When the media went in an uproar about Jason Collins becoming the first male U.S. athlete in a major professional sport to come out as gay, I had mixed emotions. First, I think that it is incredible that Collins is choosing to live the life he wants to live and be bold enough to do so as a black man in an industry known for hyper-masculinity and subliminal homophobia. I personally found it encouraging as a young adult to see many of the stereotypes about gay men not being able to survive in the NBA be put to shame. However, my complexities do not lie within Collins himself, but with the way the media is handling this and how we as a society continue to as well.
For one, the "coming out" dog and pony show that the media puts on now is getting tired. It should not be breaking news in 2013 for anyone to announce their sexuality. I understand how "momentous" and "unprecedented" all of this is, but I do find it exploitative and repetitive as well. When we were told in summer 2012 that contemporary R&B artist Frank Ocean professed his love for a man, we all saw flashing headlines of how much of a big deal this was for the music industry. Celebrities showed their love and the world acted as if this was an epic change. Today, music still continues to carry homophobic lyrics and people unfortunately continue to post "no homo" on their Twitter newsfeeds.
The sad thing about all of this is that as media continues to make this topic as much of a big deal, most of society will continue to go back to their views on this issue with a now elaborated "ah ha" moment. I remember going to the elevator and my hearing two guys be stunned that there were actually gay players in the NBA and then returned back to their regularly scheduled sports talk.
In all honesty, the coming out stories of such known public figures is now being exploited for headlines and high press. I am torn between being happy for the individual and getting annoyed with the news coverage at the same damn time. The media act as if our society is as extremely homophobic and repulsive as it was over 20 years ago. In 2013, President Barack Obama endorses it, many Congressmen and senators across both party lines are in favor, public opinion has shifted tremendously, and marriage bills are increasing across the country. So why should we be that surprised, if anything, that more visible faces in any profession (whether entertainment, politics, sports, business) come out now?
If there was any time in our recent history that coming out would be the best time, it would be 2013. And for that, should the media continue to exploit this pseudo heroism in anyone coming out? No, it should be accepted. Not celebrated.
Celebration and acceptance are two different things. Celebration is when one is happy for you. But acceptance is when one recognizes you and is willing to comply with the aspects of your identity. Many people hoot and holler in joy when someone comes out, but how many actually take it a step further and invite them to the table? This is what the media do, they celebrate. This is what society learns to do unfortunately as well. What we aren't doing is being as accepting because we are too busy celebrating. And what are we celebrating?
We are celebrating how long it took for a man to come out openly in professional sports. We are celebrating how brave it was for him to face the opposition placed in his career set by our society to get him to this point. We are celebrating how "monumental" it is for someone to finally be the person they want to be in the 21st century. This is something to be happy about... our lack of swiftness to accept?
And while I saw all of those supportive Facebook and Twitter posts, I then ask the question: did you ever care to accept the already openly gay co-worker and peer you see every day? Did it really have to take a public figure or celebrity you know to feel bold enough to do what you already felt was right?
What makes new stories like Jason Collins' so "extraordinary" is that you see the bittersweet reality of American life. You see that ridiculous fervor for something taboo with the culmination of eccentric idealism and hype. And while all of this is intoxication off the high of democratic expressions, it is a disappointing avoidance of a true call to action. So Jason Collins' is gay, what are we now going to do now?
Oh, are we are just going to sit back and wait for another player to come out and then act as is if progress is being made? Or are we actually going to evaluate the very environment that we as have made that it finally took decades for such an event to take place?
If we are truly this progressive democratic experiment that we brag about to the rest of the world, celebrating the coming out of a male sports player isn't just embarrassing... it's a step back to the real change we speak of.
To the media: stop kicking a dead horse and trying to act as if being gay in 2013 is this exotic taboo. To consumers (us): let's stop buying into the idea that we are this extreme restrictive and homophobic society that is not capable of creating the very environment that players like Jason Collins' thought he couldn't initially come out in. And to everyone: let's stop celebrating the idea of gay rights, but actually start implementing and accepting them.
It's not enough for anyone to just "come out," but to actually be invited.