When Tom Luchsinger won the 200m Butterly at the US National Championships in June of 2013, the pressure of being a closeted gay man multiplied.
All of a sudden he was projected to make the 2016 Olympic Team and was getting attention from fans, had a sponsor, and felt a new responsibility to keep the swimming community updated on the majority of his life.
It was a life that was dominated by something other than swimming: a fear of being outed.
‘Whenever I posted anything on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, I would read it over 10, 15, 20 times to make sure no one could infer anything about my sexuality,’ he writes in a first-person column he wrote for Outsports.
‘Whenever I was interviewed I would watch the online clips over and over again to make sure I seemed masculine. I seemed fully confident in front of the media, coaches, parents and teammates but completely inadequate, worthless and insecure behind closed doors.
‘I was the King of the Double Life.’
On Monday (15 December), Luchsinger said goodbye to that double life by coming out publicly – on his own terms – in the Outsports column.
He shares how he often had trouble sleeping with an aggressive internal dialogue telling him: ‘You’re a fag. You’re a queen. You’re undeserving of love. You’re never going to amount to anything.’
His anxiety had reached an alarming level that the stress hormones in his blood were triple the concentrations from his previous readings. His resting heart rate was double what it usually was.
‘My body was beginning to demand a release,’ he writes. ‘I couldn’t take it much longer.’
After failing to defend his national title – he finished seventh – Luchsinger knew he couldn’t lead his double life any longer.
In August, he began coming out to his family and friends but the prospect of telling his parents was so stressful that his clear complexion broke out in acne and he developed a major cold sore on his bottom lip.
‘I originally wanted to tell my parents face to face, but it was clear that my body wouldn’t allow that to happen,’ he writes. ‘I called my parents from half a continent away and, like any self-respecting national champion talking with his mom and dad, immediately began to cry.
‘"I’m gay. And I’m scared."’
When his parents asked: ‘Are you the same man we raised for the past 23 years?’ and Luchsinger said, ‘Yes,’ they said, ‘Then, who cares?’
Next up was teammates then the world.
The reaction from his Outsports column has been so positive that the swimmer took to Twitter on Monday and stated: ‘Overwhelmed with love and support! Thank you everyone for your kind words! Sending lots of love back!’
The coming out process has taught him a lot about himself and helped him overcome his self-loathing.
‘For years, my sexuality was the quality I was most ashamed of about myself,’ he writes. ‘But now it seems that being gay is one of the characteristics I’m most proud of. I have accomplishments linked to my name that most heterosexual men will never have. I’ve overcome the fear of being rejected from the people I love the most.’