Professional basketball player Sebastián Vega came out of the closet in March 2020, saying he did so in part to combat machismo in sport. Vega plays for the Gimnasia de Comodoro club in the main Argentine basketball league.
How was the process of acceptance with yourself of your sexual orientation?
At first it was quite a difficult process to understand what was happening, to understand why it happened to me when I wanted to be the same as my peers and why it was different. I was a boyfriend for a while and that helped me a lot. In that process I took short and safe steps. What mattered most to me was that the most important people in my life, like my family and my friends, knew it. I was doing that very smooth path with the people that I have the most confidence. I wanted my parents, for example, to find out from my mouth what was happening to me and who I really was. Then I went with my closest friends from Gualeguaychú and little by little I opened up a little more. One situation that was very difficult for me was the subject of my work, the basketball environment. When I was able to say it and make the letter public, that process, which was quite complex and quite long, really ended.
Was there a specific reason why you decided to make your sexual orientation public in the media and / or social networks instead of keeping it private?
At first, I remember a talk I had with my dad on this topic, he said: ‘I am this but I don’t need anyone else to know it.’ Little by little I realized that unconsciously I was hiding what I was doing, who I was with or part of my life so that no one would find out that I am gay. So, I wasn’t really being me and I didn’t feel free or calm. He kept hiding things when he wasn’t doing anything wrong. Until at one point it was like ‘ok, this is me’. It was doing me wrong and I didn’t see or didn’t make sense of why I had to hide it. So, I knew that the basketball environment is quite macho and I felt that by not doing anything, from my place where I could contribute a lot, I was contributing to that (stigma) and I was not contributing my grain of sand so that the situation will begin to change.
Did the fact of coming out of the closet have any impact on your sports career?
Yes. Just when I made my sexual orientation public, the pandemic hit. I published the letter on March 10, 2020 and on March 16 the competition in Argentina ended. So last season, which was quite atypical because there was no audience, it was the first experience since I communicated it. There was a resounding change not so much from the technique, the shooting percentages or the sensations but mainly from the enjoyment or the security that I had on the court. It had been a long time since I had such a good time and I enjoyed what I was doing. I really enjoyed the day to day and everything that was happening to me, something that I did not before because there were always obstacles, things in my head, ghosts that did not allow me. It happened to me that many journalists, many colleagues and acquaintances told me: ‘Seba, you look different, you look happy and well on the pitch’. That inevitably influenced my performance to improve much more.
READ: 17 Athletes Share Their Coming Out Stories
What changes were there in the environment of your sport in relation to the LGBTQ + community throughout your career?
In sports, I talk about basketball, which is the environment in which I move, there is still a lot to do. And I think there is still a lot of room for improvement in society regarding LGBTQ + rights. But, without a doubt, in basketball he was improving. Before, I remember when I was younger, these issues were not discussed. It was something that was totally forbidden, gay people were belittled by calling them (insults). And little by little it evolved as society did or as one sees on television. It happened to me with my colleagues, who little by little are generating vocabulary habits, how to speak, how to handle themselves, how to say certain things or touch certain very sensitive topics. I notice that there is much more visibility and issues that could not be touched before. I think this is the path and, although there is still a long way to go, for the new generations that path will be a little smoother.
What was the biggest unexpected benefit or situation you received since announcing your sexual orientation?
It was very crazy because it was all very sudden. So, I was prepared for things that were not so positive and others that were very positive. I was very surprised by the massive support. One benefit is that support, not just from the basketball environment. I felt very good, I felt that they really hugged me and last season I was able to corroborate it with referees, coaches and players who congratulated me and gave me their support in the games. It has also happened to me from people who thanked me and congratulated me for my courage and told me that they feel identified with my story and that thanks to this they were able to tell their family or take courage and tell their friends, their parents or those in need. . That made me very proud.
What advice would you give to people facing identity conflicts?
From my experience I would tell them that first and foremost they live the process as they feel it because the acceptance process is very individual and how one feels it. That they take time, that they give themselves space, that they trust, that they rely on the people who are next to them, the people who love them because in my case it helped me a lot. I would not say ‘nothing is wrong, do it, do not be afraid’ because it would be very naive. Yes, I would tell you, it was something I read before writing the letter: ‘do it with fear anyway, do what you feel because fear will always be there. Have the courage to do it because if it is what you feel or need and it makes you happy, that is the way, there is no other option. ‘
When you were debating whether or not to make your sexual orientation public, what were the best and worst-case scenarios in your mind and what of that ultimately happened?
The worst scenarios were that I was discriminated against, that I was very exposed and that because of my sexual orientation the clubs did not want to hire me. I was really thinking about losing my job. The picture was quite dark in that sense because it was like a very big leap into the void in which I didn’t know what the answer was going to be, but it was what I needed. With the Monday diary, as is usually said, it was all positive, it was all incredibly beautiful. The club supported me in everything, also off the pitch because we communicated together. Not only that, but they renewed my contract for two years. I realized that what matters to people is that you are happy and when they see you happy, they are calm and they are also happy.
Did you ever feel pressure, either internally or from the public, to be a role model for the LGBTQ + community? Is it something that generates interest and of which you are a part?
Being a professional athlete, inevitably, the news took a lot of diffusion. Unconsciously and without realizing it, I became a reference. A couple of years ago, when I started with this whole process, I was with a computer looking for ‘gay basketball player’ or ‘gay athlete who has made it public’ because I needed a reference or a person with whom to feel identified to see that everything was fine. , to see that he could be gay and a professional athlete, that he could be whatever he wanted, that nothing changed. But at that moment I couldn’t find it, I couldn’t find it. So, being the first publicly gay basketball player, it transforms me into that reference. It is a very big responsibility and although when I wrote the letter I did not feel so activist, today I feel much more because I have the knowledge, I have the strength to do it and I have also met wonderful people from the collective who have helped me a lot and when I started to having contact with them I realized a lot of things and why we have to continue with this fundamental struggle.