By Israel Gutierrez
I’ve been agonizing for months trying to figure out how to do this.
It’s been incredibly difficult, to the point where I usually talk myself in circles and end up making very little sense.
So I decided on this simple blog entry. No formalities, no restrictions, just me letting you into a portion of my life I’ve kept largely separate from my professional career.
I’m gay, which plenty of people, I’m sure, have either deduced or just guessed as much over the years.
But this isn’t me “coming out.” The truth is, I’ve been out to friends and family for more than six years.
The reason I’m tackling this now is, primarily, because I’m getting married on September 12. And besides the fact that it would be annoying to tell my story every time someone sees my wedding ring, it just seemed like a natural time to get this out in the open.
I don’t want to get into anything overly serious, because this doesn’t feel like the right time to preach. And normally, those conversations make me defensive, which could turn readers defensive, and it’s just not where I want to go with this.
More than anything, I just want to tell my story. It’s probably going to feel like too much information to some of you. But it’s the best way I know to explain what life can be like for conflicted, confused gay men and women everywhere, so I appreciate you putting up with me.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always enjoyed sports, enjoyed competition. But there was always, especially in my teenage years, a confidence barrier I could never break through. I couldn’t really explain it then. I mean, I probably knew deep down that it was because I was gay, and for some reason that made me feel I wasn’t on the same playing field, almost literally, as straight men. But I was already in deep denial about my sexuality, so acknowledging that would’ve probably broken me back then.
It’s probably no accident that I ballooned in weight during my teenage years because, frankly, not many girls want to date the big kid, so all the peer pressure to date girls was essentially a non-factor.
I dated some, over the years, but it never got past a few dates. Looking back, it was odd that I made the conscious decision not to get seriously involved with the very few women I dated, because I didn’t want them to get hurt or even allow them to waste their time with me. And yet, whenever I even came close to accepting myself as being gay, something else would reignite my denial.
At some point, beginning in my mid-20s, I found myself repeating a troubling cycle. I’d gather up just enough confidence to visit a gay establishment (and when I say “gather up the confidence” it meant only doing so when I’m out of my home state, and only after circling around the place several times, drawing up the courage to walk inside).
Every time, I’d end up unhappier when I left.
I don’t fit in. This isn’t me. Nobody in this place knows what I’m going through.
That’s what I told myself. And every time, I’d leave more certain than ever that I was just confused. Fixable, if you will.
Starting in my early teens until somewhere in my late 20s, I’d blow out my birthday candles with the same wish: “Please don’t let me be gay.”
Every time I prayed, I made sure to ask God to help me through this. To help reveal my true self.
As I got older and, of course, had to continue the social dance of dating women, not just to maintain some sort of façade (besides the dating women part, I tried to remain as genuine as possible because I’ve always had amazing friends and a great family and always wanted to be as true to them as I could), but also to continue this hopeless attempt to “fight off the gay.”
I remember always trying to chase the best looking women, because I’d likely get turned down. But hey, I tried, right?
I thought I was crazy. I mean, no other areas in my life were really suffering – at least not where I could notice. But, seriously, who does that?
Well, a lot more people than I was aware of.
It wasn’t until 2010, a year after I’d met my now fiancé, David Kitchen, and was out to my friends and family, that I read an amazing Sports Illustrated story about Gareth Thomas http://www.si.com/vault/2010/05/03/105932477/gareth-thomas–the-only-openly-gay-male-athlete , a Welsh rugby player who’d recently come out and went through so many of the same experiences I did.
Mine weren’t as extreme as Thomas’, who spoke of scrubbing his thighs so violently after a gay experience that he’d make himself bleed out of guilt. He was a national sports icon in his country. His denial was so strong he married a woman, which unfortunately is a far more common an act than you’d think, and has spoken about how heartbreaking it was to tell his wife and eventually divorce her.
Thomas’ story was so compelling, and had so many similar notes to my own, it made me wonder how many young men and women are still having to go through this same existence. Hiding yourself from yourself.
I don’t know how much my self-hatred would’ve spread, or the damage it could’ve done, had it not been for a chance meeting on May 31, 2009.
