Keegan Hirst sends a message to his teenage self

This article was first published in February 2021.

Although many well known people are open about their sexuality today, it wasn't always easy for athletes to be their true selves in public. This was due to prejudice, or other issues - such as homophobic bullying.

Keegan Hirst is a former rugby league player who came out as gay when he was still playing. He understands how difficult it can be for young people who may have questions about their sexuality, what they may be feeling and will hopefully show some of our readers that they're not alone.

When I was growing up, I felt like I didn’t quite fit in. I knew I was different but I didn’t understand why.

I was finding that I was attracted to boys but I didn’t know if I was weird, if it was a phase or if everybody was feeling like this and not talking about it.

I felt out of place, odd and to be honest, a bit scared.

Keegan as a teenager: “I thought that being different meant that I wasn’t as good as everybody else.”
Keegan speaks about his sexuality for Pride month.

Looking back, I felt different because I was gay. I just didn’t know any gay people. I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it and I thought that being different meant that I wasn’t as good as everybody else.

I learnt a lot as a teenager about myself but I’m still learning things about who I am even now. And I’m 33 years old. Here’s a little secret for you, adults don’t have it all figured out (even if they pretend they do.) and that’s OK. So it’s completely fine if you don’t have everything figured out.

So, knowing what I know now, here’s what I would say to the teenage me if I could chat to him. Even though things feel scary now, it’s going to be OK. Everybody, whether they’re gay or not goes through a part of their life where they find out who they are. Being gay doesn’t define you. It isn’t a personality trait like being funny, or clever or shy. It’s just something that adds a different flavour to those traits.

Just because you are a little bit different to other people, it doesn’t make you better or worse. It’s just different.

And it’s better to go through life being honest with yourself and other people about who you are than trying to pretend to be someone you think you should be. The only person you should be is your 100% authentic self. And if people don’t like you for that, that’s their problem, not yours.

Now, I don’t think teenage Keegan would have liked to hear that, or even believed it to be true. I think he’d have been so scared and worried about what he might lose. Which is completely understandable. But I’d tell him to flip that on its head and think of all the things he’d gain like; new friends, more confidence, not worrying about being ‘found out’, new opportunities, a new way of seeing the world and people in it, a whole new community too with their own history to be part of.

Knowing that somebody else can do what you want to do is super powerful. It makes you think, “if they can do it, why can’t I?”

I grew up thinking that I had to be somebody that other people wanted to be. I bottled up who I was and tried to make other people happy. The only thing it did was make me really unhappy. And when I was unhappy it made the people that loved me unhappy. So it didn’t benefit anybody.

I came out when I was 27 years old and already a professional rugby player. I got such amazing support. People were just happy that I was happy. And you know what? It made me a better rugby player. I could fully concentrate on being me, instead of spending energy trying to be somebody else.

You never have to apologise for being you. You’re allowed to be happy and you deserve to be loved as you are, for the real you.

Keegan came out publicly while still playing rugby professionally

If you need support

You should always tell someone about the things you’re worried about. You can tell a friend, parent, guardian, teacher, or another trusted adult. If you're struggling with your mental health, going to your GP can be a good place to start to find help. Your GP can let you know what support is available to you, suggest different types of treatment and offer regular check-ups to see how you’re doing.

If you’re in need of in-the-moment support you can contact Childline, where you can speak to a counsellor. Their lines are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

There are more links to helpful organisations on BBC Action Line.

Dear Younger Me: Kit
Dear Younger Me: Amy
Dear Younger Me: Sumaya