French ice dancer Guillaume Cizeron is a tour de force. Throughout his career, he's racked up an Olympic medal alongside partner Gabriella Papadakis and is a world champion four times over. This only scratches the surface of the accolades the skater, who has broken multiple world records, has earned. Earlier this year, Cizeron opened up about his personal life.
While he shies away from the term "coming out," the athlete posted a photo of himself and his boyfriend on Instagram for International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia. Though he had already spoken about his sexuality to friends, this was the first time he had spoken publicly about his intimate life. Since then, he's continued to do so. Here, in his own words, the resident of Canada writes about bullying and the lasting impact it can have on queer people.
"Are you a boy or a girl?"
This was the question I was asked by classmates when I was young. While the question was intended to mock me, deep down it led me to question myself about my own gender identity at a young age. I remember one day coming home from school and putting the question to my parents: "Mom, am I a boy or a girl?" The confusion I saw in others was manifesting itself as a strange feeling inside of me of not belonging to one thing or another. Eventually it would crystalize as questions about my sexuality.
I knew I was born in a boy's body, but somehow what I felt inside of me didn't align with the behavior that was expected of a boy. I felt different and didn't fit in with my peers. I was bullied at school almost every day, being called a "pussy" or a "faggot." It made me feel ashamed and led to confusion about who I was.
Having two sisters, I was drawn to play with dolls, makeup, and costumes. But I understood quickly that a boy wasn't supposed to do that. So I stopped. I'd sit on the bed and watch my sisters play.
It wasn't until I was a preteen, around age 10 or 11, that I became aware of the idea of homosexuality. This wasn't something that had not previously been in my vocabulary; I didn't know that loving boys wasn't necessarily reserved for girls. This new knowledge was liberating, and went a way in reconciling my previous feelings of being trapped in the wrong body. There was still shame around my queerness.
As I made small steps forward to accept myself, the reception wasn't the same by those at my high school. The mocking and the jeers continued. To avoid it, I spent breaks hiding in the bathroom for a reprieve. When I did emerge, I altered part of who I was: the way I walked, talked, and laughed. Each day I chipped away at my authentic self in a bid for acceptance.
This is the personal cost of systemic and cultural homophobia. Queer people end up struggling with our own humanity, hoping someday for "normalcy."
I don't feel any resentment toward the people who bullied me. I know they were just the reflection of a society that still struggles to include people who are different. A society that stokes fear of these people and contributes to that fear through a lack of education. By telling my story I hope to not only be heard by those people who don't know what it feels like to be different and to be taught to hate yourself, but to provide support for those struggling to find acceptance in both the classroom and in sports.
I was lucky enough to find a space where I was able to express myself and feel included and supported. Figure skating wasn't just a sport to me. The rink was the only place except home where I was lifted up and not torn down for my mannerisms. Skating brought me so much confidence and allowed me to discover myself in a safe environment. When I finally did get the courage to come out, I was fortunate enough to have a supportive family and to be born in a country where my existence wasn't a crime.
By telling my story, I wish to give some hope to the people who are still hiding in that bathroom, like I was not so long ago. I want them to know that it can and does get better, that they deserve to be respected and loved. But most importantly, I want people to know that they are not alone.
I dream of a world where there is no concept of coming out or what people identify as, and a world where people don't have to explain or justify who they love or who they're attracted to. We are not there yet, so until then, it is my desire to talk and share my story. I have been debating whether talking about my sexual orientation publicly meant something to me--and for a long time I didn't feel the need to do so. But I realize now that I have the opportunity to help, to be a voice for the people who don't have a platform. Even if this can help only one person in the world, then it is worth it to me. I also feel that I owe it to my community because I believe that today, not saying that I am gay is closer to pretending that I'm not.