Six French athletes have spoken about being gay and shared difficult experiences they had during their formative years.
Photo above: In this Aug.9, 2016 file photo, France’s Jeremy Stravius looks disappointed after a men’s 100-meter freestyle heat during the swimming competitions at the 2016 Summer Olympics, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Six French athletes have spoken about being gay and shared difficult experiences they had during their formative years, among them is Jeremy Stravius. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)
A documentary by Canal Plus called Faut qu’on parle (We Have To Talk) interviewed three women and three men.
Basketball player Celine Dumerc, fencer Astrid Guyart, and judoka Amandine Buchard remembered fears they had about their sexuality when growing up. The sentiments were shared by men’s skating champion Kevin Aymoz, rugby player Jeremy Clamy-Edroux, and former Olympic swimming champion Jeremy Stravius.
Photo above: In this Aug.26, 2019 file photo, Natalia Kuziutina of Russia, left, competes against Amandine Buchard of France during a women’s -52 kilogram semi-final of the World Judo Championships in Tokyo, Monday. Six French athletes have spoken about being gay and shared difficult experiences they had during their formative years, among them Amandine Buchard. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara, File)
The 38-year-old Dumerc, who starred for France when it finished 2012 Olympic basketball runner-up, explained how she felt in her early years.
“You’re not sure what’s happening, you become attracted to someone who’s the same sex as you,” she said. “Then you start getting on really well and things start going a bit further. There are intimate moments.”
But Dumerc was distressed by some people’s perceptions.
“You hear all sorts of things like, ‘It’s an illness, it’s in the genes,’” Dumerc recalled. “You hear 20,000 absurd things.”
Guyart is the same age as Dumerc: “I was 18 or 19 and fell in love with a woman who was older,” she said.
One relationship was painful because her partner did not want to say she was gay.
“I wasn’t ashamed, but the person I was with was,” Guyart said. “That’s not a great way to build your identity and to envisage a loving relationship. It was destructive, in that sense.”
Guyart and Dumerc said they invented boyfriends’ names, including precise details such as birthdays, to hide they had girlfriends.
Buchard became European judo champion this year and said she needs to talk.
“I want to open up,” she said. “I think it will do me some good.”
Things were very painful growing up.
“I got close to a girl, and we would see each other from time to time. For me it felt really strange, because at the time I was going out with a boy,” Buchard said. “I was very scared, I cried a lot and shut myself away. For years I grew up (in an environment) where it was really badly thought of to be with a girl.”
Clamy-Edroux is a professional rugby player with second-tier Rouen. He said his upbringing “as a West Indian and a Catholic” made him scared to tell anyone how he felt.
“It was inconceivable (to be gay), it had to be a boy with a girl,” he said. “You want to please your loved ones, your parents. But you’re not being yourself.”
Speaking now about being gay felt easy.
“It’s just telling the truth,” he said.
Stravius experienced glory as the 2011 world champion in backstroke. A year later he won Olympic gold for France in a relay.
His focus has turned to helping others who may be reluctant to say they’re gay.
“To open doors, for me and for others,” he said.
The 32-year-old Stravius has some harrowing memories of his school days.
“I tried by all means to show everyone I was a hetero(sexual).”
That meant reproaching himself for his feelings.
“I thought, ‘Why has this fallen on me?’ When girls walked past I didn’t really look at them, but when boys did, yes,” he recalled. “I told myself ‘You’re not a homo(sexual). Just concentrate on girls and things will change, you’ll see.’ I forced myself to go out with a girl. … But after three or four days I couldn’t do it anymore.”
The 23-year-old Aymoz is a four-time French figure skating champion.
Photo above: In this April 16, 2021 file photo France’s Kevin Aymoz performs during the men’s free skating program of the ISU World Team Trophy figure skating competition in Osaka, western Japan. Six French athletes have spoken about being gay and shared difficult experiences they had during their formative years, among them Kevin Aymoz. (AP Photo/Hiro Komae, File)
“I know I’m doing something that’s good in helping to free up speech,” he said.