“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”
Obviously that is not me talking. It is NBA center Jason Collins in this first-person Sports Illustrated story titled Why NBA Center Jason Collins is Coming Out Now. Here are a few excerpts in italics from the article interspersed with some of my thoughts:
“I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, “I’m different.” If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”
I live in a “don’t ask, don’t tell” community. I grew up in a “don’t ask, don’t tell” community, too. I would rather live in a world where people do not have to come out as gay just like they currently do not have to come out as straight, but that does not describe today’s environment. One of my favorite bloggers, Kiley, has the following quote that explains what coming out means:
“Coming out of the closet is really about becoming yourself and being confident and secure in who you are. Coming out is about dropping facades.”
In my case, coming out means I no longer feel like I have to apologize for who I am.
“The first relative I came out to was my aunt Teri, a superior court judge in San Francisco. Her reaction surprised me. “I’ve known you were gay for years,” she said. From that moment on I was comfortable in my own skin. In her presence I ignored my censor button for the first time. She gave me support. The relief I felt was a sweet release. Imagine you’re in the oven, baking. Some of us know and accept our sexuality right away and some need more time to cook. I should know — I baked for 33 years.”
I “baked” longer than most people. To date, I have not met anyone who was older than me when they finally realized they were gay. I only know one person who was older than me when he came out to his family.
Collins twin brother had no idea that Jason was gay. His family’s reaction was similar to mine, with some knowing for a long time that I am gay while others were shocked.
There is a sense of relief in coming out. It creates some complications, but I think the positives outweigh the negatives.
“I’m from a close-knit family. My parents instilled Christian values in me. They taught Sunday school, and I enjoyed lending a hand. I take the teachings of Jesus seriously, particularly the ones that touch on tolerance and understanding. On family trips, my parents made a point to expose us to new things, religious and cultural. In Utah, we visited the Mormon Salt Lake Temple. In Atlanta, the house of Martin Luther King Jr. That early exposure to otherness made me the guy who accepts everyone unconditionally.”
The most significant experience of my Mormon childhood was moving to Ohio when I was five. It was the first time I was a religious minority. I learned what it was like to be different. I think that experience, combined with my father’s exposure to lots of people from different backgrounds, my mother’s kind heart, plus my mission experiences of living in heavily unionized Michigan followed by thirteen months in Brazil, taught me to love unconditionally.
“I’m learning to embrace the puzzle that is me. After I was traded by the Celtics to Washington in February, I took a detour to the Dr. King memorial. I was inspired and humbled. I celebrate being an African-American and the hardships of the past that still resonate today. But I don’t let my race define me any more than I want my sexual orientation to. I don’t want to be labeled, and I can’t let someone else’s label define me.”
I am still learning who I am. My post the other day about my teenage lack of dating experience touched on that a bit. The early readers of my blog saw a lot of entries about my learning process.
My fundamental personality traits have not changed. I have more of an understanding on how my background and experiences, especially in the Mormon church, have both helped and harmed me. Understanding what was damaging is helping me as I move forward. I hope I am always moving forward because there is still a lot of self-doubt to overcome.
“The strain of hiding my sexuality became almost unbearable in March, when the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments for and against same-sex marriage. Less than three miles from my apartment, nine jurists argued about my happiness and my future. Here was my chance to be heard, and I couldn’t say a thing. I didn’t want to answer questions and draw attention to myself. Not while I was still playing.”
I felt the same way a year ago, except it was about North Carolina’s Amendment One. What really hit me in the gut was a Facebook post from a straight former co-worker that explained why she voted against the amendment. I wished I could have made a similar statement last spring.
I made my statement last month in the post titled I Wore Red Today. I did not expect everyone to agree and know the majority of my family and friends disagreed with me, but I think that I made my statement with courtesy. I did not expect much, but learned that it was picked up with positive response in three other blog reviews. That made me happy.
“Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it’s a good place to start. It all comes down to education. I’ll sit down with any player who’s uneasy about my coming out. Being gay is not a choice. This is the tough road and at times the lonely road.”
I hope my blog is doing some educating. A few people told me I was the first gay person who they had worked with or been around. One said that she had to re-think what she thought she knew about gay people because what her church taught did not match what she knew about me.
I did not plan to write a new blog post this evening. I felt okay – just tired from what for me was a busy morning. These medications, combined with month of back pain, have completely thrown off my sleep routine. I needed to get up earlier today, though, for a re-scheduled dentist appointment.
I did this shout out to my dentists, their staff, and extended family a few weeks ago. I made a generic reference to the families’ kindness. Here is an incident that is more specific.
I felt a lot of support and acceptance last May and June when I first came out. That support wavered in the following months. It hit a very low point in September and October when some people made it clear that we no longer had the same relationship. Against that backdrop I left home for a day trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The drive was mostly a scenic photography bust until I saw a small section of the creek in the Julian Price Park. I wrote about it in this post. Once I found this beautiful spot I decided it was time to grab a quick bite to eat and return home before it got too late.
I had almost finished eating at a restaurant in Boone, the home of Appalachian State University, when I saw the uncle and cousin of my dentist being seated a few booths away from me. They are some of my favorite people, but I was almost afraid to greet them after seeing and feeling so many people pull away during the previous weeks.
They did not see me. It would have been easy to pay and leave without them seeing me. I got up to return home, debated with myself for a few seconds, and decided to stop at their booth on my way out of the restaurant.
They were happy to see me and greeted me just like they have always greeted me in the twenty plus years since I moved to central North Carolina. I actually cried when I got out to my car. It was the first I felt accepted by some long-time friends at a time when most of what I experienced was silent, slow rejection.
A few days later I stopped by the office of the wife and mom of my friends and told her how much that three-minute chat in the restaurant meant to me. I choked up again as I thanked her and asked her to share my appreciation to her husband and son.
“I’ve been asked how other players will respond to my announcement. The simple answer is, I have no idea. I’m a pragmatist. I hope for the best, but plan for the worst.”
The immediate reaction to Jason Collins coming out is positive. I think he is wise enough to know that the first acceptance will most likely wane. When that happens I hope he will have people, like my former co-worker who wrote the Amendment One post and my dentists and their families, who will stand with him.