Pride Month: A Story of Two Identities

by Olivia Ruth, Centre College Student-Athlete

There are a lot of spaces where queerness is not talked about. There are a lot of people that do not want queerness to be talked about because it challenges the way people think about the world. So, what do you do when it’s a part of you? Something you can't get rid of, and something you cannot talk about. It's something I've wanted to talk about for so long, but it's scary to bring up queerness, because a lot of the time when it is brought up, ignorance and hate leads to words that cut deep and scars you cannot get rid of. I’ve been carrying my queerness with me since I realized I was a lesbian in 7th grade. I’ve always had to hold my two identities in separate hands. I could be gay online, in the art studio, or with a pretty girl –  but I never felt safe being gay on the field. 


The thing about being in the closet is you hear what straight people wouldn’t say in front of a gay person. The queerness I carry doesn't let me forget these words. My queerness kept getting heavier and heavier, filled with every ignorant comment that was ever made to me until it got too heavy for me to carry alone.


I started playing field hockey the summer before my freshman year. My high school team was a bit of a mess, the program only being one year old when I joined. I learned about field hockey through an anyone-can-play, grab-a-stick-and-get-running program. My coaches believed in me, and I got far because of it.


What I hadn’t realized was that field hockey in the United States was historically not an inclusive sport. Despite this, I fit in the club scene well enough, and I was hungry for hockey knowledge and new skills. I got a job to help pay for my tournaments after I told my coach I couldn’t afford to go. I was shocked when I learned I was the only one on our team helping pay for my tournaments.


I was so excited to have the opportunity to continue playing field hockey until I realized it would interfere with the promise I made to my middle school self that, that I would be my authentic self in college. I didn’t want to let her down, even if it meant putting down my stick.


I was incredibly nervous about college and college field hockey; the daunting run test, the hyper-straight media presence of most of the girls, and the fact I was moving across the country. It was all overwhelming. I had a stress rash for a month leading up to college and for my first two months there.


I had come from a team of gay girlies, misfits, future rugby stars, and absolute beginners; and I arrived in Kentucky to a team of mostly private school girls that had been playing together since middle school. I didn’t know what I had got myself into. I was so excited to hear about everyone’s high school field hockey experience going in, but quickly realized that they all knew each other's stories and didn’t care to ask about mine.


The first time anyone on the field hockey team mentioned anything related to being gay we were sitting outside our dining hall, and we got to talking about kissing girls. Several girls said they would kiss their friends only when they were drunk, while several girls said that kissing girls was weird and they would never do it. I advocated for kissing girls, as much as I could be without coming off as too gay, and one teammate looked at me and whispered, “You’re gay, right?” She was the first girl who wanted to talk about it. My first ally in Kentucky, and my first friend.


Pre-season was scary for me – I was constantly worrying that if these girls knew they wouldn’t want me in the locker room, and on the field I was convincing myself the other girls purposefully weren’t passing to me. I remember thinking to myself, “is another four years in the closet worth being on this team?”


I broke down and came out to a few juniors who I knew were allies and asked if there was anyone else. They said there was but she never talked about it. I learned that I could be gay and play field hockey – I just had to keep them separate. As season moved forward, I found gay girls in my classes and in the art building, and I found other allies on the team. I was grounded by my one friend on the team through our shared difficulties and culture shock.


For my entire first semester, an incredible faculty member that knew I was struggling scheduled weekly meetings with me. I remember her asking me if I even liked field hockey. I didn’t know what to say. I thought I loved field hockey. I loved field hockey enough to move to Kentucky.


I made it to the last month of the season, but the last travel weekend I couldn’t do it. I was having panic attacks and stress dreams, the rash was back, and I was so tired of constantly worrying about what the other girls thought of me. I was done hiding in the closet to please people that had never considered me. I asked my coach if I could take a break because I didn’t know if I could stay at this school or on this team. I tried to just come home but my mom refused. She got me back on the field by saying “Don’t let them take this from you.”


Going into the spring season we got a new coach. I had a new start and went in with a new mindset. I reminded myself that I love field hockey and no one can take that from me. I found that love again and I let it carry me. I remembered that all these girls needed to be were my teammates. By this point, I had made other friends, gay friends that I love.


