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Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

My deep thought of the day:

So Jason Collins (current center for the Washington Wizards) came out as a homosexual. I support individuals being honest about important parts of their identity, and I especially support *famous* people doing this because it gives gay kids a role model. When you treat heterosexuality as the norm –not just in the sense that most people are heterosexuals, but in the sense that if you’re not, there’s something not quite right about you– role models like this can go a deep way.

What bothers me is this: I’m not a huge basketball fan so maybe I’m wrong here, but… Jason Collins isn’t exactly a big-name star, is he? I never heard about him before this. His sexuality is all I know about him. And that makes me a little concerned he might be turned into another Tim Tebow: an athlete who’s less known for his athletic skills than than because he represents some group of people. I mean, he seems pretty good and he definitely works hard, but he’s also no Troy Aikman. The fact that this is the best example I can come up with might tell you how little I follow American football – yet even I know Tebow’s name, because of the way he’s presented as one of evangelical Christianity’s “tribe.” He’s the Christian football player, and I suspect it’s the Christianity more than the football that makes him so well-known.

I don’t know Tebow’s heart. Or Collins’s, for that matter. I’m really not saying either of them are trying to milk a certain identity as a way to get themselves noticed. But with Tebow, it always seemed a bit off, that he presented himself the way he did. People have a right to their faith even if they’re famous, but it seems to debase religion when you say that sharing the same religious community as me means I should pay more attention to an athlete than I would otherwise. It risks turning religion into a means rather than an end. I guess that’s what worries me with the reaction I’ve seen to Mr. Colins. On the one hand you want to congratulate him for this act of bravery (as a pro athlete and even as an Afro-American, it really is brave to come out). And you want to give him media attention so his coming out can actually do some good. But on the other hand, I wonder if this kind of reaction commodifies his sexuality.

I’m not sure how to react to situations like this, but it’s definitely given me pause.

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
aearwen2
May. 2nd, 2013 05:59 pm (UTC)
From some of the comments I've seen made, it occurs that Mr. Colins may have "outed" himself to prevent someone else from doing it for him - thus preventing a much bigger personal issue for himself.

My daughter Vanna had to do much the same: she came out to her boss and workmates as transsexual in order to stop a vindictive workmate from making it an issue at work. Sometimes, trying to stay in the closet isn't possible; at those time, taking charge of the process of coming out is all that's left.

What's really unfortunate is that folks start paying more attention to these personal attributes than to the abilities for which both Mr. Tebow and Mr. Colins are well-paid. Why must so much attention be paid to a man's religion, or sexual orientation, or gender indentification? Why are these things not just accepted as being a part of what makes that person who he or she is?

This is an instance that perhaps illustrates why labels can be an obstacle? Just a thought...
marta_bee
May. 2nd, 2013 06:36 pm (UTC)
That does make a huge difference. I'm really sorry your daughter had to go through that, btw - I would hate to have to decide whether to come out as a heterosexual or as a cis-female, let alone have that decision forced. As I said, I really dont know all the details and don't want to presume to talk about Mr. Collins's motivations - I just don't know enough about him.

I think labels can sometimes be useful but definitely can be carried too far or used in a bad way. Case in point!
dreamflower02
May. 2nd, 2013 08:32 pm (UTC)
There are two sides to it: on the one hand, the personal thing (gayness in Mr. Collin's case, religion in Mr. Tebow's) is what makes them a role model to others in that group, and their position in athletics is what gives them the moderate amount of celebrity needed to give their role a signal boost. Lots of people are openly gay or openly Christian and no one outside their immediate circle usually even cares. But being in pro sports makes the difference. (Just as it would make a difference if they were celebrities for some other reason.)

But on the other hand, it does mean that less attention is paid to their actual abilities. I don't follow most professional sports either, so just because I've not heard of someone doesn't mean that there is a lack of their talent.

I'd never heard of the football player who's on Dancing with the Stars this year before, either, but apparently he's very good at football. My lack of knowledge doesn't mean much.

I don't much care for "celebrity culture". I don't like it when someone is famous for no good reason (such as "reality" stars or criminals)--but if they have some fame because they can actually *do* something, I don't resent it when they use that to signal boost a worthy cause, or champion those who have been marginalized.

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