What’s your deepest fear? What’s your darkest secret? How long have you lived in fear? How long have you gone protecting a secret?
Everyone talks about being transparent and out in the open these days about their mental health issues, but countless people continue to struggle. Their struggle comes from within. They struggle in silence. They struggle with fear. They struggle in solitude. They struggle living life protecting their secret. Yanic Duplessis lived that struggle, but now everything is out in the open. No more secrets. No more lies, he can be his true self, out in the open.
Three Sizes Too Big
Yanic Duplessis learned how to skate in the friendly confines of his basement under the watchful eye of his father Andre and his older brother Lucas.
“I was only two and half years old and my parents bought me roller blades,” said Duplessis laughing.
“Lucas and I would play all day downstairs.”
“I started young, but I will never forget wearing a helmet that was three sizes too big.”
Duplessis’ passion and love for the sport grew rapidly. The young kid from Saint-Antoine, New Brunswick couldn’t get enough of the game.
“The helmet was way too big, but I just wanted to be a hockey player.”
Hour after hour, day after day, Duplessis honed his skills in the basement and when it came time to lace up the skates and step on the ice for the very first time he was already hooked.
“At that age you just want to be like the hockey players you see on TV,” explained Duplessis.
Hockey became his passion, his everything. Even at that age, Duplessis felt at peace on the ice.
For the Love of the Game
From the basement to the local rink, Duplessis’ ascension in the game happened very fast. Yanic Duplessis played the game the right way for all the right reasons.
He played for the love of the game. The speedy right winger would play provincial hockey all the way through his minor hockey days. The dream of playing elite level hockey was well within reach. By Bantam, he was putting up very good numbers and was preparing to make the jump to Midget hockey with his eye set on one day possibly playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Duplessis would crack the famed Moncton Midget AAA Flyers roster as a rookie in 2018-2019.
Everything seemed to be falling into place for the talented two-way gritty forward. The pressure of a QMJHL Draft year can be demoralizing for any young prospect with most players describing it as the most stressful year of their lives. Yanic Duplessis felt that pressure and stress like any other draft eligible player, but that was nothing compared to what he was going through in his personal life.
In the most important year of his young hockey career, Duplessis was fighting a personal battle from within. He was living a lie. He was protecting a secret.
“Honestly when I was younger it wasn’t that bad. When I was really young, I didn’t know I was gay.”
“It wasn’t that bad playing hockey because the other guys weren’t talking about their adventures with girls and stuff.”
“I wanted to fit it, but after a while it wasn’t my reality.”
Everything started to change for Duplessis as he became more in tune with his true self.
“The last few years, the boys on my team started to get girlfriends and tell stories.”
“I started to isolate myself.”
“I knew that I wasn’t interested in any of that.”
A dressing room can be an incredibly lonely and dark place for any player who doesn’t conform to hockey’s culture.
“I felt like an outcast,” confessed Duplessis.
Duplessis’ life as he knew it started to unravel. The skilled winger knew he had to protect his secret at all cost.
“Obviously at that point I couldn’t tell my teammates I was gay.”
“It was very hard,” admitted Duplessis when asked about protecting his secret.
“I didn’t want to say something or do something that would reveal that I was gay.”
“It was like an act, I wasn’t myself.”
The once outgoing fun-loving kid who sat at the back of the bus with “the boys” became a recluse. Duplessis started to push everyone away. He welcomed the solitude, but deep down hated every second of it. The fear of someone finding out his secret haunted his thoughts; his only escape was playing the game he loved.
Strength, Love and Support
Yanic Duplessis’ pillar of strength, love and support has always and will always be his mom and dad. Diane Dandurand and Andre Duplessis knew something was radically wrong. They knew their son was struggling, but they had no idea why.
“They started to notice that I was struggling in school, my marks were dropping rapidly,” Duplessis said.
From a mid 90’s average to failing a class, this wasn’t like anything his parents or Duplessis had ever experienced before. They had no idea their son was protecting a secret. The pressure and anxiety were constantly escalating, eating away at his soul. Yanic Duplessis finally felt compelled to tell someone.
“I came out to a very close friend, but I was so worried that people would still find out.”
Duplessis started to miss school on a regular basis. The tension and anxiousness were making him physically ill.
“I wasn’t paying attention in class and failing, I was really anxious that people would find out.”
Day in day out Duplessis battled with the same determination that he displays on the ice, but his internal struggle seemed insurmountable.
“I would call my mom saying that I was sick at school.”
“I was so anxious, I would puke, it was really that bad.”
Duplessis’ struggle was taking a toll on every aspect of his life. The pressure to conform at school and at the rink became all consuming. He had to keep up with appearances, he couldn’t let his guard down around anyone, especially his teammates. Duplessis couldn’t break character, he had the starring role of his own horror movie, he was living in his own worst nightmare.
