I was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, an organization whose core beliefs fall back on marriage being between a man and a woman and thinks being a little homo is “just not it.”
This was seared into my frontal lobe from the moment I was born in Lindon, Utah, until the moment I left the organization around my 18th birthday. Because I had this background and this was all I ever knew, when I realized I was gay, it was a horrible sick feeling inside and I wanted nothing to do with it.
Me being a lesbian meant that I would be going against everything I had ever been taught, which meant a mental battle of self-acceptance I had to overcome.
I would be going against my parents, friends, family, teammates and schoolmates, and it meant that there was a lot of room for disagreement, which meant a lack of support.
It didn’t matter if I was a really good person, a great athlete or found the cure to cancer. If I was known for being gay, the people around me would not agree, nor understand or accept my sexuality. This also meant I lacked the resources and things someone might need to cope with the stressors and trials I was about to be put through.
Regardless of what others thought, I wanted to stay true to who I was and let everyone know that this was who I was.
I made a bold move to come out at 13 to my best friend. It turned out I was right about how people would react — poorly and aggressively, not understanding any of it.
My friend told the whole school two minutes after I informed her. From that moment until my very last day of high school, I was harassed and bullied by the peers in my school. There was a point in time where for a two-week period I received calls every night encouraging me to end my life.
At school I was hated, harassed and emotionally abused. In other words, I was severely bullied. At home I felt as if I could not talk about what was going on in school because my parent’s views on the matter were similar to the kids in school. Which was, “being gay is a big fat no-no.”
If I confided in them, they would have reacted poorly. They could have potentially sent me to attend more church, taken me out of school or sent me to conversion therapy.
By telling them, it could have resulted in more negativity, which I could not handle at the time because of what was going on at school. For the sake of my mental health, I decided to hide everything and carry on as if I was fine, happy and straight. This only lasted for a little before it all began to become too much.
With no support at school, no support at home and no one to talk to, I had to keep all of the bullying, self-confusion, hurt and pain inside. I was isolated from everything and every person.
I was completely alone and had no one I felt safe enough with to open up to without them hurting me more.
This isolation led me to the worst place I could be — in the emergency room, unresponsive to the doctors around me, fighting and figuring out how to save my life, the life I did not want to live.
I had every intention of ending my journey the evening I attempted suicide. However, I failed and I couldn’t be happier that the doctors saved my life.
Three and a half years later I was a freshman at the University of Utah. I feared coming out to my teammates because of everything that I had experienced prior to college. I hesitated opening up to others for fear similar things would reoccur.
However, hiding who I was became more painful than any words and judgments could ever be in my mind. So I confided in my best friend who is also my teammate and she told me to be my happy gay self and live my life regardless of what others thought and she would love and support me through it all.
I came out to my team and they said the exact same things. This was the first time I felt like people loved me for who I really was and they wanted me to express myself and be the raw me, not a cover version of it.
With this, everyone at the university was on board and helped give me the courage and support to come out to my parents who did not yet know. When I came out to my parents our relationship fell apart from my freshman year until my junior year.
During that time, my teammates, friends, coaches and sport got me through it all. The amount of love, support and encouragement to be myself was incredible.
My career took off, resulting in breaking school and Pac-12 conference records as the goalie on the soccer team, and my relationships and friendships flourished and I did better in school.
Now, entering my senior year, my parents finally came to a realization that me being gay was nothing to them and they valued their relationship with their daughter more than they valued their beliefs against it.
We now have an incredibly strong relationship, stronger than the one we had before this all happened.
I am now a much happier, healthier and more successful version of myself after coming out.
I think it is important to keep in mind is that with time everything will change. My advice to anyone going through this would be to just realize things may be a certain way now but that doesn’t mean they will be this way forever.
Things will absolutely get better even though you can’t see it. Just keep being who you were meant to be and cut any negative stimuli out of your life that is not fully on board with that.
Carly Nelson, 21, will be graduating early from the University of Utah in December 2019. She is a Positive Psychology major and aspires to play in the NWSL after she graduates. She is also writing a book about growing up gay and Mormon, which explains the psychological effects that come with growing up in a suppressed environment. She can be reached through email at [email protected] on Instagram @carly_nelson.
Photos by Hanah Alfred and Bill Ryker.
Story editor: Jim Buzinski
If you are an out LGBTQ person in sports and want to tell your story, email Jim ([email protected]).