By Aaron Hicklin
It may be easier to be out in Sweden than in the U.S., but it's all relative. Hysén might not have taken the plunge without the support of his father, Glenn Hysén, soccer royalty in Sweden, who played for legendary English team Liverpool (among Anton's eight tattoos are the letters UNWA, a reference to Liverpool FC's popular anthem, the Rodgers and Hammerstein number, "You'll Never Walk Alone"). He says his father wouldn't care if he was a ballet dancer, but like his two older brothers -- Tobias, a celebrated striker for the Swedish national team, and Alexander, a goalkeeper for Östersunds FK -- soccer is in his blood. "The first time I touched the ball out on the pitch, I thought, This is what I want to do. It's just pure adrenaline."
In 2007, Glenn Hysén made an unexpected appearance at Stockholm Pride. He'd made headlines six years earlier after throwing a punch at a man who apparently groped him in the bathrooms of the Frankfurt airport, and he took the opportunity to set the record straight. More important, he used the podium to talk about homophobia in sports, asking the crowd to imagine a 16-year-old soccer player afraid to come out to his teammates. That young man was Anton, still coming to terms with his sexuality. "He just said, 'I'm going to do it, and I hope it’s OK for you -- it's just to show you respect,' " recalls Hysén. "I was like, 'Yeah, you should do it, not just for me, but to show people that a legendary football player is supportive of the gay community.' "
Like most celebrities, Hysén has had to come out twice. The first time, to his family and friends, was, he says, the hardest. He started by telling his mom he was bi. "She was, like, 'No shit, Sherlock. I saw you dump your girlfriend, the hottest girl in Stockholm. You're not bi, you're gay.' " He says he realizes now that his lack of interest in the girl, a model, was an obvious sign, but that it took time to understand why. Gay dating sites helped clarify things, but they also opened him to public exposure. "I had a profile on this gay website, and I was talking to this person and he had a really good photo on the site," recalls Hysén. "We talked and talked, but it turned out that he wasn't actually the guy in the photo; he was a 50-year-old guy. He said, 'I'm going to pull pictures of you, and I'm going to say you're Hysén's son and you're gay.' And I was like, 'Get the fuck out of here, you're not going to do that.' "
Hysén was out to family and friends at that point ("My dad was, like, 'You want me to go beat him up?' "), but the experience helped hasten his decision to come out publicly, initially in football magazine Offside, where he described the lack of gay players as "fucked up." Although he cringes at the suggestion that he's a role model, he realizes the value of setting an example. "I wasn't really an angel," he says. "I actually had a gay guy in my classroom, and me and my straight friend, we bullied him. And at the time, I understood what it was and what it was all about. I've seen it all, and I've experienced it."
As for his own experience, he says the reaction in Sweden has been largely positive. "There's always going to be negative stuff as well, but I tend not to care about that. Why should I listen to it? It doesn't give me anything good in life."