Nathan Fort was just beginning to open up about who he really is when, without warning, his path towards self-acceptance was split open by a cruel chasm. But his strength and determination proved to be stronger forces than he could have imagined.
Growing up gay in rural Arkansas is never ideal, but those were the cards Nathan was dealt.
“Growing up I was inculcated with the belief that ‘gay’ automatically meant ‘going to hell,’ he writes in a first-person post on OutSports.
It’s easy to fill in the next parts — confusion, denial, loneliness and self-hatred set in through adolescence and high school. In a religious town of only 1,300 people, finding yourself against the grain is an uphill battle.
When Nathan began to excel at basketball, he suddenly went from “that weird kid” to being noticed and accepted, but even that couldn’t solve the underlying issue.
Often, LGBTQ kids aren’t able to blossom until they leave their parents’ home for college, and Nathan was certainly on that track.
Even though he left for a Bible school only an hour away from home, the distance helped him grow courage to explore what was going on inside.
Things were looking up.
“After my sophomore year at Bethel, I worked up the courage to try a gay club, just to see what the gay scene was like,” he writes. “There I met a very nice guy who lived near me who wanted to take me out. We left the club together, my heart beating fast, excited and nervous about what the night might hold.”
But what sounds like the start of a tear-jerking coming of age story turned into a nightmare.
After driving for a while, the man “wrestled me out of the car. He sexually abused me. He drugged me. He raped me. He changed my life. It’s a struggle to just write a few lines about it, but it’s part of who I am now.”
The traumatic episode set Nathan back. He started dating girls again — started bottling himself back up in an effort to hide the pain.
It was another year until he was able to open up again and tell someone about what he was going through.
To his surprise, he was embraced.
“It turned out to be so much easier than I suspected. I spoke to each teammate, one by one, and for the most part they have supported me. My coming out didn’t change the way the coaches treat me either; They consider me as any regular basketball player, not ‘the gay basketball player.’
This season I played in every game, usually in the top five on my team in scoring coming off the bench and contributing every way I could to the team to succeed.”
That isn’t to say everything’s been easy, or that Nathan has tied all his loose ends up into a neat little bow.
Some students stopped talking to him after they found out he’s gay, his parents are on their own journeys leading hopefully towards understanding and acceptance, and Nathan will continue to face internal and external obstacles surrounding his identity.
But that’s the point, isn’t it? To wage on, fighting the battles as the come, celebrating each victory along the way.
We hope Nathan is celebrating now — he deserves it.