It is now week three of our full time training camp. This not only maximises the amount of on-court playing time we have together as a team, but it also gets us used to spending a lot of time all together, living in close proximity. The lack of privacy or ability to go and see friends and family is something that, if not handled correctly, can impact negatively on your psychological state and therefore your performance, so it's important we learn coping strategies now.
This morning, after skyping home in my room, with several of the team coming in and out uninvited to say hi to whoever is on the screen, it made me reflect on how truly impossible this would be for me if I wasn't completely out to my team. There is nowhere to hide, I would be truly isolated. It's not until you are in this final stage of preparation that you realise how important the support of all those around you is; I can't imagine how I would cope if I couldn't openly and freely draw on the support, messages and banter from my friends, family and of those I love. I would fold.
Additionally, I need to be me in order to fulfil my captaincy role properly. A large part of that role, especially now, is motivating, balancing and supporting my team. To be able to do that, they have to trust me and feel they can talk to me. The other day I was privy to a piece of information I had to keep secret from the team. I spent all day having to think before I answered, steering conversations away from topics that might bring that subject up. "You're acting really suspiciously", "Why are you being so cagey?" were the comments I received all day. It reminded me how it felt before I was out. I'm sure every LGB and probably T person has felt that feeling. Not only would being like that about my sexuality use up inordinate amounts of energy I should be putting into my volleyball performance, but I cannot think how I would have felt integrated into the team, let alone be in a position where people felt they could trust me.
My sexuality now is 'old news' but provides a good source of banter and I can use it to bring lightheartedness to the team dynamic. Like a session where we had to watch the GB women's standing team and make notes. Well, you can imagine the laughter that came from the team alongside their teasing me that I needed to watch the ball more than the players (which I really was, for the record!!!). The whole team went off to sleep sharing a playful joke, laughing and feeling relaxed that night. The next time it will be about someone else and something about them, my sexuality doesn't make me the source of gossip or ridicule, it is just a part of me that I am able to be open about with my team and they accept it as just part of who I am.
Being the captain of a Paralympic team throws you into a media spotlight in a way I never imagined. It's not my favourite place, I can tell you. I think it's important that I never shy away from talking about my sexuality, but that I talk about it in context. I think that is something my team have benefitted from; many comment on how they had never really met anyone gay before, and now they feel so much more confident and informed, not just about what being gay is, but also what it isn't. In one conversation recently a teammate said that her friend had commented on whether she should be worried having to share a double bed at a competition with me. My teammate's response was to laugh and say "she is my teammate, a volleyball player who just happens to be gay, not some kind of sex craved lunatic. You don't ask me whether I try to come onto the coach everytime we are alone just because I'm straight!". That's real progress and positive messaging.
But all of my team, me included, want to use this Games to inspire people to find out who they really are and what they can achieve if they give it their all. For each one of us, I hope our unique stories will speak to different groups of people. I very much hope that my journey, as humble and normal as it is, might inspire or at least encourage young LGBT people to know that there are teams and organisations who want you, and you can and WILL thrive. And people like me are always here to help.
Claire Harvey is a DRM patron, a role model and you can catch her in action in the Sitting Volleyball during the Paralympics this summer.