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    ‘Live a Life That Others Can Appreciate’

    By John Chen–

    Brandon Renfroe turned down a potential scholarship to play college baseball so that he could turn to religion for help and for answers.

    Irony defined his childhood. Brandon was reared in a family without religion in the heart of the Bible Belt. In Avon, Mississippi, where the town’s only gas station was also the lone grocery store and the sole restaurant, a young Brandon—who excelled not only in sports but also academics—was often called “faggot.” The other kids thought he was somehow different, yet he shed the negative label when he started dating girls and partying with the jocks.

    Brandon knew that he liked boys for as long as he could remember, but the name-calling still came as a harsh surprise. He was smart and athletic and exhibited no obvious giveaways in his demeanor and outward persona. No matter. Juvenile name calling was just that, juvenile, or at least that’s how Brandon perceived it, because at the time and to him, there was no other explanation.

    Things started to change once Brandon started to come of age. The more he dated girls, the more it became clear that he wanted to be with boys. The more he starred on the baseball diamond, the more people believed he was a typical skirt-chasing, red blooded all-American southern jock. Brandon didn’t want to be gay. He wanted to live the life he thought was normal. There had to be a way.

    At fifteen, Brandon’s parents succumbed to a major financial deficit that crippled and divided his family, leaving him with lots of questions and no answers. Mired in confusion, anger, fear, despair, depression and hopelessness about life and himself, Brandon turned to religion in search of answers and perhaps a cure. Religion offered hope, faith and love—things that were dearly missing in his life. For years, he sincerely prayed for a sense of normalcy, and it was hope that kept him going, leading him down a path of faith and away from a potential baseball career.

    At Mississippi College, a Christian faith school, Brandon took on various leadership roles and became devoted to his church and its teachings. But deep inside, nothing really changed. No amount of prayers and revelation-seeking made him more sexually attracted to women and less desirous of men.

    The constant struggle of wanting to live the life of others weighed on Brandon every waking hour. He played lots of sports and competed in cross fit as a means to escape. Sports were the only things that made Brandon forget the lies and feel good about himself. But always in the shadows behind him lurked his true self, finding anonymous men to fulfill his real need for intimacy.

    Just months before graduating, returning from a winter vacation, somehow everyone learned of his sexual “sins.” Under constant scrutiny, his friends and church alike demanded answers and called for him to repent. They tried to “fix” Brandon and told him that he would end up in hell. How did love turn into hate so quickly and maliciously? Enough was enough. Stripped of his lies, a blessing in disguise, the weight of his mask lifted, freeing Brandon.

    “Moving away from Mississippi, I decided that I didn’t want to hide anymore, that I wouldn’t care what people said of me, that I would live my life boldly, and that I would be proud of who I am,” he told me for the San Francisco Bay Times.

    Leaving his church and college behind, Brandon dove head first into being an openly gay man. His initial experience at being addressed as “gurl” confused him greatly, especially given that he was labeled as masculine. Eventually finding his way to San Francisco, Brandon quickly built great friendships playing with LGBT sports groups such as the San Francisco Gay Softball League and Balls of Furry Volleyball.

    “Sports was an easy way for me to connect with the LGBT community and to be healthy both physically and mentally,” he says. “Being an athlete really helped to build my confidence and self-esteem, even during the darkest moments where I felt devastated and defeated. Sports was my sanctuary, something I could lean on; I could be proud and be who I am.”

    After hiding for most of his life, feeling betrayed by the people who said they loved him, and being abandoned by the church that only wanted to fix him, Brandon is finally the man he knew he could be and living life authentically. Although there are still some inner demons, they can no longer hurt him. Today, one can find Brandon on a softball field, on a volleyball court and in the gym training for cross fit competitions, smiling, laughing and being as gay as he can be.

    “Live a life that others can appreciate,” he says, mentioning that this is his favorite quote. He hopes that people can see the good in him, just as he strives to do for others, and particularly for those like him who have faced—and overcome—seemingly insurmountable challenges in their lives.

    John Chen, a UCLA alumnus and an avid sports fan, has competed as well as coached tennis, volleyball, softball and football teams.