I’m Jesse Anderson. I’m from Asheville, North Carolina.
I’ve always been very active. I’ve loved playing soccer and I’ve played all my life. All through middle, high school – middle school, high school and college, I heard homophobic slurs. During middle school, we were in the locker room. It was after a game. One of my teammates came up to us – it was me and a couple of friends – in the locker room and he was referring to an incident where I missed a kick and it was a crucial point in the game.
He said, “You’re a fucking faggot for missing that.” That was – that hurt a lot. It wasn’t easy to take in, it wasn’t easy to deal with at the time. So after hearing it for fifteen or so years, I was done. I couldn’t handle it anymore. I ended up quitting and didn’t participate in any additional sports activities for the better part of four years.
When I went to college, I didn’t join any competitive teams because I still felt that I wouldn’t be accepted. So I ended up joining some intramural groups and it was still fun but it wasn’t as competitive as I would have liked it to be.
So four years later, I was hanging out with a friend. He was one of my first gay friends in Boston. We were sitting there chatting about things and playing video games.
He mentioned, “You should join this gay volleyball league.” I just remember thinking, is this going to be like fifteen years ago? Is this going to be – how is this going to make me feel? Will it be like the locker room incident? Will it be – I don’t know. It was very scary to me.
It took some convincing but he eventually had me go. We went. It was right down the street from where I lived at the time and we went together. We’re walking up the stairs and we set foot in the gym.
The first thing I hear is, “Bitch, you better hit that serve!” I was in shock. I didn’t know what to think but I felt like I actually belonged somewhere. I kept going back consistently. It was great to finally make more gay friends. I didn’t feel as uncomfortable with the issues I had previously because there’s people that are like me around me. It was nerve-wracking because you’re going up against really, really good people and I had no idea what I was doing half the time, but it was great to finally feel accepted on the court and off the court.
I started playing volleyball more competitively and I started going around the country, playing competitive volleyball and I realized that this was going to become something very important to me. So as a result of joining the league, I ended up – I felt renewed confidence. I felt like I had family in the league. It made me want to be honest with everybody around me. I ended up coming out to a lot of friends in the city of Boston at the time as well as my family. And I felt – I felt relieved. I felt like I finally was able to truly be myself, both around them and at volleyball.
I know that there’s more kids out there who’ve had my experience, especially in the South and not just in the South but everywhere, and I want them to know that it’s okay. You just have to find the right group and the right organization to participate in and you’ll find family.