From The Mag: Israel Gutierrez on taking flight after coming out

Mark Smith

This story is part of ESPN's ongoing series exploring what it means to be an openly gay athlete in the post-acceptance world. Look for stories on Derrick Gordon, Megan Rapinoe, Chris Mosier and others in ESPN The Magazine's Being Out Issue, on newsstands Oct. 30. Subscribe today!

EVER SINCE I pressed send in September on a blog entry that shared elements of my personal life that I'd shared with only a handful of people, things haven't gone as expected. Before that click, I was a happily private person who worked in the sports world. After that click, the entirety of my life was exposed to the public.

Anyone who read that entry now knew not just that I was gay but that I had struggled with it. They knew about a shame so deep I couldn't speak of its source until I was in my 30s. They knew the moment I fell in love.

I waited for the fight. Not because I lack faith in people but because it seemed inevitable that some folk would use me as the next target for their anti-gay bias.

I didn't want a fight. That was the primary reason I wrote and rewrote and rewrote that entry before I hit send. I was deathly afraid of the defensiveness that used to arise whenever I would speak about it. I needed to take the combativeness out of the equation. It's part of the reason that, for hours after pressing send, I just drove around South Florida running any errand I could think of and preparing for battle. (Buying sneakers can have a calming effect on anyone, really.)

But after I rode around with my shield, I stepped out of my car to find no need for one. Maybe it was because I eliminated the angry from my entry. But maybe it's because the world -- even the sometimes Neanderthal-like sports world -- has adjusted and learned more than I knew. Whatever the reason, I've discovered that it's possible for me to continue down this hostility-free path.

But continue where? What is my next step as an openly gay sports analyst in the public eye? The truth is, I don't really know. I hope that I can be a helpful voice and take on more of an activist role in the LGBT community when my passions are inflamed.

On an everyday scale, there won't be much change. I never once thought my professional relationship with ESPN or the NBA would be affected by my personal news. It certainly doesn't hurt that the NBA seems to be the most progressive of the major sports. It's probably no coincidence that Jason Collins felt comfortable coming out while he was still playing. And if I had any doubts, the personal, supportive messages I received from several prominent members of the NBA would have relieved them.

All my personal fighting was done before I wrote that blog entry. These last several weeks have been so overwhelmingly positive and life-changing for me, I don't see a struggle for me anymore. I see an opportunity to pay it forward, because so many are still battling. Specifically, high-level athletes -- their stories might not take a turn like mine. For them, there remains a lot more to lose or at least many more reasons to still be afraid.

In whatever way I can, I'd like to help the advancement of the LGBT community, but I want to center it on this amazingly affirmative, optimistic feeling that has flooded me since I revealed I was gay. I focused on the negative for far too long -- so long that I believed true happiness was not possible.

Too many of the world's serious issues are driven by extremes. All the hyperbolic debates and far-fetched overreactions lead us to a place where all you hear are the screams, and any idea of progress gets lost. And for closeted gay men and women, all that yelling forces them to want to hide until all the shouting stops.

This "being out" thing is a process, and you can only figure it out as you go. But while there's no handbook for it, you can have some parameters by which you can approach it.

For me, being an activist won't be a fight. It'll be an invitation to be enlightened. A request for understanding. An appeal to consider the circumstances of others who only get to live this life once and would like to spend as little of that time as possible feeling trapped or hidden or judged.

So I'd like to hear and tell more stories like mine, hear and tell more stories entirely different from mine, take part in more reasonable discussions.

It's the only way I can envision what the next step in this process really is.