I stood in a fitting room at my local running store, completely oblivious to the fact that a pair of shorts were about to change my life.
It was 2016, and I wasn’t much of a shorts person. Fully dedicated to following every rule in my version of conservative Catholicism, I believed it was my responsibility to keep as much of my body covered as possible so as not to “tempt the men.”
But it was also my first spring in North Carolina, and I was running quite a bit- a literal and metaphorical escape from my first-year PhD coursework. I owned one pair of longer shorts that I ran in only when I felt I absolutely had to. I had done more than one 9+ mile run in 80 degree weather while wearing cotton sweatpants, and was sort of wondering if I could get away with that all summer.
If you have ever spent 3 seconds in North Carolina between the months of April and October, you know that this idea was, to put it mildly, bad. And yet a completely unironic voice in the back of my head kept pointing out: “You know what’s hotter? HELL.”
That day in the fitting room, some sort of a switch flipped. Yes, the shorts I was trying on were shorter than anything I’d ever worn before, but they were also light, cool, and a very loud shade of pink. And they somehow had 5 pockets. And they were on sale. And...I was going to buy them.
I stepped out of the fitting room, trying to act like increasing the size of my running shorts collection by 100% was something I did all the time, while being sort of convinced someone was about to yell at me: “You can’t buy those!!! You can’t let the world see your Very Sinful Quads!!!” Instead, my friend pointed at my new purchase and said “Oh, they’re from Oiselle! Great pick.”
Walking out of the store with those shorts was the first time I can remember consciously placing my own needs above what I thought my religion wanted of me.
Walking out of the store with those shorts was the first time I can remember consciously placing my own needs above what I thought my religion wanted of me. It opened the door to even bolder moves.
And bolder moves were about to become necessary.
Plot twist: I’m not particularly straight.
I spent my high school years completely uninterested in dating; when I bothered to think about why, it was only to secretly wonder what was wrong with me.
But it all clicked one lovely evening in 2011 during my first semester of college, when I spotted two women smiling as they walked across campus holding hands. It seems a little unbelievable now, but I had never seen a lesbian couple before, ever--not even in a movie or on TV, and certainly not in real life. My reaction was instant, undeniable, and terrifying: “Wait. That’s an OPTION?! Where do I sign up?!”
I quickly decided the only rational response was to smush those feelings aside, never admit them to anyone, and try to not think about them ever again. After all, my religion told me dating someone of the same sex was a serious sin. (Probably more serious than showing off my Very Sinful Quads, and I was still years away from getting over that one.) Why bother admitting I wanted something I could never have?
Fast forward a confusing, eventful, heart-breaking, and did I mention confusing 9 years. As of mid-2020, I had left religion entirely, disclosed my lack of straight-ness to a handful of friends, and had some important conversations with a therapist. I had even gone as far as coming out to hundreds of total strangers in a post on the Oiselle Volée app. I knew it was a safe space where I could start sharing this important part of me to a wider group of people. I was nervous, but I had no reason to be; the reaction was, of course, positive and welcoming across the board.
The idea of continuing to be an outsider looking in on the life I wanted was more stifling than the prospect of a North Carolina summer running in sweatpants.
A few months after that, I knew it was time to expand the circle even further. I was tired of making careful and unnecessary excuses about why I felt more like myself giving conference talks in bowties instead of dresses, or making sure I didn’t accidentally let slip that I find women attractive. The idea of continuing to be an outsider looking in on the life I wanted was more stifling than the prospect of a North Carolina summer running in sweatpants.
There was, of course, the tiny wrinkle that I had no idea what to tell people. Was I bisexual, or a lesbian? What pronouns should I put in my bio? I felt ridiculous for not knowing, but I tried--and am still trying--to cut myself some slack. I chose to describe myself with the umbrella term “queer,” which felt exactly right.
While I still sometimes feel like I should rush my way into getting more specific, there’s no reason I have to, and especially not right away. Human emotions and desires aren’t simple under the best of circumstances; toss in the fact I had spent almost a decade trying desperately to avoid thinking about mine, and it makes sense that I shouldn’t suddenly, magically know exactly who I am.
To me, coming out as queer wasn’t a statement that I had every single answer about my gender and sexuality. It was a bold declaration that I was finally ready to ask every single question.
The LGBTQIA+ Volée group was a great place to start doing exactly that, especially in the midst of the fall pandemic surge, where meeting people in person wasn’t much of an option. Joining a group of queer runners was unbelievably valuable; reading others’ stories and sharing pieces of my own made me feel much less alone in an otherwise lonely time. Meeting other people (virtually, and hopefully soon in real life) on a similar path as me gives me the courage to continue being unabashedly myself.
I’m so incredibly thankful for what I found and continue to find in the sport of running: acceptance of my body, of my sexuality, of my journey. Fittingly enough, after a decade-long yet somehow whirlwind journey, I’ll be spending this summer out on the roads (pun intended), maybe wearing that same pair of pink toolbelt rogas from 2016--and maybe proudly sporting a crop top in all the other colors.