For about ten years on, badminton was my main priority and that was a fantastic period in my life. I won the Belgian championship eight times on a row. Being the best in the country for eight years long is something I am secretly very proud of! I also won a bronze medal at the European Championship for minus 17-year-olds in 2011 and participated in the European Games in Baku (2015) and in Minsk (2019). Together with my badminton partner Lise, I am currently ranked first in women’s double in Belgium.
For me, my coming-out gave me mixed feelings. I didn’t feel that homosexuality was taboo in top sport, but that just made it more difficult. I didn’t want to be the next in line and didn’t want to be judged on this. That’s why I waited for a long time to come out of the closet. Unconsciously I had been working on it when I was 16, but I blocked those thoughts because I didn’t want to and didn’t dare.
“For me, my coming-out gave me mixed feelings. I didn’t feel that homosexuality was taboo in top sport, but that just made it more difficult. I didn’t want to be the next in line and didn’t want to be judged on this.”
When I was 22 years old, I first told my badminton partner. She already outed herself as a lesbian, so the step to tell her was much smaller. Later on, I informed the rest of the club as well. The people I was less close with just discovered it on my Instagram account. So now I’m completely out within my sports team. In the end, everyone reacted super well and nobody was really surprised. At that moment I wondered why I hadn’t done it sooner. I never had any really negative reactions, apart from a few remarks that were not meant to be mean and were made with humour.
But even in 2020, I’m still sometimes ‘afraid’ of some reactions. I am quite open about my relationship on Instagram. When I get to know new people and they start following my account, I imagine their reaction when they go through my pictures and discover that I have a girlfriend. Coming-out as an athlete never seems easy to me. In individual sports you can be lonely when you don’t have anyone in your training group to talk about it. On the other hand, within team sports it’s more likely that not everyone will handle it well.
After all, there will always be haters. A badminton couple from Denmark that won Olympic silver together in women’s doubles waited for a long time to come out because of that reason. All European players knew that they were a couple off the field as well. But not the Asian players and their fans because badminton is very big in Asia. When they came out eventually everyone was very positive and supportive. In badminton there are several athletes out of the closet, so I am very grateful that it is so accepted in our sports world. It’s so important that everyone can just be themselves.
“Even in 2020, I’m still sometimes ‘afraid’ of some reactions. I am quite open about my relationship on Instagram. When I get to know new people and they start following my account, I imagine their reaction when they go through my pictures and discover that I have a girlfriend. Coming-out as an athlete never seems easy to me.”
I have the feeling that more and more athletes dare to come out and are proud of who they are. There is still a lot of work to be done, but I think it’s getting better. Certainly in Belgium, we are on the right track. But of course there is always room for improvement and in the sports environment it can even improve a lot. Especially with male athletes. I think it’s much more difficult for a man to come out as gay or bisexual in the world of top sports than it is for a woman.
And for young athletes it is so important to be able to look up to someone. For me it was rather unconscious as I only came out when I was 22, but afterwards I understood why I looked up to certain players even more!
To young LGBTQI athletes I would like to say that they should be themselves and not be afraid of what others think about them. I am so much happier now that I can be who I really am. Unfortunately, not everyone can like you, or agree with your choices, but if you are happy, everyone who really likes you will support you, no matter what!
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