Ryan Dafforn, College Coach & Former Purdue Swimmer, Opens Up About Coming Out
When he came out during to his Purdue teammates during his senior year, Ryan Dafforn was quickly recognized as a trailblazer. Now, as a college coach, Dafforn opens up about his decision to make a big splash and be himself a few years back.
My name is Ryan Dafforn. I’m originally from Fort Wayne, Indiana, and am currently a graduate assistant coach for the swim and dive teams at Defiance College, an NCAA Division 3 School in Defiance, Ohio. From 2007-2011, I was a swimmer and four-year-varsity-letter-winner for the Purdue University Boilermakers men’s swim and dive team. It was during my senior year that I came out to my team.
Before I get to that part, though, I don’t want to give the wrong impression: the realization and understanding that occurred on my road to self acceptance was difficult. I struggled heavily with understanding and accepting who I was. Everything I was told by society, surroundings, and friends up to that point said that being gay was wrong, unnatural, and weird. Non-straight people were killed, shamed, disowned; I didn’t want that for myself. Fortunately, one thing that I never questioned was that my parents and my sisters would never stop loving me, no matter what I told them or confessed to them. This was in large part to the relationship I knew I shared with each of them and the love I knew they had for me. I was very fortunate. This doesn’t mean I wasn’t scared. I was terrified and nervous at the thought of coming out to my family despite our bond.
My friends and teammates at Purdue were another story. I wasn’t sure how the ones I had spent the majority of my time with the previous three years — practicing, socializing, going to class, even living with — would react to my news. I had a few openly gay teammates at Purdue but always kept my distance from them in fear of being guilty by association. Spending all that time pretending I was something I was not, hiding who I was, and constantly monitoring my actions and words was taxing but successful to a degree. Friends and teammates continued to ask me about girls and I continued to lie, hoping they wouldn’t know my secret.
After coming out to my parents and being more open, I grew more comfortable and felt it was time to come out to my entire team. I approached this much differently than with my family. By December of my senior year I had begun dating someone, and in doing so and being comfortable about it, the coming out process with my team and friends just naturally happened. I didn’t have to have a talk with each one individually, although I did speak with a few individually, especially if someone had a question. It was this really awesome, cool and open dialogue between my teammates and me. Believe it or not, most were mad at me for not coming out sooner and telling them. I thought that was the coolest reaction.
My teammates and friends expressed that nothing changed in how they viewed me or in our individual friendships. They had so many questions and I enjoyed answering them. It showed me they cared by wanting to be more informed and wanting to understand. A surreal feeling took over. For eight-plus- years I had dreaded this moment and thought it would never happen. In reality, coming out to my team and friends was a complete relief and moment of pure happiness.
Working as a graduate assistant coach now, I want to help create an environment, especially in athletics, where people don’t have to live in fear. Where bullying, harassment and language isn’t continuously pushing people further and further away from being comfortable with who they are.