My sophomore season was ten times better. I realized that if anyone had anything to say about me being a lesbian, they knew better than to let me hear. One thing I’ve always been known for is a hard hit and the ability to use it. 


I kept my mindset strong, and I had a great season. I remembered that I love field hockey because I love shamelessly trying hard at something. I love the feeling of getting a block tackle on someone undeniably better than you, or getting that perfect hit off – the one where it hits the boards with a beautiful thump. I love passing the ball down the field faster than anyone can even think about defending you. I love getting that perfect jab in right as they were about to hit the ball. I love field hockey and they cannot take that from me. It is such a privilege to play field hockey, especially in college! I let my love and gratitude carry me. I told the freshmen I was gay within a week just in case any of them needed to know they weren’t alone. I had a fantastic semester. But I kept my identities as an athlete and a queer person separate. I wasn’t silent anymore, but I wouldn’t talk about field hockey with my gay friends, and I wouldn’t talk about queerness with my field hockey teammates.


In the off-season, our coach sent out a survey. One of the questions said, “Is our team an inclusive place?”


No. No, it’s not.


I’ve struggled to feel included, by being from out of state and also feeling like I would have to be in the closet for three more years if I wanted to stay on the team. I responded and said that inclusivity is not the default and that we do very little to actively promote inclusivity, and that I had not always felt safe on the team. I found out that several other teammates had answered that question, “yes, but sometimes homophobic comments are made.” I thought this was infuriating – there is no “yes, but” option when it comes to inclusivity. Inclusivity to me means that there are no buts.


From this survey, we as a team had meetings focusing on inclusivity all through the spring. In the third meeting my coach asked, “How can we work to make our team a more inclusive place for people with different identities?”


I thought to myself yes, we finally get to talk about gay people! I was so excited to hear my teammates thoughts on this, but I soon realized that I was going to have to be the one to speak up. I took a deep breath and thought about how sometimes you have to be your own hero. I talked about heteronormativity, and about possibly decentralizing men in our conversations. I shared my experience of feeling excluded due to my queerness.


This past semester was hard for me. My queerness, all the scars I carry with me – it became too much for me. Anxiety and depression ruled my life. With Senate Bill 150 (an anti-trans bill passed in Kentucky this spring), and a queer club shooting in my hometown, I realized how much I get a pass. I can sit on a fraternity porch, and they’ll tolerate my gayness because I can present as a cis woman. Transgender people and visibly queer people, they don’t get this privilege. They get slurs hurled at them, and they live with the fear of violence every day.


I decided I would use my carefully curated Instagram to say something. I went on an Instagram rampage, spent five hours in my notes app and on Canva, curating a consumable message, and I posted. I asked the team to repost one of my graphics saying, “I support queer athletes”. I asked them all to tell me and their Instagram followers that they are not homophobic. Every member of my team reposted, along with a lot of other people. I was overwhelmed by the response and reach of my post.


The culture shift on the field hockey team has been one of the most meaningful and hopeful things I have ever been a part of. It gives me an endless supply of hope for change, growth and empathy. I am so glad that those scary girls are not just my teammates anymore, but also my friends.



All the pain that homophobia has caused me fuels a rage so deep within me I sometimes feel like I could catch on fire. The comments that cut my skin are only a fraction of the ignorant comments I hear every day. Hate-fueled violence happens every day, and there are even state-sanctioned laws against transgender people. There are astonishing rates of queer youth homelessness and suicide.


Silence is violence – I know that now. I make room for other queer athletes by being a loud gay athlete because I have the privilege to do so. I do my best to watch my mouth, listen to people’s experiences that are different than mine, empathize with everyone, and do my best to fight for others' consideration.


Some might think that their jokes don’t do any harm, but I remember every mildly homophobic thing that has been said to me. Words cut deep, even words that I’m not in the room to hear. These words leave scars. Scars that tell me my existence is wrong and weird and gross, scars that tell me that I don’t deserve love or that I will never find love. Scars that I am in therapy to heal. Scars that kept me in the closet for too long. So please, watch your mouth.


Coaches, captains and anyone that feels they have the authority, be the first to mention gay people. Tell your team that you do not tolerate hate. Tell them that you will fight for them. Tell them that you are an ally.


If we as a community really want to grow the game, we are going to have to find a way to make room for more than just identities that fit within the hegemonic norm.