“Come on, you can do it! Get up, get that squat,” was Coach Gab’s words as she cheered me on as I got a PB for my squat clean. Exhaling in fulfilment as I got up, the adrenaline rush was just the breakthrough that I needed.

Earlier that week, I came out to my conservative and religious parents – chaotic. Growing up in the Philippines, the silent, ungodly stigmas of being gay were roaring loud at me. It was believed that nothing great ever comes if you were gay. Unless you were extremely smart, wealthy, a breadwinner to your family, or a huge television/entertainment personality, you didn’t belong as you’re a comedic act judged by others’ prying eyes – a modern-day stoning. Being gay is also often stereotyped with cross-dressing, working in the salon, growing old alone, and living a life that’s financially downhill. Gays in sport was an alien concept. Truth is, the lifestyle of gay people is most often tolerated but not accepted. A culture that is rather wholly beautiful is also a culture of double standards. Even up until today, the government of the Philippines is silent when it comes to policies concerning same-sex benefits like marriage, healthcare, and other funding for LGBTQ+ issues.

I grew up in a culture where I was coerced to hide who I am. I hear the rumbling sermons of the church telling me that being gay is an abomination. My parents, being part of a religious community, put me through boys’ camp as a way of ensuring I’d grow up to be a masculine man with church-based values. I tried to be active in sports as a child because sports are for boys while creativity, music, and theatre are for girls. But while I hid in the closet’s shadows, at a very young age I was painting my face with lipstick and eyeshadows. From attending a Christian high school to joining a Christian church when I was earning my bachelor’s degree, it was the bread I broke and ate – you cannot be gay. I convinced myself to believe I was straight to feel “normal”. I was disoriented, perplexed, and broken living as if I was on life support on most days. “It was painful and impossible for me to reconcile how the church – a shining beacon of love and acceptance – unthoughtfully encourages you to be someone you’re not.”

Every time I created the scenes of me coming out to my parents in the past, I always imagined it to be agonizing. But about two months ago, reality proved to be something different – and much worse. I was mostly concerned about how the religious community would treat my family if they knew I was gay knowing how gossip would spread like wildfire. Given the non-confrontational trait many Filipinos have, coming out is a foreign concept. Most gay people didn’t have to come out, it was just a given.  In the back of my head, I was hoping that I didn’t have to come out, too, like most of my gay mates back in the Phils. But I reached a point where hiding wasn’t an option anymore and the bucket of courage I’ve been filling all these years since I moved to Sydney has overflowed. I finally came out. And I am thankful that I had CrossFit to anchor me.

The barbell was more than just an outlet to blow off steam. It was my salvation. The mental and emotional battle that comes with coming out is strenuous, but as I faced my inner demons throughout that week, I promised myself I’m giving it all I’ve got through lifting that bar. The very thing that was a facade to prove to others that I wasn’t gay when I was a child was the same thing that got me through one of the most difficult times of my life – beautifully ironic.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to go through it alone. CrossFit is a fantastic platform with an encouraging community. It’s the only sport that cheers the loudest for the person who finishes last. It challenges and humbles you while rejoicing with you as you get better. It’s therapeutic, like a moving meditation. With the beauty of CrossFit bringing its good tidings in the form of lessons, I also had to learn, relearn, and unlearn outside the gym. Coming out, I had to learn how to forgive – first and foremost myself. I had to relearn how to accept who I am as I accept other people. And I had to unlearn every stigma I was boxed into.

Coming out is a gift nobody should take away from you and you should feel no pressure to do it. If you find yourself in the same situation I was in, remember that when you’re coming out, your parents come out, too. They come out of a social structure bred from hundreds of years of rooted culture. The same way you went through a journey to discovering yourself is the same way they go through a journey of discovering who they are as parents when you come out. There is no specific rule or a handbook of how to raise a gay child, and it’s not their fault, but it is a journey both parties should be willing to take.

Like getting up brave and fearless from that heavy squat clean, we take pride in ourselves as we learn to rise and push through adversity to live and to love because, in love, there is no fear.

Follow Louie at @guerrerofamoso on Instagram