Apr 30, 2013

NO MORE PRETEND: ¨Jason Collins & the Triumph of Gay Men¨ by Josh Thomas

The Washington wizard. (Jim Young/Reuters)
The Washington wizard. (Jim Young/Reuters)
¨Jason Collins is no Charles Barkley or Kobe Bryant. He is a journeyman center in the NBA, not a superstar – but he was a first-round draft pick coming out of Stanford, and has lasted 13 years as a banger in the world’s toughest basketball league. Now he has come out, and commentators are scrambling to tell us what this means. But you can save yourself the trouble and just ask me.
Whenever you’re in doubt on any subject, you can just ask me.
It doesn’t mean “he has changed the NBA forever.” He has, but so what? It doesn’t just mean he has “changed sports.” It sure doesn’t mean the Supreme Court will throw out DOMA and endorse same-sex marriage, or Congress will now pass ENDA out of sheer unadulterated admiration for the man. Would that it did.
It doesn’t even mean he’ll play next year – although as a career ploy for a free agent who’s 34, this was brilliant. If no team picks him up, people will say, “See, the players wouldn’t accept a Gay teammate.” No, it will mean he’s 34, doesn’t score and doesn’t rebound.
His job is to come off the bench “with six hard fouls to give,” just as he describes it. If he gets another contract, he’ll play the same way next year as he did this year and the previous dozen. 
I bet he does get a contract, actually. The NBA owners know they’re in the popularity business, and Jason Collins has just become a star. He got more publicity for coming out than he ever did for playing – in a league where the average player lasts five years. Joe Wertheim, an editor at Sports Illustrated, was on MSNBC’s “Hardball” last night predicting Collins will be the most popular player wherever he goes, not just for having the courage to come out and be the first, but for his intelligence and character as well as his play. 
So what does his coming out really mean? (Drum roll for my big reveal.)
He just proved Gay men are men.
Jason isn't Nathan. Jason isn't The Nance.
Jason isn’t Nathan. Jason isn’t The Nance. The Nance is a man too, but he’s not Jason.
I mean no disrespect whatever to the great Nathan Lane, or to nances in general. Some Gay men are naturally effeminate, that’s how God made ‘em and how God loves ‘em. Me too.
But the stereotype of Gay guys is that we’re all sissies, and Jason Collins has just destroyed that stereotype, once and for all.
That’s what his coming-out means. Straight men can no longer protect themselvesby oppressing us, as if they’re better than we are. They’re not; Jason Collins has 13 years and a ring, while Joe Sixpack ain’t got nothin’.
The entire edifice of socially-constructed, brutally-enforced Masculinity has now come crashing down. That’s what Jason has given the world.
His first beneficiaries will be Straight men, who have been horribly oppressed, in their own minds, bodies, jobs and social roles, by the whole stereotype that tells them they’ve got to out-butch each other 24/7 for their whole entire lives or they’re worthless.
As Leonardo Ricardo would say, “No more pretend!” (I bet he’s said it incessantly since Jason’s news broke – considering Leonardo’s been saying it incessantly these last many years, and rightly so.)
No more pretend. Think about that. No more bullshitting your way through life, trying to be what you’re not.
No more having to live that lie. What a relief to billions of Straight guys! Now they can be their whole selves; incorrigibly Straight, weepy or emotionally constipated, whatever they turn out to be.
This makes me think of my brothers, Dick especially. Rather by accident he’s taught me a lot about what Straight guys go through. They’re trapped, most of them; prisoners in a concentration camp, run by a tyrant existing only in their minds.
Dick once said he thinks men are more emotional than women. They accuse women of being “emotional” all the time, but men feel their emotions more strongly than women do, and have a very hard time handling them.
Dick is an honest man, with enough insight and intelligence to call ‘em as he sees ‘em. He’s also the first person I came out to in my family.
As soon as he said men are more emotional, I knew he was right; I brought up our brother Steve, the best athlete of the three of us. Steve could never handle his feelings, and is dead now because of it (alcoholism). Dick had the best athletic mind of the three of us, Steve got the best athletic body, and I’m the one who played sports the longest. I was never any good but I enjoyed it.
After we talked I started checking with the women I knew, and they all agreed, men are the emotional ones.
John Wayne was all an act. He had scriptwriters and choreographers and lighting designers that regular guys don’t have.
So yesterday, Jason came out. TA-DA! “I’m a 34 year old center in the NBA. I’m Black. And I’m Gay.”
Perfect. What a smart fellow – and not for the reasons Frank Bruni thought in his column this morning in The Times. (I don’t care for Bruni. He’s an assimilationist. He thinks Gayness is like your appendix, not your appendage.)
The most important thing to any man is his appendage. It’s not the most important thing about him, just to him. Whatever gets him hard is right, it’s true, it’s reality. How relieved Jason must feel today.
For centuries now women have been wanting to smash the patriarchy. But he just did!
Maybe it took a man to do that. Maybe women will become Jason’s ultimate beneficiaries. Wouldn’t that be an achievement! Jason the World-Beater.
Meanwhile let’s give him enough space that he can be a human being, not a superhero. He’s just a guy who plays hoops, that’s all. But he’s smart enough to know the huge symbolic importance of what he’s done, coming out in a glamour sport that’s all about masculinity, competition and therefore sex.
There are a few players and commentators who are saying stupid things (including one guy on ESPN, to the network’s shame), but The Reaction From Players is not the important thing going on today, or ever. It’s worth noting that Jason’s managed to take showers with Straight guys for 13 years and nobody noticed him, because he didn’t notice them either.
Another guy on MSNBC last night – part of a panel on “All In with Chris Hayes” – was Hudson Taylor, a very cute guy who used to wrestle in college, and now fronts an organization for “allies” of Gay people in sports. He didn’t say whether he’s Gay or Straight; apparently he didn’t feel the need, which is occasionally refreshing. Anyway he started wrestling when he was six and loved it, so he kept on, despite the homophobic atmosphere in locker rooms that “denigrates, isolates and emasculates” Gay guys. He didn’t like it; now he’s doing something about it.
Dan Savage pointed out, as Jason also did in his article, that it’s been just a few months since the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. If it’s butchness the world is looking for, try all those Gay Marines. They came out, their fellow troops supported them, The End. Savage reminded us that anti-Gay bigots predicted half a million soldiers would resign; instead there were only two, “both chaplains, who could be spared.”
Watch it yourself here. I especially recommend Hayes’ quote from the boxer Orlando Cruz, who’s also Gay, then stay tuned for the second segment.
Thank God for this current generation, finally getting the human race’s act together about male and female. (This is not “silly,” as William C. Rhoden claimed; it’s momentous. Is racism silly? Not when a cross is burning in your yard.) What a gift to posterity, a watershed moment in human history. Jason Collins crystallizes that, but so do those LGBT soldiers. He just happens to work in the glamour industry, and man, what a difference that makes.
We can finally begin to think of the day when overcompensating men don’t feel like they have to rape a woman to “be somebody.” Maybe next timea 4-year-old girl in India will be spared, instead of being raped to death.
Maybe we can begin to think of the end of religious fundamentalism – which exists solely to enforce male dominance and gender norms. Whether the fanatics are Christians, Jews, Muslims or Hindus, they’ll kill you if that’s what it takes for a frightened, submissive “man” to feel like a man.
My brother Dick has never not been a man, and neither have I. I’m sissier than some guys and butcher than others – as are we all!
The end of fundamentalism, if and when it ever comes, will allow genuine religion and spirituality to flourish.
Of course it will take decades and centuries for humanity to get to enlightenment (and there will always be flat-earthers), but today the news is Jason’s. Gay men are real men, it’s natural to admire our prowess and uniqueness whether we’re a Collins, a Cruz or a Lane, and sports are mostly about the body you’re born with, just like sex is.
Way to go, Stanford Man, you’ve led us all to the promised land. Enjoy your triumph; the rest of us are.++