“It was hard, I wasn’t ready to accept it myself.”
“For the longest time I was convincing myself that I was straight,” Duplessis said.
“I did have girlfriends before, but I would talk about girls to make people believe that I was straight.”
“When I stopped seeing girls people started rumors saying that I might be gay.”
Duplessis felt that he couldn’t be openly gay and play the game he loves. The constant fear of being outed became too much to handle.
“My mom would always come to pick me up from school when I wasn’t feeling well.”
“Both my parents were starting to get really worried, especially my mom, she called the school and cried when she spoke to the principal.”
“My principal spoke to me asking what was wrong, he referred me to the school’s psychologist. No one knew what was wrong with me, but they all knew something was wrong.”
Duplessis still couldn’t bring himself to tell his family.
“I hit a low, but I was afraid they were going to be disappointed.”
One phone call and the fifteen-minute drive home changed Yanic Duplessis’ life forever.
“I remember calling my mom to come pick me up.”
“She said if I come, you have to tell me what’s really going on.”
The fifteen-minute drive that day felt like an eternity. “She kept asking me, is it this or is that, and I kept saying no, until she asked me if I was gay.”
“Immediately I said no, I just wasn’t ready,” confessed Duplessis.
“My mom was really concerned.”
“At first I couldn’t say I was gay.”
“I couldn’t say it out loud, but I finally told both of my parents when I got home that day.
Duplessis came out to his parents a year ago this October. “They were shocked, but they all assured me they still loved me.” One word comes to Duplessis’ mind when asked about his parents love and support.
“Obviously in my parents’ generation it wasn’t common for someone to be gay, we have made progress,” he said.
“My parents automatically said that they loved me no matter what and that they accepted me.”
Duplessis’ entire family supported him which isn’t always the case for many young teenagers who come out.
“My brother and sister accepted me and my grandmother as well.”
“She was happy that I could be myself,” Duplessis said proudly.
“My entire family was ok with it, and that really helps a lot.”
“If they didn’t support me, I don’t know where I would be right now,” admitted Duplessis.
“It would be really difficult the whole coming out thing, knowing that my family wouldn’t be ok with it.”
“Everyone was ok with it and said they still love me, and that’s the main thing knowing that they still support and love you.”
Yanic Duplessis’ could finally relax and let his guard down around the people he loved. Nevertheless, he knew he could never tell his secret to his second family, his teammates.
Living and Playing in Fear
On the ice Yanic Duplessis played fearless. The hard-hitting talented forward was relentless. The Drummondville Voltigeurs appreciated Duplessis’ skill set and selected him in the 9th round of the 2019 QMJHL Draft.
That same year Duplessis’ was selected by the Campbelltown Tigers of the Maritime Hockey League in the 3rd round, 43rd overall. The opportunity for Duplessis to further his hockey career was directly in front of him. Everything he ever wanted was in reach. Nevertheless, he had to protect his secret.
“I was terrified that it was going to come out,” Duplessis said.
“I was terrified that the wrong person would out me, especially when I wasn’t ready to say anything.”
“I was scared of being rejected and judged.”
“I was scared that my teammates would be afraid to be around me or them thinking I would go after them. They were like brothers to me and I never looked at them that way,” explained Duplessis.
“In my mind there was no other person that played hockey being gay.”
“It’s a sport where we don’t hear any athletes being gay and playing the game.”
Duplessis may have been out in the open in one part of his life, but he realized he couldn’t be his true self around the game.
“I just wasn’t myself this season,” he said.
By design Duplessis grew farther and farther apart from his teammates.
“I don’t know how to describe hockey culture,” Duplessis said.
“I’m not saying hockey players aren’t nice, because they are, but in the dressing room between the boys, and I certainly don’t want to offend anyone, but in the room people say some things to be cool or whatever.”
“They would say things about being gay or something and laugh at it.”
“I would do the same thing, because I wanted to blend in.”
“If I would have said something to defend that, they probably would say, ‘oh is he gay.’”
“I would say the same things to blend in and I would laugh it off.”
Duplessis was living a double life. “Honestly if I didn’t play hockey, I would have come out sooner,” admitted Duplessis.
“All the guys I played with are all good guys, but if they would have known I was gay, they would have never said those things, I’m sure of it.”
It all goes back to the culture around the game of hockey.
“You don’t know what’s going on with someone in the room, you don’t know what the person is going through.”
Hockey players don’t share their fears and they sure as hell don’t share their emotions.
“It made me nervous to a point that after practices or games I wouldn’t shower.”
“I knew I was gay.”
“I didn’t want the boys or my teammates after the fact to think oh he was showering with us.”
Duplessis would always come up with an excuse when his teammates would ask why he wasn’t showering. “I knew I was gay and that I would have to come out eventually, but I didn’t want them to think that he was in the shower and he looked at us or anything like that.”
“I would get undressed quick and put on my suit and leave.”
