By: Mary Craig
When I was 16 I experienced two milestones in my life. The first was being part of a team that won a Women’s Soccer Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations championship title. The second was coming out as gay. Both of these had a major impact on my life at the time, and still influence my life today.
In life people always look to categorize themselves and others, and this tends to make people believe that we can only belong to one “box” or the other. For me, being a soccer player and being gay are not two separate parts of me, but both part of my identity as a whole.
I personally had a very positive and accepting coming out experience, which I am very lucky and grateful to have had. My family and friends showed me unconditional love and support at the time, and I was never excluded or ostracized for being gay during my high school years of playing sports.
However, when it was time for me to attend McMaster to play soccer at the university level, I was still afraid my teammates, coaches and school would not be as accepting of me being an openly gay athlete.
When you move away from home to attend university, there are a number of obstacles all students face. There is the challenge of getting used to the newness of living on your own in addition to adapting to a new academic level. Plus you’re trying to make new friends, take care of yourself, keep in touch with family and try to stay active, all of which is far from easy.
As a student-athlete I had to keep all of those things in mind while also learning how to balance them with training, workouts and film sessions. On top of all of this, I was feared that me being a lesbian would not fit into my new environment. I knew that being myself was something that could be seen as different from the “norm” and that feeling terrified me.
When you are in high school you recognize or know everyone around you. In university, every day you see and meet new faces from different walks of life. This could either mean you encounter more people who are open-minded, or unfortunately meet those people who are closed-minded. I feared the latter. Like many others, I was scared to come to university because I didn’t know how much of myself I had to be in order to be accepted.
Would my team be awkward around me? Would they make me feel uncomfortable for being a lesbian? It may seem absurd to some to think like this in this day and age, but these were the thoughts running through my mind.
Luckily for me when I came to Mac, I found out I had no reason to be terrified. McMaster University, especially McMaster Athletics could not have been more welcoming.
My teammates, coaches and other student-athletes displayed acceptance and inclusion in every aspect. By choosing to use inclusive language and the support they constantly give me, or seeing rainbow stickers on doors that signify safe spaces around campus and Ron Joyce Stadium all help make me feel more welcome.
The David Braley Athletic Centre doubles as a second home for me at times, and the facility itself is somewhere I feel comfortable being myself and expressing my sexuality. The facility establishes a statement of dignity and inclusion that aims to create a safe space and value all human differences. These statements may not mean much to most, but this is something that I genuinely feel as a student-athlete at McMaster University.
I am grateful to have former teammates who paved the way for gay soccer players like myself and played a huge role in helping me feel more comfortable in who I am. This as well as the clubs and events on campus that make being queer visible, and celebrate the differences among us as students are so amazing to have.
Today I proudly rep both Mac pride and Marauder pride. I haven’t always been proud to be gay, but it is something that I have learned to become over time. I know not everyone has the opportunity to attend or play the sport they love at an institution that makes them feel included, and for that I will never take my time attending McMaster for granted.