An African Safari Adventure Inspired This College Swimmer To Come Out As Gay
A former college swim captain has shared a moving essay in which he recounts the events that prompted him to come out as gay.
As an undergraduate at the University of Southern California, Steven Stumph swam for the university team, and even competed in the U.S. Olympic swimming trials.
Writing for OutSports, he explains what kept him in the closet at the time:
I worked so hard to become a well-rounded Renaissance man. I was a national high school record holder in swimming, a pianist, an Eagle Scout and a polyglot. I didn’t want all my accomplishments to vanish under the term, “the gay swimmer” or “the gay guy.”
Deep down I knew I was gay, but I held it as my biggest secret, even afraid to let myself know.
But when Stumph traveled to look at colleges and universities across the country, he began to imagine what out would be like to live life an an openly gay man.
Ultimately, he decided on USC, where for his freshman and sophomore year, he'd remain in the closet.
"I didn’t want to be known as the gay guy from outside Berkeley. I wanted my teammates to get to know me as the guy from outside Berkeley who had a passion for learning, swimming, food, travel, different cultures and friends."
But following his sophomore year, a travel adventure would forever changer Stumph's life.
On a whirlwind trip, he traveled to London, Rome, Lusaka, Zambia, and then eventually drove to Livingston, Zimbabwe, where he met up with his father, then continued on to Botswana and South Africa.
In South Africa, he'd visit Kruger National Park game reserve, "the most rural place I’ve been in my life," where he'd look into embarking on a safari.
During our visit, we had a male safari guide. One night I was star gazing, admiring how I could see all the constellations in the amazingly crystal-clear sky. The safari guide came up to me, took my hand, came real close and pointed out all the Southern Hemisphere constellations.
He proceeded to say, “I totally understand if you don’t want to answer, if you give me no tip, and report me to my boss, but I want to ask you something. By any chance are you gay?”
In this moment, all I wanted to do was say yes. I was in the middle of nowhere, literally. I could tell him I was gay, and no one else would have to know. I could finally let out my secret. But what if he told my dad?
I told myself, that’s it, never again am I going to lie about being gay.
Stumph said alone, and on the other side of the planet, he wasn't yet ready to come out to his father, so he told the safari guide no.
He responded, “aw, all right man. My mate thought you were cute.” He motioned for his buddy to come around the corner and out walks this extremely handsome man.
At that moment, Stumph told himself he could no longer lie about being gay.
After flying back to Los Angeles, he tested the waters by coming out to a few female friends.
When he came out to his best friend by baking her a rainbow cake to celebrate her visit from out of town, she replied, "about time!"
Stumph's parents and other friends also proved to be incredibly supportive.
Within the course of a few weeks, Stumph then came out to his teammates. Each person welcomed the news with hugs, smiles, and excitement, he recalls.
Coming out also brought him closer to his fellow athletes, whom he says pushed him in the weight room, the pool and the classroom.
Thanks to their motivation I was able to become the first three-time Pac-12 champion in the men’s 200-yard breaststroke for USC. Without their constant support, coming out would have been more difficult, and accomplishing my achievements in the pool would not have been possible.
Stumph ultimately credits his supportive teammates for giving him the courage to come out.
Without the love and support from my teammates, I don’t think I would have felt confident enough to come out. Besides my parents and family, they’re the best support group that I have.
Stumph is currently attending graduate school at USC, where he studies East Asian Language, Culture and Linguistics.
He says that he's sharing his story, "to show that positive coming out stories exist."
"Coming out was the best decision of my life. I have been much happier and been able to live authentically ever since. As a result, every day I strive to be honest and live for myself instead of others. "