The story of Ryan O'Callaghan is amazing. I connect with it so much because I grew up in Salinas, a cowboy town a couple of hours south of here where it felt like you weren't allowed to be anything BUT a super masculine, football playing, pick-up truck driving, meat-head. I was no good at sports, hated Boy Scouts and generally couldn't WAIT to get out of there as soon as possible. There was no place for a sensitive, theater-loving guy like me in my hometown. My mother thought I was gay, my father's friends all assumed I was once I relocated to the Bay "Your son moved to San Francisco? Is he gay?" were questions he got all the time. Even I questioned myself on occasion. Then I realized that I wasn't gay, I was more like "reasonably straight" whatever that means. I was just...ME.
If you're LGBTQ and having trouble coming out or having suicidal thoughts, let me tell you Ryan's story:
Born and raised in Redding, he decided in Junior High School that he could never let anyone know his deepest, darkest secret: he was gay. He was so hell-bent on hiding it that he did the most masculine thing he could think of: he buried himself in football and eventually starred at Cal and went pro.
"No one is going to assume the big football player is gay," he said. "It’s why a football team is such a good place to hide."
He also decided that as soon as football was over for him, he would end his own life. There was no way, in his world, that he could go on living as a gay man.
After a shoulder injury ended his career, his planned suicide became very real. He became addicted to pain-killers and started spending money like crazy while distancing himself from his family and friends. The team's head trainer noticed his behavioral changes and sent him to speak to the team psychologist. After months of counseling and endless conversations, he told her he was gay.
"Being gay wasn’t just a small detail in my life, it consumed it. It’s all I would think about. But now that I have come out it rarely crosses my mind. Yeah I’d go about my daily life in football, but thinking about hiding it and hoping no one finds out and being ready for any situation was exhausting."
He eventually came out to his family, friends, and community and, for the most part, everyone was super-supportive.
Hopefully, Ryan's story can help somebody that is struggling with a similar scenario. He also reminds us all to be accepting and inclusive of people we might consider to be different and some that might be struggling with a similar secret.
"People need to understand that we are everywhere. We’re your sons, your daughters, your teammates, your neighbors. And honestly, even some of your husbands and wives. You just don’t know it yet.
"As long as there are people killing themselves because they are gay, there is a reason for people like me to share my story and try to help."
And again, If you are LGBTQ and contemplating suicide, the Trevor Project is here to help you. Call them: (866)488-7386