rather unique circumstances:
SPIEGEL: When did you realize that you were gay?
Cruz: I was 19 years old. I was boxing at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000. I met a man there. And when I got home, I sensed that something in me had changed.
SPIEGEL: How did you feel about that?
Cruz: Awful, I was in a very bad state.
Cruz: Because I wasn’t prepared for it. For a long time I didn’t want to accept that I was gay. Better said: I couldn’t accept it because I was too afraid. Homosexuals were discriminated against in Puerto Rico back then, sometimes even killed. I had a friend named José, but we called him Linoshka because he was a transvestite. He was stabbed to death in the street at the age of 19 by a homophobe because he had taken part in a gay-pride parade.
But keeping his personal and professional life separate took a lot of energy, he admits: “I acted a part. I sensed the suspicion. When other guys talked about a woman’s backside, they’d pay close attention to see whether I joined in. So I played along,” he says. “Inside there was emptiness, and it felt as though I was being weighed down by five tons. He hopes now that he doesn’t have to waste time hiding, he can focus on his training and performance.
While Cruz says almost all the feedback he’s gotten has been positive, he doesn’t sweat the occasional slur in the locker room or gym: “Someone will come along who calls me a faggot or a fairy. I’ll say: “What? You call me a faggot? Okay, but you’d better watch out, because I’m the faggot who’s going to kick your ass.