'We're out here, you're not alone': USA skateboarder Alana Smith tells their coming out story

LGBTQ+ athletes on how they came out to themselves (2:53)

Out sports stars from across the globe detail their experiences of coming out to themselves. (2:53)

Skateboarder Alana Smith [they/them], 20, competed for Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics, and was among notable out non-binary athletes at the Games, alongside footballer Quinn of Canada. Smith came out as bisexual at 16, and non-binary in 2021.

What was the 'coming out to myself' process like for you?

The 'coming out to myself' part was maybe the hardest part -- especially growing up in a household [with] such a lack of emotional availability. We just didn't really have conversations about anything, so I kind of had to figure things out on my own. I was like, 'Wow, I feel this way about everybody and I don't know if it's normal.' I started looking people up [online] and I realised that it was ok. It was just really hard to come to terms with [the fact that] I love everybody in their own ways. Also, with me being non-binary, that was a process of its own. I was like, 'I don't necessarily feel like I'm on one end or the other. Maybe, some days, I am feeling either way.' In between kind of fits me. It was definitely a battle in its own way -- not necessarily a bad or good way. It was just the process of figuring out me.

Did you have a specific reason for coming out to the media/public, rather than keeping your private life private?

Publicly, I came out as bi in 2016. Then, I came out as non-binary this year, which was big for me. Going into the Olympics, I just wanted to be my authentic self. I felt that if I was holding that back, I was not being my full self. I just wanted the world to know who I was. I've been in the public eye from such a young age when it comes to skating. I just felt like it was something I wanted to describe to the world, because growing up as a kid, I didn't see a lot of people like me in whatever way that it was -- whether it was how I identify my sexuality [or] also just the things that I've been through in life, whether it's my past with family trauma or suicide. I wanted to share things that are super vulnerable and sensitive about me to the world to hopefully help the kids that needed it like I did. I wanted to be a support system, that representation of, 'We're out there. You're not alone. It is ok to grow and for things to be a process and you're going to change a million times over.'

READ: 17 LGBTQ+ athletes share their coming out journeys

Has coming out impacted your career and opportunities at all?

I don't know that it necessarily impacted me in a way that I truly saw visible. Even now, coming out as non-binary is such a fresh thing for me. I want to keep myself safe and I also want to keep everybody else safe, but it's still so new and fresh that it hasn't impacted me in any crazy way. I think it's more that I'm trying to figure out my route now. I want to figure out what I want to do, where I feel most comfortable and where I have the fullest potential. Because there are so many routes in skateboarding. I definitely don't want to confine myself to any category -- that's been my biggest battle that I have to push through: Feeling like I have to confine myself to one particular category.

How has your sport changed with regard to the LGBTQ+ community during your career?

When it comes to skateboarding and my career, the more open I am, the people who support me are doing just the same. I came into skating as this person that I was kind of forced to be. A lot of people loved that person, but that just wasn't me. The more I grew, the people who supported me grew with me. With skating, the more that it became authentic to me and the more that I felt that I was truly being myself, the people around me have also been like that, whether it's sponsors or the things that I'm doing -- whether it's competing or at camps hanging out with people.

What is the most rewarding, and perhaps unexpected, part of being out?

Seeing how much being my authentic self can help people has been such a big-hearted thing for me. It's something that I looked for as a kid -- seeing somebody just like me. Seeing that being so honest and open about saying these things -- it's taken me months to just be like, 'hey, this is me,' -- knowing that talking about it can help somebody else is so... I don't know if rewarding is really the right world... but it just fills my heart. That's what I feel that my purpose is. I've been in really low places and if I can help people out of those places by just being me and riding a round on a piece of 2x4 -- it's just unexplainable how grateful I am to do what I do.

What would your advice be to folks who are struggling with their identity?

One of the things that I've had to learn is that I'm forever going to grow as a human being and that rushing to labels isn't necessary -- feel free to take your time -- it is such a hard, long, powerful process. It is ok to express yourself and try different things. Just do whatever you need to do. Try on the t-shirts until one fits. It's a process and don't be so hard on yourself if you change, because it happens. There's this big stigma that once you come out as one thing that you can never change ever again. Don't listen to that sh*t. Be you -- you're going to change the older you get. We're forever changing even if it's not about a sexuality, even if it's not the way you express yourself. Embrace it and really try to be present because it's the best part -- just being able to really come to terms with all of that hard work you put in and just being proud of yourself in the end. By the way, I am proud of you wherever you're at in your journey.

When debating coming out in your mind, what were your worst - and best - case scenarios? And did either come to pass?

When I came out as bi, I was very young, so I kind of just threw it out there and didn't want to think about it. I pretended that I didn't even do it and ran away from it. With my personal growth, coming out as non-binary was such a big thing for me. For a year, I cycled through what could happen, what people were going to say and [whether or not] I was going to lose somebody. The support I got, from an ally, or telling me their stories, or the people that came to me and told me that me being brave enough helped them to be brave enough -- that was something that I couldn't even imagine would happen. I, of course, got in my head about how it was going to go and it went better than I could have imagined.

Did you ever feel any pressure, either internally or from speculating fans, to be a role model or an ambassador for the queer community? And is that something you embrace now?

As much as I want to say there isn't any pressure, that's a big part of my life and I've gone through the battles of it being a negative and trying to find a positive. For a long time, because I was putting on a face and being the person that everyone wanted to see or that I was trained to be, the pressure was crippling and it destroyed me in a way. But that comes from my own anxiety -- this people-pleaser perfectionist side of me that is extremely hard to push through. I try not to look at myself as a role model, because I'm not necessarily putting myself in a position to be this picture-perfect thing for little kids or adults or anybody. I'm just doing this for me -- I'm just trying to show the ways that I make myself happy. If that works, then I'm so happy and proud of it, but I try not to put too much pressure on myself. I've just got to know that if I do what I love, everything is going to be alright at the end of the day.