Even today, queer athletes have a lot of stigmas to overcome when coming out. In a minefield of hypermasculinity and heteronormativity, it's hard for many athletes to share the authentic part of themselves with their teammates, let alone the world.
This is Anthony Bowens, a newly-out professional WWE wrestler who has appeared on Raw, Smackdown, and NXT.
"I first entered the pro wrestling world when I was 21," he explained in a published essay on Outsports. "I was living my dream and I should have been the happiest person in the world. The truth is, I wasn’t. Externally I was, but deep down I was struggling on the inside with my sexuality. I was afraid to tell the world that I was bisexual."
"Understandably, being openly bisexual could be perceived as a problem. It’s what kept me closeted to all but a few from the time I started wrestling as a pro five years ago."
That all changed when he met his current boyfriend, Michael Pavano.
"I met him and his friends at a bar celebrating his birthday and we instantly clicked. By the end of the night, I knew he was someone I wanted to be around more often. Over the ensuing weeks, we saw each other quite often and after about two months we decided to make everything official. It was my first relationship and it was with a guy."
"I told Mike coming into the relationship that I was very much on the DL because of my career, so I couldn’t do in public some of the things normal couples do. It was totally unfair to him, but he liked me enough to put that to the side. I did make a promise that it wouldn’t be forever. That time came when my wrestling buddy saw the YouTube video."
His boyfriend, Michael, is a YouTuber and the couple recorded themselves doing an endearing laughing challenge. But when Michael nonchalantly referred to Anthony as his boyfriend on camera, Anthony became nervous.
"The video was a blast to do, but I worried that someone from the wrestling world would stumble across it and learn my secret. I decided to let it be posted anyway."
A couple of weeks later, one of his wrestler buddies confronted Anthony with the video. "It was from my best friend in the wrestling business, and someone I specifically made sure to keep my secret from. The text read: 'Bro, why didn’t you tell me?' I knew exactly what he meant but I played dumb. 'What do you mean?' I replied. He response was that he saw 'the video.'
"Much to my great relief, he told me he didn’t care and that I was one of his best friends in the business."
After the surprisingly welcome response, Anthony decided he was ready to share his life with the world. On January 8th, he posted this coming out message on Facebook for his family and friends:
"The response was overwhelming positive — 986 likes and more than 200 comments, all positive; only a very few people unfriended me." Anthony explained. "I couldn’t help but cry as I let loose all of the years of stress, anxiety and fear of judgment. It was the best decision I had ever made."
The next day, he posted this photo of him and his boyfriend on Instagram.
Anthony and Michael have been living out and proud ever since and Anthony is excited to share his story. He understands the impact his coming out can have for other queer people in sports.
"I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. I realized I have a unique platform to spread awareness about ongoing issues in the world, to break stereotypes and show everyone that they can be themselves and do what ever they put their minds to no matter what their sexuality is."
"I can’t even begin to tell you how many people I’ve spoken to over the years who are hiding and suppressing themselves out of fear of being judged. If I can help inspire at least one person to fight past their struggles through my journey or inspire at least one person to live their dreams, it’s all worth it for me. The journey and the fight is just beginning!"