Landon Driggers is more than his sport.

A star swimmer at the University of Tennessee, Driggers decided this month to step away from the pool. Though he once aspired to compete in the Olympics, his athletic ambitions have taken a backseat to his journey of self-discovery.

Driggers, who came out as gay in high school and uses he/him pronouns, now also identifies as nonbinary. He expresses himself with fashion forward looks–always black–and a nonconformist attitude.

For many athletes, walking away from their sport can be challenging. After spending much of their lives training and competing, they can feel lost. But Driggers, a criminal justice major, has been preparing for this pivotal moment.

“It’s been tough, but I’ve been taking it as, swimming is just something that I do, and it doesn’t define me,” he said. “These last few years, I really had to sit down with myself in private moments, and figure out who I am when I’m not an athlete. I feel like I have the advantage of already picturing my life without swimming.”

Driggers made his big announcement on Instagram, to the tune of more than 400 “likes” and tons of supportive comments. He shared many of the lessons he’s learned over the last four years, including the importance of trusting his intuition, and living by his own moral code.

When Driggers transferred to Tennessee, he immediately made an impact at the SEC powerhouse. The Arizona native earned Honorable Mention All-American status and set a school record in the 200-meter individual medley.

But he found the environment to be challenging, if not toxic. Driggers says his saving grace were his two gay besties and teammates, Bryden Hattie and Joey Tepper.

“If it was just me on Tennessee’s team, I would’ve struggled more than I already did,” he said. “But they were able to help me at certain times, and I’m indebted to them for that.”

With his whole life ahead of him, Queerty recently caught up with Driggers to talk about his experiences as a gay and nonbinary athlete, fashion inspirations and queer superpower. Here’s what he had to say…

QUEERTY: What’s one thing about being a college athlete that people don’t know about?

LANDON DRIGGERS: It is not easy from the physical aspect. But it’s even more difficult being a gay athlete. They don’t tell you about that, and that was something I wish I was prepared for. This is the first interview where I feel like I can be fully honest. I really struggled, particularly with men’s teams and being out. I also think the level at which I was at with swimming was … I had aspirations of becoming an Olympian. Of making the United States National Team. Those are not easy goals, and most people don’t make it that far. But I think that set me apart from the team, but also, I was openly gay. I definitely think that intimidated people. I think it could’ve made them potentially insecure. I am someone who will stand up against, or for people, but against injustice. That pissed a lot of people off. 

What’s one thing about nonbinary people you would like people to know?

There’s no right way to be nonbinary. I feel like every nonbinary person’s experience is different. I see some people who are more openly nonbinary than others. I have my unique flair to it. I dress in all black, all the time, and my outfits are non-traditionally American fashion. For me, being nonbinary is me saying, “I’m not going to subscribe to traditional masculine gender norms, and I’m gonna wear whatever I want.” I don’t really care what other people think. That’s a rebellious take on it, but that’s how I identify with being nonbinary.

Who are your fashion inspirations?

I don’t know if I have a particular fashion inspiration. I listen to fashion influencers. ALOK, I don’t know if you’ve heard of them. They’re on Instagram. They’re a comedian, influencer and author.  They are very inspiring. I’ve listened to their podcasts and interviews. I have really found peace and a willingness to experiment with being nonbinary, because of them.

What is your queer super power?

I think I am willing to be disliked, and I think I’m willing to stand up in situations where most people would not. That’s why I want to do criminal justice. I have a complicated relationship with that, because I’ve had situations where I’ve been let down by police, and I don’t necessarily think that justice is done often. But I feel like me being there could maybe help people. I feel like if I could do that, if I’m just one person, I could try my best to bring justice to people.

Since you are a criminal justice major, I have to ask: Are you a true crime fan? If so, what are you watching right now?

Yes! I grew up watching Dateline, but it’s kind of funny. There’s a detective in Florida named Rhonda Shroup, and she did a case in 2011. It was a major crimes homicide case, and I guess she inspired me to pursue that. It was the Summerfield Six in 2011, involving the murder of Seth Jackson. Her interviews with Kyle Hooper and Amber Wright, they’re grim, but I think she’s kind of iconic in those.

What do you do for fun?

I like to go out. I like to dress up. This year, I’ve especially found peace in the gay community. I feel like this year was very difficult, because I was on the outside looking in on my team, very isolated and rejected. So I had to find community somewhere, and I heavily relied on the gay community. I would go to bars and be around people similar to me, and was able to make very real and genuine friendships with people who are gay. That helped me get through my time at Tennessee.

I also like to garden, take care of plants. One day—this is really gay!—I really want to grow poisonous plants and have carnivorous plants, too. I want to move to Oregon, and have pet banana slugs and frogs. That would be pretty cool! Really niche stuff, I really love.

Hmmm… poisonous plants to poison bad dates, or something?

[Laughs] yes, yes!

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