Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Thanks for Coming (Out): Sexuality, Sports, and Spirituality

Qualifying exams, disseration proposal, full time job, a boyfriend, friends, advocacy work, and maintaining a social life are all things that take up most of my time.  However, I am always grateful to the individuals over at Feminism and Religion who continually give me the opportunity to talk about items that interest me with a community of both activists and scholars dedicated to changing the world. 
Like marking off items on a proverbial checklist, closeted LGBTQ individuals who exist within and outside of the world of professional sports, can recount the numerous things they struggle with in terms of their sexuality. From fearing the actual coming out process, dressing in their car or at home to avoid the subtle glances and whispers of individuals in the locker room, to wondering what coming out would mean not only for their game but also for their social and if they choose, spiritual lives, closeted and out LGBTQ individuals within the multi-billion dollar professional sports industry must grapple with that age old question: what does it mean to be gay and open about it?
The Locker Room
I have to be honest, Jason Collins’ admission that he is a homosexual, albeit brave, upset me. While I understand that coming out is an completely unique experience to every individual who does it, for me Jason Collins’ story was also an example of the rampant sexist and heteropatriarachal world that privileges male bodies and sexualities over those of women. While I applaud Jason’s story and the timing, the first thing I asked to my colleagues was: where was the same hubbub over Sheryl Swoopes or Martina Navratilova?
Martina Cover
As scholars, we have to be critical of the ways in which sexuality and identity politics are both utilized and taken advantage of in the public and private sector. As activists, specifically feminist and/or LGBTQ activists, we have to be diligent in maintaining a strict scrutiny of continual subjugation and objectification of women, regardless of the context.

Sheryl SwoopesPrivilege plays a major factor in discussing sexuality and sports as well as in determining the ideology that separates the gender spectrum. Men can, as Collins has shown us, “toy with the idea [of coming out],” while women who are often considered to be masculine based off of their performance and/or embodiment are therefore suspected of being lesbian for simply for playing sports as good as men.
The Gay Athlete
Jason Collins will now, and forever more--and not only as a result of tokenization and identity colonization--be known as The Gay Athlete (go ahead, google the term, let me know what images come up first). One again, the voices of the women (and men) who have clearly come before him are silenced and pushed to the back of the proverbial historical line.

While Collins’ coming out is intricately tied to feminism, his spirituality and sexuality appear to be at war with each other, specifically in his understanding of the black community and more importantly the black church. 

Growing up in a religious family active in church, Collins understood that there was another dimension to his coming out: “the stigma that being gay [in the black community] is even worse than it is in the general population.”

Not wanting to be labeled the old grumpy codger that I will most likely become down the line, I want to end this exploration of sexuality and sports by commending Jason Collins’ coming out and the conversation it is sparking not only within the professional sports world but also in both the black community and the black church.

Jason Collins wasn’t the first and he certainly won’t be the last, but he is a catalyst for change that is getting global attention. He is an open Christian, a proud gay Black man, and a role model for younger generations of LGBTQ individuals who will most certainly look up to him for years to come.
However, what he is not is the face of homosexuality within the world of professional sports. That role belongs to all members of LGBTQ community, male, female, and trans who have feared coming out and forced themselves to live a life filled with anxiety because they think they do not have a choice in the matter.

Thanks for coming (out) Jason Collins, now take a seat at the axiomatic table full of your brothers and sisters who have come before you and the ones who will most certainly come after.