In 1995, Australian Rugby League player Ian Roberts became the first professional rugby player to come out. He was followed by Welsh Rugby Union star Gareth Thomas in 2009.
Despite the headline grabbing fact of being the first openly gay British Rugby League player, the biggest challenge he faced has been coming to terms with the fact that he was going to hurt a woman he loved.
They met when he was 19 but the relationship broke down and the couple separated after the birth of his daughter. At that time Keegan had several gay experiences, but because they never felt comfortable, he didn’t believe that he was actually gay.
Speaking exclusively to the Sunday Mirror, the dad of two tells of the moment he finally found the words to explain to his wife the reason they could no longer be together. And he talks emotionally of the support he got, not only from her but also from his rugby team-mates.
The vèry sympathic Keegan Hirst on Good Morning Britain
She blamed herself when we separated but I knew she’d done nothing wrong. I couldn’t bear it any more, the guilt of it all, of her not knowing why I left. It was eating me up. I went to her and asked if I could have a word. My stomach was in knots. We sat at the kitchen table and I said, “There’s something I need to tell you” I couldn’t get the words out, I felt like I was going to be sick. But I managed to say it. She didn’t say anything at first. I explained why and how I felt, it was very emotional. We were both in tears.
Keegan Hirst by Leigh Kelly (Click photo to enlarge)
At first I couldn’t even say ‘I’m gay’ in my head, let alone out loud. Now I feel like I’m letting out a long breath that I’ve held in for a long time
“She didn’t ask a lot of questions, but she was very supportive. She was totally blind-sided. She’d had absolutely no idea. It was incredibly tough, but for me it was a weird situation because it also felt liberating. I thought I’d be disowned by friends and family but I haven’t been,” he said. “The support from my teammates and other rugby league players has really surprised me, it’s all been positive.”
As soon as it was done, I was out of there quick-sticks. I felt ashamed, really. I thought I don’t want to feel like this forever, so it was back into denial.
The response to his news has been overwhelmingly positive—something Hirst honestly didn’t expect.
Keegan says he first felt he might be gay as a teenager. He said: “I had girlfriends on and off, but at about 15, I started feeling attracted to guys too. I was having conflicting feelings, but it was something I suppressed. It wasn’t the done thing to admit it. I thought it can’t be right because of how bad I felt about it. If I was gay I should be enjoying it. Because those experiences felt like a negative or dirty thing, I genuinely thought I can’t be gay!”
Keenan Hirst on the cover of Attitude Magazine (Clickphoto to enlarge)
Now we can admire the 6ft 4in captain of West Yorkshire side Batley Bulldogs on the cover of Attitude and he can wash of his past…. Britain’s first openlty rugby league player seems to be relishing his newfound sex symbol status, and we’re loving every second of it.
Feeling free and accepted. Keegan Hirst for Attidude Magazine (Click photo to enlarge)
In his Attidude interview, Hirst says not much has changed in his day-to-day life since he came out publicly in August.
I haven’t really experimented, It’s not like I started going around the gay scene or anything. I still go out where I’d normally go. I have a couple mates that I got to know quite recently. But before I didn’t know anybody who was gay. It was like going from one extreme to another, from zero to one hundred.
In this behind-the scenes video, Keegan Hirst stripped down to a pair of Tommy Hilfiger boxer briefs for a smoldering spread in Attitude magazine’s Award issue. The clip also shows the beefy athlete, 27, stepping into the shower in a tuxedo shirt wich gets progressively more clingy as the water descends.
Nothing then respect everything good for this sympathic guy! Whatever he wish that may be! Wishing him all the best!
Attitude magazine is available for subscription in print or digitally. You can read the full interview with Keegan, as well as special features on the rest of the winners from the Attitude Awards in association with with Virgin Holidays, in their new issue. It’s available to download from attitudedigital.co.uk and in shops right now.
by Jean Amr