Sharks, Games & Coming Out!
My arm was bitten off by a shark… Not really but that got your attention didn’t it? The real story is that I was born with my lower right arm missing (no sharks involved). Now you may think that is not relevant to a coming out story but for me it is relevant. My coming out story for most people might seem quite a good experience, however, the year before I realised, or came to accept, that I was gay was the worst year of my life.
Now to give you a wee bit of background information, I have been a swimmer my whole life and I love swimming. From the moment I had my jags as a baby my Mum and Dad would take me to the local swimming pool in Aberdeen, the city I was born in and lived until I was three. I would literally wriggle out of their arms so I could lie on my back and float around, supported by my parents obviously. As I grew up and my family moved back to Fife, I got increasingly involved in local disability swimming lesson provided by Disability Sport Fife. I remember clearly my first ever coach, Richard Brickley, screaming KICK KICK KICK KICK KICK because I would constantly sink to the bottom of the pool to be a mermaid, of course.
By the age of 13 I had gone through quite a number of years being really badly bullied because of my disability. Primary school in particular was a really tough time for me, however swimming got me through it and by this point I knew I wanted to represent Scotland in the pool, I didn’t know how, and I didn’t know when, but I knew I wanted it more than anything.
A couple of years went by and by this point I was in 3rd or 4th year at Bell Baxter High School in Cupar, there was a boy in my year who I really liked, as a friend, I thought, I didn’t really know much about anything LGBT apart from being called gay was something you wanted to avoid at all cost because it was definitely an insult. However I had a feeling that I could not explain, did I fancy a boy?
I went through the rest of High School suppressing any feelings I had for boys and went on to have a couple of girlfriends which never seemed to work out for one reason or another. In my final year of High School it was announced that Glasgow was going to be hosting the 2014 Commonwealth Games, this was it, this was my chance, this was my time. Or so I thought.
So 2014 came and by this point I thought I was bi, I was planning on never acting on it publicly because I thought my life would be easier if I were straight. In the April of 2014 the trials for the Commonwealth Games were being held at the Tollcross International Swimming Pool in Glasgow, all I needed to do was go 60.89 seconds or faster for 100m Freestyle and I would be on Team Scotland. I went 60.91! I could not believe it, I missed the time by two one hundredths of a second. BUT I knew I had a second chance at the end of April at the second trials. However, I woke up the day after the first trials with the flu, to this day it is the only time I have ever had flu and it floored me. I was unable to get out of bed for two weeks which meant no training, no proper food and no preparation for the second round of trials. I went to the second trials and missed the qualifying time by over a second. That was it, my dream was gone.
That summer the Commonwealth Games were a huge success and I was so proud of Scotland and the Scottish Athletes that competed at it, even though I was a mess and my mental health was in pieces, I hid it well from friends and family but inside I didn’t know what to do. I was a swimmer and didn’t know what else I could be. On top of that I was really uncertain about my sexuality, was I bi or was I just not wanting to admit to myself that I was in fact gay.
Later in the year things didn’t look like they were improving for me, Scotland had just voted no in the Scottish Independence Referendum and I still wasn’t convinced I was bi. I had slept with both men and woman but didn’t feel like that was actually giving me any answers.
By the end of the year I had changed sports completely to Triathlon, and moved my whole life down to Loughborough University where British Triathlon are based. There I spent 18 months training and competing for Great Britain all over the world, from Italy to London, USA and Glasgow. Whilst living so far away from home and meeting new and interesting people, I was really able to focus on me, who I was and what I was.
I don’t ever remember having a OMG I’m gay moment, it just kinda gradually happened, so in the autumn of 2015 I came out as gay to both of my parents, it was the scariest thing I have ever done. When I told my mum she said “oh are you? Ok, that’s fine” she then hugged me, gave me a kiss and asked me “what do you want for dinner” and my dad hugged me and told me “ I love you no matter what”. So neither of them were very surprised nor were they bothered, and neither were my step parents. I remember not being able to tell my Grandma so I asked my mum to do it for me and I got a text from her saying something like “Stefan your mum has just told me, I do not care, I love you and you are still my favourite grandchild (inside family joke)” I was so happy and it was a breath of fresh air that I could now be who I was. I remember the first relationship I was in with a guy, putting it on facebook and getting hundreds and hundreds of likes, it made me so happy to know that people didn’t care.
Flashing forward too today I am happily engaged to the love of my life, Damian. I proposed in Central Park in New York at the bringing of this year. I have a great job in politics, I coach swimming at my former club, Carnegie Swimming club and I have the best friends and family anyone could ever ask for. Now I know coming out is scary and not everyone will be as lucky as me in having understanding folks but I truly believe, you can do anything you put your mind to, that’s why my mantra is “the only disability in life is a bad attitude”
Stefan Hoggan (Twitter/Instagram -@stefanhoggan)
Retired Professional Athlete
Convenor of Mid Scotland & Fife Young Scots for Independence