Nigel Owens has opened up on his powerful story about discovering his sexuality and the struggles he had with his mental health as a result.
The highly respected rugby referee, who came out as gay in 2007, was speaking on the Jim White show on TalkSPORT, about the recent controversies surrounding Israel Folau’s anti-gay Instagram post which was ‘liked’ and defended by England number 8, Billy Vunipola.
While admitting that he respected the players’ right to an opinion and insisting that he would have no issue refereeing a game involving Vunipola in the future, Owens opened up about when he first realised he was gay.
“At 19 years of age, I had a girlfriend at the time, and only on the odd occasion, I felt myself attracted to men and this was something totally alien. I started to think that there was something wrong with me”, Owens told White.
“It led me to mental health issues, I became bulimic and I was scared of other people finding out. On the odd occasion that I did experience something with a man, I’d wash myself in the shower afterwards to get rid of what I thought was this dirt on me. I went to the gym, wanted to put some weight on to get what was perceived to be the perfect image body and I started using steroids and got hooked on steroids.
His struggles to accept his sexuality led Owens to take drastic action by visiting a doctor because he no longer wanted to be the person he was.
“At 25, not wanting to be this person, I’d read somewhere that you could get chemically castrated and if you got chemically castrated, it would get rid of any sexual urges you had. I went to the doctor and said ‘look I think I’m gay and I don’t want to be gay. I want to be chemically castrated’. The doctor said ‘it doesn’t work like that’ and I left there in a worst state than I went in there.
“Things were very different 23 years ago than they are now. I thought there was only one way out. I couldn’t have people finding out, what would my Mum and Dad say, what would my family and friends say if they found out that I was different to them? I did something one night that I will regret for the rest of my life.”
Owens is all too aware with the dangers that come with staying quiet about your feelings and he maintained that educating both young people and adults on the help available is the best way forward.
Sometimes people still don’t know where to turn to or where to go and a simple little sign to say we’re here to listen, like the Samaritans do, can help so many people. And educating, as well, is very important. Particularly in young children that it;’s OK not to be OK. Educating parents and adults as well that if your kid is down, you need to ask ‘what’s troubling you?’
“Mental health issues aren’t prejudiced, they can affect everybody. People may think that my life is brilliant but there’s still things that get me down. My Mum passed away 10 years ago, I live alone, I don’t have a partner or any children. I get worried sometimes about getting old on my own and that sometimes gets me down but what I have learned is to talk to somebody about it.”
Samaritans can be contacted at any time by calling 116 123 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org