On His Own Terms
Yanic Duplessis’ worst nightmare came true in late June of this year. He received a text message that changed his life. The passionate hockey loving seventeen-year-old woke up to a text message from one of his friends asking if his secret was true. All he ever wanted was to come out on his own terms, but that was stolen from him.
“I got outed at a party,” Duplessis said.
A confidential conversation between friends spread like wild fire.
Duplessis wasn’t even at the party. “I received the text message Saturday morning, asking if it was true.”
“Let me tell you there was a lot of emotion that came through all at once when I saw that text.”
“I called the person right away.”
“They said, I heard you’re coming out.”
“Oh my God, I said, I’m not ready.”
After the initial shock, sadness and anger which hit harder than a crushing open ice hit, Duplessis came to terms with being outed. “Honestly, I can tell you right now it’s the best thing that could have ever happened.”
“I was planning on coming out after high school and after I was finished playing hockey.”
“Looking back on it now I’m happy that it happened.”
How did Duplessis feel telling people for the first time? “It was huge relief that I could finally talk to someone.”
Duplessis will never forget his darkest times and his darkest thoughts over the last few years. He will carry them with him for the rest of his life, but it’s those moments that have inspired him to share his story.
“What if someone outs me, what if my parents aren’t ok with it, what if I lose all my friends, your mind just goes there.”
The “what if” scenarios racing through his mind every single day were crippling.
“Everything I went through and keeping my secret all to myself, it was a massive boulder on my shoulders.”
“It was a huge huge secret.”
“I just want to share my story, so if someone is going through the same thing I did, I want to help, even if it’s only one person that reads this.”
“It’s not what you think it is, it’s not that bad,” Duplessis said of coming out.
“You picture the worst scenarios.”
How have his friends and former teammates supported him? “Honestly, a lot of friends and teammates have called me.”
“One teammate actually came over to my house to check on me.”
“It was the first day he found out. He came over to make sure that I knew that he accepted me and supported me.”
“We talked a lot and he started crying because he knew I was going through a very tough time and that I was doing it alone.”
Duplessis gets emotional talking about that conversation.
“I will never forget that,” said a reflective Duplessis. The courage to share his story and come out publicly is truly remarkable. Yanic Duplessis’ maturity and strength are second to none. Now that everything is in the open Duplessis hopes to return to the game he loves this fall.
Nothing to Hide
Yanic Duplessis has nothing to hide. He is anxiously awaiting the start of a new hockey season, the start of a new journey. What does the game of hockey mean to Yanic Duplessis?
“When I played the game, I forgot everything that was going on around me.”
“Hockey was my only way out of reality, I would just focus on that.”
“Thank God for that, my brain was going a thousand miles an hour, but when I stepped on the ice and play it was just me and my stick.”
Duplessis wants to stay close to home this season, but hasn’t ruled out playing junior hockey in the future. “If I didn’t struggle as much with being gay my dream would have been to play in the Q.”
“I was afraid of being judged and outed and casted out.”
“I’m taking a step back and letting the dust settle to figure things out.”
“I’m going to try to work on my confidence again and I’m thinking for this year trying out for high school team and I’ll go from there.”
“Hockey is my life and passion.”
“For the longest time hockey was my way out.”
“It’s every little hockey players dream to succeed. I can’t wait to get back on the ice and play the game I love,” confessed Duplessis.
Duplessis is quick to serve up advice for other young hockey players and teenagers experiencing the same he went through in silence.
“Really just be yourself.”
“Don’t try to impress someone else and be happy, that’s what I would say.”
Duplessis understands that every story or scenario is different and that it’s important to seek profession counselling if they are struggling.
“If you can find someone you can trust, if you’re not ready to come out and you know that they can keep your secret, I highly recommend it, it’s a huge relief to talk to someone.”
“My experience was ok, but I can’t promise every other story will go the same way.”
“I just want to be a role model for someone that is going through the same as me.”
Duplessis struggles putting his newfound happiness into words. “It’s like an entirely different world, I’m so happy, I feel so much freer.”
“I’ve never been happier,” he added.
Duplessis is well aware that he can’t change people’s perception of him as a person and player. “I don’t want anyone to see me any different.”
“I want them to see Yanic.”
“I’m much more than just being gay.”
“I don’t want the first thing in someone’s mind to say, ‘oh he’s gay.’”
“I know it’s going to be like that for a few years, and I’m ok with that, but there’s much more to a person than being gay.”
As for the dressing room and hockey culture, Duplessis’ advice is profound. “Be careful what you say, watch what you say in the room.”
“It’s just not about being gay, it could be about anything that could trigger something.”
“Just be careful what you talk about in the room,” stressed Duplessis.
The weight of the world is now lifted off his shoulders. No more lies. No more secrets. No more silence. Yanic Duplessis can be his true self, free and out in the open.