‘I’m comfortable in my own skin, probably for the first time ever’
Keegan Hirst became the first openly gay rugby league player this weekend after an open and emotional interview.
Keegan, who’s a prop with the Batley Bulldogs, told The Sunday Mirror: “At first I couldn’t even say ‘I’m gay’ in my head, let alone out loud.”
“Now I feel like I’m letting out a long breath that I’ve held in for a long time.”
Keegan explained the conflict he felt about coming out, and how it seemed so strange to someone who fit the ‘macho’ stereotype: “I had a wife and kids. I’ve been a builder, doorman, worked in factories – I play rugby. I tick every macho box. How could I be gay? I’m from Batley for goodness sake. No one is gay in Batley.”
Keegan explained that he’d had girlfriends on and off, but when he was 15 years-old he started feeling attracted to guys too.
During some of his most difficult times, Keegan contemplated taking his own life: “On the worst days, I’d think, ‘I can’t do this, I’d rather be dead than for it all to come out. I never got as far as actually tying a noose or having tablets in my hand. But I thought how I would do it, where I would do it when I would do it.”
“Thankfully I have friends and family I love and was able to talk myself out of it.”
But then it all changed, Keegan explained: “One day, a few months ago, I just thought, ‘You know what? Actually, this is who I am. I’m gay. I felt I could finally be honest with myself.”
Keegan came out to his wife after he realised she blamed herself for their marriage break-up. She “didn’t ask a lot of questions,” when he spoke to her, “but she was supportive”.
Reassuringly, he has a great network of support, on and off the field: “The support from my team-mates and other rugby league players has really surprised me, it’s all been positive. These are tough blokes. We go out on the field together and it’s 26 blokes knocking seven shades out of each other.”
“But on the other side of it, you go through blood, sweat and tears together – and they’ve been there for me when I needed them most.”
The fans have also been showing their support for their ‘Captain Courageous’ on Twitter:
Keegan also revealed to the paper: “I haven’t been out as a gay guy on the pull yet, so that’ll be a new experience. I don’t know yet how these things work.” In his interview, Keegan gave some advice to other players who might be experiencing the same stresses and anxiety about their sexuality that he felt: “There might be other players in the same position I was. If there are I’d tell them to just be honest with themselves.” Happily, Keegan says he’s now comfortable in his own skin “probably for the first time ever”. Keegan plays his first match as an openly gay rugby player today against Dewsbury in the Championship Shield Super 8s.