By: Eric Thomas
Michael Sam should be commended because he raised his hand to be the first gay NFL player who will be “out” for his entire career. This is, of course, commendable because it seems to be a unanimous opinion that this will be difficult for him. There might be locker room unease, coaches who check their words, and the ever present disgusting fan-trolls—whose conduct was on full display in the incident involving Marcus Smart over the weekend. Mr Sam’s announcement also highlights humanities’ ongoing unease about sex and sexuality. It would be really nice if we could just grow up.
“I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” said Sam in an interview. “I just want to own my truth.”
In a series of interviews, Sam explained that he had already come out to his teammates in the locker room at Mizzou. His teammates supported him, and some players even took to Twitter in the past 24 hours to say how proud they are of him. It’s a nice sentiment. Sam described how he made his announcement, and it sounds a lot like the same basic ritual of “outing” that takes place whenever a person announces his or her sexual preference.
Not trying to belittle it at all, but it has become a bit of a ritual. When a person is gay in this country they’re expected to visit all their friends and family, and if they’re famous they need to do an interview. They feel the need to do this because it’s become part of the culture. If you’re gay, you need to let people know. Let’s ask the question: for whose benefit is this ritual of “outing”? Why do gay people have to do this?
How much longer will it be until someone’s personal sexual preference, even understanding how much that makes up your identity, is treated like a more casual issue? It’s not an equivalent point, but has anyone ever had to sit down with several networks to explain that they are a masochist? Has anyone had to announce their preference for blondes or brunettes? If your answer is that “those are more accepted” you’re right, and isn’t that pretty depressing?
Please don’t misunderstand, this is not criticism aimed at Mr. Sam or any other person who’s been through the ritual of “outing” as it is in this society. This is a question is: why we do this in the first place? Is it because if society sees “homosexual” or “gay” as a brother or a sister instead of as a nebulous group, we’re more likely to see them as humans and less likely to discriminate—isn’t that a shocking indictment of where we are as humans? Should we really need someone to personalize an issue before we feel empathy? Shouldn’t we be more accepting of people, regardless of their choices?
Even supportive friends and family seem paternalistic at times, congratulating the person who has just outed him or herself as “brave” and other comforting sentiments that amount to a societal head pat of congratulations for doing what we command. We ask this of no other group of people, why do we ask this announcement of gay people?
Interracial couples were shocking at one point in this country—as lampooned in the 1967 comedy “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” starring Sidney Poitier. Now the product of such a union is the President of the United States. If one of our friends bellies up to the table with someone of a different race, we don’t usually need to prepare them for the shock of it anymore. It’s casual at this point, and we can only hope that homosexuality is seen the same way in the future. You’d hope that someone could casually mention a girlfriend or boyfriend without the immediate need to answer a battery of questions from nosy friends or (especially) media types.
Cultural tongue wagging isn’t exclusively an American enterprise, tabloids mix with standard press now on both sides of the pond. If you’re dumbstruck by this entire issue, and wonder why anyone cares at all, you need to only look at the other people around you. Have you been at a table or at work when someone leans across, whispers, “I think [person whom you both know] is gay!!!!” then leans back to giggle? That’s the person who cares. The bullies and Twitter trolls; the bored and the lonely; the people who read publications and books dedicated only to the personal lives of famous people—they care. If you’re wondering why these stories like these come to the surface, you might want to ask them.
It’s an odd situation, and worth wondering why we continue to be so immature on issues of sex and sexuality. It’s part of the human condition, hormonally baked into who we are. Yet, somehow, we use the issue as a means to divide and judge each other. We shame someone for having too much sex, ridicule them for having too little, or persecute them for having sex that someone else deems inappropriate. Seems odd that it’s the one thing that everyone shares yet we use it as a bludgeon to divide as often as we do.
We should applaud Michael Sam, because what he’s doing something really brave. We also need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves why we all agree he needs to be brave.