In the final part of our exclusive interview, Sam Stanley opens up to GuysLikeU‘s editor-in-chief Christian Guiltenane about the dark day he contemplated taking his life, how he fought back and found the courage to come out to his parents…
So… having to keep your sexuality from your rugby mates and your girlfriend must have really took its toll on you.
There was so much going on in my head at the time. I had a girlfriend but I knew that I liked boys. I also came from this family of rugby players which meant I would never be able to be open and honest with them about who I was. I was just so confused and just didn’t know where to turn. I felt like I had no one to talk to and was keeping it all bottled up and it was making me more and more anxious.
So what happened?
I was 19, I knew that I was gay, but I knew I couldn’t say anything because of rugby. I just couldn’t – I had to be this macho guy. I couldn’t let anyone know that I liked boys and that I actually had a boyfriend. At the same time, Laurence and I were having a bad time so everything started to get on top of me. I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone. I knew I couldn’t talk to my parents, I couldn’t tell any of my friends. I had no one to turn to and I thought I would never be able to be myself. I was always worried about what my dad would say because he was not particularly pro gay. After he’d caught me looking at that gay site he had said a few snide things over the years and made comments that made it clear he might not be happy to have a gay son. So with all this in my head I felt like there was only one way out. Living up to the Stanley name was a big pressure.
So what did you do?
I remember going for a walk to think things through and I was crossing this bridge and stopped and looked out into the traffic. I had heard that people had killed themselves here. While I was standing there I remembered everything I had heard about being gay stuff had been negative. I had never read any positive stories and I found it hard to imagine that I would ever end up being happy. And for a moment I seriously thought, this was the only way out.
Thankfully, you didn’t do anything…
I didn’t and I’m glad I didn’t do it. Looking back I realise how many great things have happened in my life. Things have been really brilliant and to think if I had done something back then I would never have got to experience what I have now. And it’s been great! I would have never have seen this side of things. I would never have seen all my rugby community – old players, new players, refs supporting me in the way they have. And this is why I am telling this story! I hope I can inspire young people who think they have limited options. I want them to know that there are positive outcomes out there for you. It’s not all negative.
And have you had feedback from young guys?
I have had heaps of letters from young guys telling me about their lives and their problems in coming out and as I have been there and done that I try to reply to them as best as I can. I get a lot of young rugby players have got in touch, but people are beginning to accept themselves at younger and younger ages now. Hopefully one day being gay won’t be an issue anymore. I get a lot of messages about people who are thinking about suicide and I try to give them advice or guide them in the right direction as I don’t really know what their situation is. Everyone’s story is unique. All I can do is share my story about when I was at my lowest and how I pushed through and have now eventually found happiness. I do talks at things and people come up afterwards and talk to me and I feel like I am able to give back by telling my story.
Young gay guys these days have the likes pf Sam Smith, Will Young and Robbie Rogers and yourself to look up to now, so things are changing.
I read Robbie’s book and it really helped me. I finished it in a day. That really inspired me. I got in touch with Robbie because I thought it must be harder for a footballer to come out than a rugby player just because of the way the fans are. I mean I think football fans aren’t quiet as accepting as rugby fans. Football seems to be more of a lads’ sport while rugby is more gentlemanly. The only kind of heckling I have heard about in rugby was with Nigel Owens, the gay rugby referee. He was verbally abused by some fan who was then banned for life. And this guy was dobbed in by other fans, which I guess is encouraging to see that they couldn’t tolerate that guys homophobia.
So how did tell your parents in the end?
I actually sent an email to my mum.
I just didn’t know how else to do it. There’s no right or wrong way of telling people. I emailed her because I thought it would give her a chance to take it all in, so she wasn’t put on the spot. I gave her everything at once, which looking back may not have been the right thing to so. It had taken me days to write the email, to make it right and press the send button. But when she did reply, She was obviously shocked and I was surprised that she hadn’t known as my brothers and sister had always questioned it because I had never brought a girl home. Mum told me she thought it was probably best that I keep it to myself for a bit. I think she was just worried that it would affect my career or that people would turn against me. For me, in my head, it was one step forward but five steps back!
That must have been tough for you.
Having to lie all the time about who I was seeing was draining. My parents were based in Essex and I was training away in Hertfordshire with the team. Laurence didn’t live too far away, so I would tell my housemates that I was going home for the weekend when really I’d be just driving up the road to see Laurence.
And what would you do?
We used go for meals and stuff and the worst part was that I’d always be looking over my shoulder making sure I hadn’t been seen. And that’s a terrible pressure.
When did your mum see you next?
She came along to one of my games and after the match she came and hugged me for a long time and told me that she still loved me. The funny thing was she had grown up with gay mates but I guess it’s different when its you son. It took a while for her to finally sit down and talk about it but when we did she told me stories about her gay mates. When I told her that I was attracted to older men, she was a bit concerned. She’d got her head round me being gay but she still didn’t get my attraction to older guys.
How did your girlfriend take it?
So Remi had been my girlfriend for years. People had always thought we’d end up together. And I was like ‘Er, about that….’ Ha! It was a like a normal relationship. We had sex a few times, but it wasn’t easy. Anyway, one night she was out with her gay brother in a gay bar and we were chatting on Whatsapp and then she said to me ‘I think you’re gay!’ I assume she had always suspected. I messaged back and said would it change anything between us if I was. And she wrote back ‘absolutely not’. And then she said ‘I love you’. Then we spoke on the phone and I got quite emotional.
And what about your brothers and sisters?
Remi phoned me to tell me that my sister and brother were wondering about me so she organised a dinner. I had such terrible butterflies because I was so nervous about telling her. So we were around the table, my sister and Rem on either side of me and Rem said to me, ‘I think you have something to say’ and kept kicking me under the table. So my sister was the first person told face to face. She said to me that she was so happy for me and she gave me a big hug. I told Liv how mum had reacted to the news and she wasn’t happy. So we went back to my parents place and my sister said to my mum she knew and that she was angry with mum. And she said to me I should tell dad.
Eek! And how did that go?
We thought he’d been at work but unbeknownst to us he had snuck in home back in while we were still talking about it and I think he heard us. I took him aside and said I have something to tell you. His reaction was weird. He referenced the bible and we started to argue about it a little bit. I just said ‘look you’re being childish about this’ and I just got up and left and went back to my house in Hertfordshire.
So how long did it take for your dad to calm down?
It’s taken some time but my parents have come around to my sexuality. I understand how things like this can come as a shock and I totally understand why it might have taken a while for them to get their heads around it. But when my coming out story came out in The Times my dad sent me messages saying how proud he was of me. They’re still worried about the age thing between Laurence. My mum was worried that Laurence had taken advantage of me because I was so young. But I have explained to her that by the time I met Laurence, I knew exactly who I was. I met him at 18. And meeting him, this is most definitely I knew this is who I am.
And have they met him yet?
Yes, they met recently for the first time. I was so nervous because this was the first time that they’d meet not only my first boyfriend, but one they were cautious about due to his age. But luckily they got on really well, so now I am happy that everything is out in the open and we are all happy. I’ve had my happy ending.