I hadn't thought about this in years, but the recent Manti Te'o Catfishing scandal reminded me that I, too, had a fake girlfriend in college. And what's more, I was an aspiring football player at the time (about 10 years ago). This hoax was all my doing, not something I was the "victim" of.
It was all in service of the sport and my attempt to fit in.
I can't reveal my fake girlfriend's name, because it belonged to a real person; the cousin of a girl that went to my gym so many years ago. I met her once and knew almost nothing bout her (she had blonde hair). My high school grades prevented me from going straight to college, so I spent some time in prep school. During that time, my last (real) heterosexual relationship fell apart, and I started telling people about the new, fake girl. I even told my ex-girlfriend about that girl. During this time, I was playing football with my sights set on a Division 1 college.
I knew I was gay, but I felt like I couldn't be out as a football player. At that age, it just seemed impossible. You never saw gay people playing football. And then there was the actual homophobia in the air. In prep school, I'd hear people call each other "faggot" all the time in the locker room. I kept my head down, scared to look at anyone. In junior college, which I attended between prep school stints, it was the same way. I didn't get changed after practice – I'd go back to my room. I wasn't really attracted to the guys, anyway. There is nothing erotic about football to me, and I don't ever think of football and sex together. I guess it's sort of like when your friend lets you know he's 100 percent straight and immediately becomes off limits.
It was really scary. When you're starting out at prep school or college or whatever, it's a bunch of people just meeting for the first time, playing a super competitive sport where you're hitting each other. Back then, you didn't want people to find out you were gay at 18, 19 years old.
During this time, I would try to say as little about my "girlfriend" as possible, just when it was necessary. If I was going to see a guy one weekend, most likely a married one I had met off AOL, I was "going to see her." If I had to go call a guy, I'd be "calling her." I remember certain truths about the girl, like what her father did for a living and who she was related to, but that's about all I would say.
I had a fake AIM name for my fake girlfriend. I'd login to her account in a school's computer lab, lock the computer, go to my dorm room and IM her so that her away message came up. Everyone was in and out of everyone else's rooms, and I was one of the only ones with a computer. People definitely saw that message. My roommate never did, though. He didn't care. He played basketball and was kind of awkward.
After my second stint in prep school, I was in the midst of getting recruited by Division 1 colleges when I shattered my leg. I was home for eight weeks with titanium in my ankle and I had a boyfriend at the time. I would still talk about that girl to people. I told my mom I was gay because I was going crazy. I started playing football again. I had an air cast and I couldn't do anything. I was limping around.
I started applying to schools, and even after I got into a Division 1 AA school, I kept up the girlfriend charade. I couldn't yet play, but I was going to walk on the team and the coaches knew me. I got to school before the other students arrived for the semester. The coaches would say things like, "We need to get you cleared." I'd go to the trainers who had all of my medical information. I had to do physical therapy. I knew the players. I was part of the football culture, and I believed for a while that joining the team was right around the corner. This motivated my continued lies.
One day, I invited this girl to the mall. She was so dressed up. We went to dinner after. I started talking about this made-up girl and she was incredulous: "You have a girlfriend?" I then realized this girl thought we were on a date.
I ended up joining a gay rugby team in New York, and I gave them a fake name so that I couldn't be traced. I was only out to some people at that point, may of them in New York: I worked at Urge, I worked at the Roxy a couple of times. I was going to gay bars, but I wasn't out.
I stopped trying to get on the football team around the time I joined rugby. It was just too difficult a process, because of the school and myself. I knew that I had a choice: play football and end up killing myself or just come out. When I came out, it was like taking a deep breath. The pressure of getting on the team went away and it was like, "Fuck this. What have I been doing the last seven years?"
Once I came out, the football team just completely stopped pursuing me. That wasn't until the middle of my third year of college. I never knew if it was a mutual disinterest or what. I just wanted to fuck. I went from having a 3.4 my first two years to a .9. My senior year I had a 1.3. I was never at school. I was in New York all the time hooking up.
I never made an effort to figure out why the team stopped calling me. I was unavailable anyway. But the football players on my floor always came for me, to mock me. People would write "FAGGOT" on my door. I'd get them back by putting shitty used condoms on their doorknob. I knew who they were. I'd fuck tricks in the communal showers. I'd walk around the dorm in just a towel, waiting for someone to say something. When I came out, I really came out. Once we were having a debate in an ethics class I was taking, and the whole room split against me. There was a kid on the football team who knew me and he stood up for me. It was weird.
The funny thing was that when I came out, no one referenced this girl. No one called me on it. I think my ex-girlfriend would be one of the few who'd still remember that girl. I never told her I had been lying.
My world changed as a result of coming out. Family stopped talking to me. My friends looked at me differently. A sport I wanted to play my whole life seemed no longer an option. I look back now and I know I could have played. I could have been good. But I was dealing with depression, alcohol, drugs, sex…
In retrospect, I think I could have played football at that school and nothing would have happened. When I played rugby, it was on straight men's leagues. I was so out and people rarely said shit to me. There was a fight between one of my teammates and a member of the team we were playing. I went to break it up and he tried to punch me and I laid him out in front of his wife and kids. I told him, "You just got your ass kicked by a faggot." Another time, a guy called me a faggot and we got into a fight and I beat him up. Once you come out, you're out. It's sink or swim. I wasn't going to let anyone see me crack. I remember some queen telling me that at the Roxy: "You can't ever let anyone see you crack in this town. If you're going to start crying, you're in the wrong city." I took that to heart.
I wish I could have played football with that attitude: say something, do something. I'm not 5'10", 140. I'm not a kicker. I was 6'3", 270 then, benching 450 lbs. I wasn't some little kid.
Looking back, part of me wishes that I would have played, but then I would have missed out on the experience I had going out, learning about myself, understanding my sexuality. And I definitely wouldn't have wanted to miss that.
Image by Jim Cooke, source photo via Brocreative/Shutterstock.