JCF said...

"The most important thing to any man is his appendage. It’s not the most important thing about him, just to him. Whatever gets him hard is right, it’s true, it’s reality."

...which, frankly, is why women should be in charge. *

Here's to Jason, and the End of Patriarchy!

* Generally speaking. There are Margaret "No One's Harder Than Me!" Thatcher exceptions.

Leonard Clark said...

Things that seem like they *ought* be different than then are fascinate me.

When I was in High School/Los Angeles, the Chief of Police (LA) hated Gay people...viciously, strongly and put that emotion into action by making life difficult for Gay people in the Gay bars. His daughter, my classmate, was a Lesbian...he discovered that, yanked her out of public school, sent her to a snotty private school in Palos Verdes, screened her friends/telephone calls and she pretended to be straight for him (but not in REAL life).

My first semester at College I used to sneak into the one and only Gay bar near San Jose State (ID's were only black and white documents with no photos and only finger prints that nobody ever checked -- besides, nobody except the State Board of Equalization seemed to care as the Gay Bars paid off the police in those daze/days. Anyway, at this bar was a large assortment of Gay people. Lesbians and Guys, Bi's and the occassional Transgendered person too...it was a vertical group of every age, every sexual point of view and a variety of incomes too. I loved that mix and everyone seemed friendly enough and mixed it up just fine...I remember a Lesbian I adored who wore brite red lepstick and looked like a very sturdy Judy Garland who loved/talked baseball and once hit a obnoxious straight guy with a long stem beer bottle, crack over the head and out the door he went (the mafia ran the place) and we were all safe as bartenders also leaped over the bar if there was ANY harrassment of clients by strangers/straights (who were welcome and even embraced if they were respectful).

Often I thought that we needed a team of patrolling Lesbians to keep straight people from being so obnoxious in everday life.

All in all, I think my 50 year wait has provided better and more lasting solutions...nature is, in fact, taking it's course.

Leonard Clark said...

Another (reality) that caused lots of discomfort for my best friend at College. His father was a HOLLYWOOD VICE OFFICER (while my friend was growing up and later a detective LAPD) and they lived in a little cottage right off Vine Street when he was a small child in the 40´s. My friend, Al, KNEW he was Gay very early on but nobody else knew until his death, from AIDS (which they didn't know he had either) in the early 90's. His Mother was a wonderful, compassionate and very wise woman (everybody who ever knew her admired her greatly) whispered in her sons ear just before he died in the hospital -- ¨you are my son, I know your secret now, and I love you¨ then he smiled and passed away. Later, I spoke with her many times from Puerto Rico (where I then lived) on the telephone...she said ¨why didn't Al tell me he was Gay?¨ I explained that Al never wanted to cause pain for his Mom, he loved her so much. True story. Al was always the most outgoing and masculine and also very handsome member of our bunch of college friends (mixed group of heterosexuals/LGB's) -- he was also very closeted (mostly). Everyone loved him...many of us still mourn him and exchange letters on his Birthday and anniversary of his death.