Monday, May 6, 2013

Coming Out About...Coming Out

This past week, NBA star Jason Collins came out as a gay male. First, I will endorse Collins’ published letter in Sports Illustrated, which can be read here.

Second, allow me to critique the other media buzz surrounding Collins and coming out. One particular headline I saw that rubbed me the wrong way?

Pro basketball player Jason Collins appears in his first interview since coming out.

Now, I understand the innocence in this headline. But still, I beg the question: what does it matter?

Headlines and hoopla like this are precisely reason enough to keep people in the closet, to prevent them from openly claiming their sexuality. Phrases and attitudes like this treat it like a big deal, like coming out makes people completely different from who they were before. I can testify that I am the same person as before, only now I’m cluing people in to my preferences. And taking more fashion risks.

I have long wanted to write about coming out, because I think there are many problematic discourses surrounding it. In particular, the act of coming out and ways of doing it act as a singular prescription for all. In reality, no one gay or LGBTQ-identified person’s experience is the same as another’s. My experience is not the same as someone else’s experience. What works for me may not work for someone else, because each of us have different factors and circumstances that may or may not affect us. We’re individuals. We have individual lives.

I do not wish to speculate about the life of Jason Collins, since I do not know him or his life personally. But I do wish to highlight his acknowledgment of social factors preventing him from feeling comfortable coming out, as well his privileges in doing so. These highlight important social issues affecting LGBTQ-identified individuals, as well as notions of gender and sexuality.

Collins admits, I'm glad I'm coming out in 2013 rather than 2003. The climate has shifted; public opinion has shifted. And yet we still have so much farther to go.” And while Collins attempts to not make this a progress narrative by confessing we have much farther to travel, I can’t help but wonder…for whom has the climate shifted? And which public has changed their opinion? For many who remain in the LDS Church, laughter ensues.

Collins also admits his own privilege in coming out. Collins states as “a free agent, literally and figuratively…I've reached that enviable state in life in which I can do pretty much what I want,” admitting his privilege in being a free agent, which he perceives as the opportunity to come out do whatever he wants. Additionally, he admits that he goes against “the gay stereotype, which is why I think a lot of players will be shocked: That guy is gay? But I've always been an aggressive player, even in high school. Am I so physical to prove that being gay doesn't make you soft?” I cringe because I wonder what’s so wrong with abiding by the stereotype? Can we just forget notions of traditional masculinity and be who we are?

Coming out can be hard, difficult, and in many situations, not option. I myself, along with many readers of this blog, have grown up in Mormon families. Some even continue practicing the religion, whether in those spaces or elsewhere. In our situations, coming out can be a difficult thing. Reconciling long-held familial beliefs with one’s sexuality, in addition to worrying about acceptance and tolerance from one’s own family, remains a striking issue for many of us. Add in concerns with church policies and manners of treating its LGBTQ-identified members, and coming out doesn’t seem as much fun as staying in anymore.  

My belief is this: in regards to coming out, I would want anyone to do it on their own will, agenda, and desire. There’s already so much pressure to adhere to heterosexuality and a traditional life, claiming one’s sexuality and personal identity should not be pressured as well. It’s an individual action that must be done the individual feels is the right time, if at all. Kudos to Jason Collins for being able to do so. I hope it’s a positive thing for him. But it's not the only narrative of a gay man.  

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