I started to realize around the age of 19 that I like women. I was on surf camp with a few friends and each night we had a party. I tried something with boys, and yes it was fun, but when something did happen with a boy one night, I didn’t like him anymore the next day. Afterwards, I realised it didn’t feel right, which was a turning point for me.
Shortly after, I had a chat with my mother in the car. She was asking about my love life, you surely know how it’s like. Suddenly I asked her hypothetically “What if I like girls…” Her reaction was super positive, which of course made me really happy. So on one side I experienced that boys weren’t that interesting to me and on the other side I had the approval of my parents. From then on, I decided to just see what comes.
Eventually I only knew around the age of 20-21 that I like women. This might be late, but I doubted for a very long time and was in complete denial. Once I knew, I also found it very difficult to tell my team. Actually, someone of my previous team discovered it. She saw me with a girl on a party. The contact between two women who are in love, is totally different than two friends, so she was immediately on to us.
My ex-girlfriend and I played in the same team so we eventually had to tell. We wanted our teammates to know, but I couldn’t tell them myself. I don’t know why, maybe because I was already confronted with negative reactions, which made me scared back then? That’s why a teammate told our team for us. It happened very suddenly and only in a few words: “Guys, I have to say something: they’re together.” Bam. Everyone started staring, but immediately it was clear that they weren’t that surprised. Afterwards, I am very glad it happened like this. Because it’s good to be clear about it.
In my team, we were the only two lesbian girls. Also now, in my new team, I am probably the only girl who likes other women. Even in our whole league, I know only two or three others, which is very little. I think there are way less lesbians than in soccer*, or at least you see them less frequently. Sometimes you notice because of the gestures, but looks play a big part: volleyball is a more feminine sport. You have shorts and female outfits, while soccer is more lose and chill. It’s not that in the volleyball world LGB’s get treated differently, but it’s just less familiar. Or maybe it’s more accepted in soccer? There’s also that stereotype image of lesbian women: “Oh she plays soccer, she’ll be a lesbian.” Or “Oh, she has short hair, it doesn’t surprise me.” I think it’s really sad.
Anyway, I don’t have any troubles in my team. I am open about it and make jokes about it. At least now, not in the past, because it wasn’t easy back then. But I tried to tell my current team as soon as possible. Otherwise it would start to become awkward, because I find it important that I can take my girlfriend along. I don’t want to be scared to take my girlfriend to the sport that I love. My teammates were all open about it, and also like to joke about it. They know they’re allowed to and that I don’t mind. In the beginning you scan the situation of course. Because in a new team you need to get to know your teammates again, so it’s an obstacle you have to tackle.
We wanted our teammates to know, but I couldn’t tell them myself. I don’t know why, maybe because I was already confronted with negative reactions, which made me scared back then?
My coach doesn’t mind either, for he sometimes asks how my girlfriend is, but he never judges. This was also the case with my previous coach. We were a couple in his team, but he never made any problem of it. Fortunately! Because I can imagine it’s not that evident. There are others who have a very specific opinion about this.
I personally think it’s easier to come out in a team sport. In a team you’re surrounded with teammates and I think their image about gays is really okay and they’re not so negative about it. In a team you know things about each other, you talk with each other about anything. I also find it logic that you talk to each other about your love life. When you’re doing an individual sport, it seems way more difficult to me, because you never know how people will react.
There still are many people who are negative against gays, which I also experienced myself. For example, the parents of my ex-girlfriend weren’t ok with it at all, which was also the reason why it didn’t work out. Although, everything seemed fine first, because they knew me as one of the volleyball team. In their eyes, I was a nice girl, until they knew I was dating their daughter… suddenly I was the evil one who convinced their daughter. I wasn’t allowed to come in their home for over a year. But I’ve experienced also negative reactions of total strangers. Like a drunken girl who called me dirty lesbian or people who stared at me while walking down the street, this really gives me a bad feeling.
Compared to a while ago, the general mind-set is way better now, but not yet what it should be. That’s very frustrating. In my team it’s all good, but I still fear to out myself to someone I don’t know. You don’t know that person and you don’t know how they think. Besides all the positive experiences, it’s mainly the negative you remember and that make you keep feeling scared to tell.
I personally think it’s easier to come out in a team sport. In a team you’re surrounded with teammates and I think their image about gays is really okay and they’re not so negative about it.
In my team I never had an example. I was the first and the only one. Outside volleyball, I had a good friend who was very open about him liking guys. He wasn’t ashamed and just was himself. I really liked that and I think he’s a person to whom I looked up to back then.
Besides this, I had to figure it all out myself. If someone should have had the courage to ask about my sexuality, I would have spoken about it. I wouldn’t have denied it at the age of 19. I kept silent about it at first: when I was 18, someone asked me “Sielke, why is it that you didn’t have a boyfriend yet?” I shrugged, but felt that the next question was coming: “do you like girls, then?” I denied completely, but it was just because of the way it was asked. That’s definitely not the way, for sure.
If someone in my team struggled with her sexuality, I think I wouldn’t push her too much, otherwise you might get the reversed effect that she completely shuts herself off from the outside. It’s better to just ask some subtle things: “How’s it going? Do you fancy someone for the moment? Does it work out?” I think the person will feel more at ease. Maybe I’d try to share the recognition, because I also experienced a period of doubt. Together we could find an answer to it.
At this moment, others reactions don’t bother me anymore. Before, they did, I really feared the reactions. Once I got the reaction of a teammate: “Oh fortunately, there are separate showers here!”. She meant it as a joke, but still I remember. I don’t think you’d say that if you don’t mean it, even if it’s just a little. I was just out of the closet and those aren’t the things you want to hear at that moment. In the beginning it was really hard to laugh with such jokes. But you learn to live with it and after a while you just join the laughter. When time goes by, you learn to put things in perspective: I know, everybody knows, and it’s okay.
*Editors note: women’s soccer