At this point, I was 31 years old and wanted to stop lying to myself. Yet I was still only building up the confidence to visit gay establishments while away from home. And those visits were still few and far between.
That particular day, I was in Phoenix, and I met David.
Not only had I long ago convinced myself that there was no one out there for me, but I was still so ashamed of being gay, I could barely say it out loud – even when I was speaking with another gay person.
But in one 24-hour span that began with that introduction to David, it all changed.
Not only was there, possibly, someone out there for me, but I had been making life so unnecessarily difficult on myself.
I was so concerned about fitting what other people thought I should be, I was literally wasting an entire segment of my life.
I still remember the moment the revelation swept over me. I had been so dumb.
Here I was, surrounded daily by the most amazing family a person could ask for, and the most amazing, supportive friends anyone could ask for, and I was worried that I couldn’t tell them this?
Within two weeks, I’d come out to my sisters, then the rest of my family. Shortly after that, to my friends.
They were my outlet, my strength and my allies the whole time. And I was so caught up in my own head, worried about being judged, that I shut them out.
Fortunately, I’ve always managed to compartmentalize, and I believe my internal conversations were enough to not spread negativity into other portions of my life.
In a sense, all the prayer worked because I eventually saw my true self, and I’ve never been happier.
The feeling I get, and I’m sure so many other gays get, when you hear or read people say being gay is a choice, or a sin, is so infuriating, because we literally have no recourse (It’s so frustrating, I’m literally crying right now. Can’t help it.).
The only way to truly understand is to live in our shoes, which is impossible. Short of that, sharing our experiences is the best way to potentially break through and help people understand.
So to finish off my personal story, David moved from Phoenix to South Florida in September 2009. We have two dogs, were engaged in February 2014, and despite never, ever envisioning myself having a wedding of any kind, will have a very traditional wedding very shortly.
We decided to go the traditional route so we can celebrate with as many of the amazing people who’ve supported us and loved us over the years.
I really want to emphasize that I’ve never intentionally misrepresented myself. I’m the same person today that I’ve been the entire time, so if you’ve been a fan, hopefully you’ll still appreciate my work, and if you’ve disliked me from the start, I can’t get mad at that.
There are still plenty of moments when I feel like I have to hide myself.
For example, I’ve gone to the same barber for 15 years. I love going to the shop, having great conversations with everyone in the room. But it’s also a devoutly Christian core of people that I speak with. Their dedication to the church is exemplary, and it’s possible I’ve heard some comments about homosexuality that I vehemently disagree with. But I hold back because I know these are great people with good hearts and are merely echoing what they’ve been taught.
Then there are moments when I’m so angry, I temporarily lose faith in people. Like when my partner went to a bar in Key Largo with a couple of good friends and was told, “get out of here, faggot,” by another patron.
It’s a reminder like that one that make holding my partner’s hand in public absolutely frightening for me. Still. But I will get past that. And this will help.
I want to thank a handful of people who probably will never see this, but these people are my heroes, and I’m certain are heroes to so many others.
There’s Gareth Thomas, the Welsh rugby player I referenced earlier, Martina Navratilova, Greg Louganis, Billy Bean, John Amaechi, Wade Davis, Robbie Rogers, Jason Collins, Michael Sam, Derrick Gordon, Abby Wambach and Megan Rapinoe.
There are so many other influential and amazing people that I’m skipping, but that particular group of people I just listed have been so important to me, even though I only have actually met a few of them.
They’ve showed such courage – the type of courage it took me forever to find – and they’re such amazing role models.
I also want to thank so many of my friends and co-workers, particularly those that helped guide me throughout portions of these last few years, including Dan LeBatard, Kevin Arnovitz, Tim Reynolds, Jorge Sedano, Ethan Skolnick and Jemele Hill. Anyone who I might be omitting, you know who you are. Just know you’ve all been tremendously influential.
I’m confident that now that this is out in the open, I can deliver an even better version of my professional self.
Happiness tends to bring out the best in a person. And I’m so happy right now.