Thoughts about Jason Collins and his historical moment

jason collins

Congratulations to Jason Collins for being comfortable and brave to admit his sexual orientation in a public manner. The thirty-four old NBA center made history yesterday when his personal essay for Sports Illustrated leaked to the press and other media outlets, marking him as the first openly gay professional team sport athlete. Here are my thoughts and concerns as this story makes its way through our media’s digestive track.

  • As this Ted Talk illustrates the key to a movement is actually the second person. Who will follow Collins’ courageous first step and announce their sexual orientation? Once that happens, I hope the flood gates will open and America can begin to openly discuss and accept (not tolerate…I strongly dislike that word when we discuss differences…I can tolerate playing basketball on a sprained ankle, whereas I can accept one’s humanity) gay athletes.
  • Bill Clinton wrote yesterday, “It is also the straightforward statement of a good man who wants no more than what so many of us seek: to be able to be who we are; to do our work; to build families and to contribute to our communities,” in praise of Jason Collins’ admission. While I agree with him, I am weary of the use of “good man.” I worry that while Clinton in trying to challenge the way we think of gay athletes, unfortunately reinforces the idea of gay as “bad.” His statement would have still been as powerful with the omission of “good man” because regardless of Collins’ sexuality he is a good person; the two, goodness and sexuality, should not be linked.
  • Collins coming out has a “where were you when…” feel to it. I was in my car, listening to ESPN talk radio when I first heard the news. The announcer stressed that he was not gay, but supported Jason Collins. It struck me as odd that he felt the need to confirm his heterosexuality as he supported an openly gay athlete. Pay attention to that throughout the subsequent commentary.
  • Lastly, while I disagree with those who for various reasons (i.e. bigotry, religion, etc) condemn homosexuality, I do believe that in the spirit of diversity they should be able to share their thoughts and opinions. While it pains me to write that sentence because I worry about the hatred that they may spew, it is within their rights to voice their opinions. Likewise, it is in my rights to disagree with them.

In the words of the famous philosopher from Brooklyn, Jay-Z, “What you eat, don’t make me shhh…Where’s the love?”

I am thankful that Jason Collins found the inner strength to share such a private matter in such a public manner to help push the conversation about homosexuality, sports, masculinity, and the various interconnected threads forward. Who he decides to sleep with does not affect me anymore than it affected it yesterday; likewise, who I decide to sleep with does not affect him. I appreciate his decision to live authentically and hope that others, regardless of sexual orientation, can learn from his example: Be who you are and love who you are because you deserve it!

Thanks Frank for the Courage to do This

I have been inspired by a high school student and more recently Frank Ocean to share the following with you all:

I never told my mom, but she has to know. If I told her, I cannot imagine her treating me any differently because she loves me unconditionally. And this seemingly fits the definition of a ‘condition.’ Hence, her love would not change. Yet, for some reason, I have not told her; it’s never come up in conversation between us (Editor’s note: That’s a poor excuse). Maybe deep down I am concerned about her reaction; her opinion of me is valuable to me and I would be devastated if it ever changed. It’s hard to live the Buddhist ideology of not listening to either praise or criticism because they are different sides of the same coin, judgement. It’s even more difficult when the person holding the coin is a loved one.

On the other hand, I have told a couple of my closest friends and they all, thankfully, supported me. Not surprisingly, I was nervous about it; before I told them, I kept telling myself that I would not care about their reaction because this moment was about me. If they did not want to be my friend anymore because of this then so be it. I did not need friends like that; instead, I needed friends who would ride with me, love me unconditionally. But, I lie to myself often. I knew I would be heartbroken if they did not accept me even though I was the same person. I did not preface it with any long drawn out backstory of when I realized I was me, nor did I begin with gaging their love for me with fishing questions like “You love, right?” One of closest male friends, upon hearing my announcement, responded, after about two seconds of dead air, which felt much longer as I anxiously waited for his reaction, “So?” Another second or two passed, then he added, “I’m proud of you.”

Late last year, while at a conference, I shared, among a large group of people I did not know, my identity. Admittedly, that experience was both terrifying and easy at the same damn time. I was sharing publicly, but the large crowd also added some semblance of anonymity; I did not know these folks and hence did not really care about their judgements. More importantly, I was not alone; there were others who identified with me. The sheer power of numbers comforted me. Not sure where they were on their individual journeys, and truthfully it did not matter.

I am a heterosexual.

While I understand that my sexual orientation is privileged, I want to challenge the expectation that those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, or those who do not wish to label their love with whom they love, must ‘come out’ and share their sexuality. Sharing, though it often seems like a public confession, neatly packs them into those tightly constrictive boxes in which society desperately wants to place everyone, as if our sexuality is the only part of our person. For example, Frank Ocean is dangerously being mislabeled, misidentified by many news pundits as gay and bisexual. Read the letter; he shares that he loved a man and never once used those terms that we, as a society, are so quick and ready to assign.

Additionally, I hope this letter challenges all of us to think about: the dilemma and difficulty of being oneself when ‘you’ are culturally devalued, the freedom and challenges that one experiences when one is openly ‘you,’ the inevitable damage caused with privileging others, the ridiculousness of defining one’s sexuality for others, the dilemma of sharing one’s sexuality, a private identity, publicly, the should-be-unnecessary and real fear of the consequences such an announcement produces.

I could identify with Frank Ocean’s strong feelings of being in love. He painfully, yet romantically, writes about his ‘missed love connection’ though he still experienced love. He then thanks the man who awakened those amazing feelings within him. A blind person can easily tell from the letter that Frank was in love. Filled with short staccato like sentences interspersed with longer ones, Frank Ocean builds to the climax, when he nonchalantly states, “I feel like a free man.” Unfortunately, such freedom, for many (and thus for all of us), is unfortunately not free.