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Kelsey Murphy: Coming out to family, in and out of sport

Other than my uncle’s coming out story, I had really only heard negative and in many cases horrifying stories about people coming out. Because of this, I did still feel a bit nervous about coming out. However, I knew exactly how my family would react and I was right. It was nothing but love and acceptance.  

I am so lucky and grateful for my family. My mom, dad and brothers are the most loving people and I honestly don’t know what I would do without their endless love and support. I also grew up with a large extended family that is very close and saw how they loved and accepted other queer individuals directly in my life.

Heartbreakingly, for many queer people their grandparents are often some of the hardest to come out to. When I came out, I only had one grandparent who was still with us. Of course, since she already had queer sons that she loved very much, I was not anxious about losing my relationship with her and learned more about her in doing so. The year I came out, I went to my first pride parade. I was so excited and overwhelmed to see my grandma standing there waving at the parade as we went by and then discovered that  she had been attending the parade for years before that.  

Anytime my partner and I walk into a family function together it is no different than any of my other family members walking in together. I don’t take it for granted. Unfortunately, in this province we still have a long way to go. I have had many friends deal with family that did not react the way mine did, but I hope that sharing the way my family reacted and treats me can bring some hope to others. There are people who will love you and accept you just the way you are. 

I consider myself lucky to have many families, including my football family. I grew up loving sports and in a family that loved sports. One sport my family loved, that I could not get into or understand was football. I was bored and annoyed when it was on tv growing up. Around 2012, my dad told me about the Saskatoon Valkyries and encouraged me to try it, as I loved rugby and he thought I would really like football. I finally ended up going to a Valkyries camp in 2014. I fell in love with it that day and have not looked back.

I now know that the reason I did not like watching football was because prior to the Valkyries, there was absolutely no place in football for me. I learned after only one day playing football with the Valkyries that it is an amazing sport, that there is room for everyone in football and that it is an incredibly intellectual sport. The experience of the ultimate team sport, that is actually for everyone and every body type became a central part of my life. After that camp I immediately felt so much support and kinship amongst people willing to put themselves on the line to work together and protect each other.  

This became a deeper love for a sport than I had ever experienced before. I think I played two years with the Valkyries before I figured myself out and then came out. With my teammates,I felt very safe coming out. I really truly see my teammates as family and I have been, again, so lucky to have lifelong friendships develop because of sport and this team. I have stood beside my teammates through the ups and downs of losing and winning championships, on their wedding days and on horribly sad days when we have had to attend funerals together.  

Photo by Louis Christ – 2023 team photo

While I was overwhelmingly accepted by my family, friends, and teammates, I did lose some people when I came out, but good riddance. Haters aside, and even with all the love I received, it was still a confusing process. I came out in my 20s which is later than some. I think the thing that was so surprising for people, including myself was that I didn’t “look queer.” Now we know that there is no one way to look queer, but growing up stereotypes were deeply instilled in all of us.  

Being a feminine person who loves make-up and dresses I just assumed I was straight; it was really the only option I was presented with. This all comes from the idea that someone looking a certain way or dressing a certain way means they can only be one type of person. I think that is a really damaging part of society for everyone. It really boxes people in and in many cases stops them from expressing themselves the way they want to. Queer people have been on the forefront of breaking that idea down and opening people up to the many ways individuals can authentically present themselves.  

Growing up, I was very lucky. My family let me express myself very femininely but also, at the same time, I was very much a tomboy who loved sports and the outdoors, and all these things that we don’t necessarily correlate with femininity. I don’t know if my parents realized it at the time, but they very much raised us with a feminist point of view. My brothers could play with “girls” toys and I could play with “boys” toys. That is just one small example, but the point is that my parents really allowed us to be ourselves.  

I don’t know if they realized they raised us as feminists, because the feminism that they grew up with at the time was kind of seen as just man hating. They were leading us toward intersectional feminism, feminism rooted in the idea that everyone is hurt by a society that discriminates. Learning about intersectional feminism has taught me so much.  

I really started learning about these topics more deeply around the time I joined the Valkyries. I have had many different friends and teammates teach me a lot. All of the things I have learned about intersectional feminism and queerness, all of the freedoms I get to celebrate as a queer person, all the joy I get to feel expressing myself authentically was started and pushed forward by Black and Brown queer and trans people. They laid the foundation for where we are today, through protests like the Stonewall Riots and by figures like Marsha P. Johnson and many more. 

In the present day, we have seen sport become a really important place where people can advocate for human rights. Some recent examples are Colin Kaepernick, Megan Rapinoe and the Spanish Women’s Soccer team. Sport has such a huge platform and when teammates are true friends and become a family, I think that is where a lot of magic happens. People feel like they can really be themselves and confidently stand for what they believe in.