This young man, Matt Dooley, has experienced some of the very same things I did at roughly the same age. I did not have the suicide attempt, but the emotions surrounding his everyday life are all too similar. His story is an inspiration.
Here’s an excerpt from my story. Read this first, then read his. You should see some similarities, even though they’re decades apart:
Excerpt from “Out In The Cold” by Randy Gardner and Allison Hope Weiner:
Tai and I shared a lot during our three-decade career. The fact that I was gay initially seemed to benefit our skating. Since we weren’t a romantic couple off of the ice, we didn’t have to take our work home with us at the end of the day. But the downside was that as our fame grew, we shared the heavy burden of keeping my sexuality a secret. If the world found out that I was gay, all of our endorsements would end and we certainly wouldn’t be as popular. People liked thinking that Tai and I had met as little kids and turned into a loving couple. It was already difficult enough to deal with being a young, famous champion athlete and being a closeted gay man just made it worse. I struggled with how to handle the truth. Sometimes I opted to simply remain in a state of denial. It just seemed to be the easiest solution. I knew that coming out would change how everyone saw me.
As I became a successful skater, I knew it was professional suicide to be openly gay. When I competed in skating back in the seventies, it wasn’t acceptable in any sport to be openly gay. I had to do everything in my power to avoid suspicion, including pretending to be in relationships with various girls. It was hard work living my life always on guard that someone would discover the truth. Keeping the secret about my sexuality was very difficult and made me feel isolated and unsettled.
I used my training and my commitment to skating to distract me from dealing with the issue. It just was safer that way. I knew that if I came out, there would be no commercial endorsements in my future. No one in the 1980’s would hire a gay athlete to sell any product. We heard all the time about star athletes not getting commercials or personal appearances simply because there were rumors circulating that they were gay. I knew that coming out would hurt our chances of reaping the commercial rewards of championship skating. There would be no toothpaste ads, no Wheaties boxes and no Ford commercials. I’d worked hard for these things. I wanted the money, the exposure and the status of being on the front of a Wheaties box. So, I continued with my secret. I’d worked too hard to have it all taken away. And, there was also Tai. I felt a particular responsibility to her to make the most of our career and not to destroy everything by revealing my sexual orientation, so I stayed in the closet. I didn’t tell anyone—not even Tai. I always suspected she knew, but we never discussed it. (When I finally told her, she turned to me with a sly smile and said, “You silly boy, I knew that.”)