Friday, May 3, 2013

Don't Ask, We'll Tell It: Jason Collins and the Political Theology of Coming Out

by Gee Joyner and Earle Fisher
R3 Contributors and the Pastor and Professor


Gee Joyner:

It is no secret that Americans, if not the entire world, maintains an ideological belief that the male athlete is a superhero of sorts. A man that has extraordinary physical abilities that allows him to do things with his physical appendages that the majority of us mere mortals can only exhibit deep in the gallows of our minds via a vicariously voyeuristic perversion that is truly alive when we watch the athlete perform on the grid iron, diamond, or hardwood. And because of these extraordinary abilities, the athlete is able to garner attention, accolades, and a massive bank account only rivaled by Fortune 500 CEOs, entertainers, and sheiks. The aforementioned is where the conundrum of male homosexuality in sports morphs into a leviathan of hypocrisy, xenophobia, and even exceptionalism. We, as a viewing and paying audience, want to be able to control our heroes. We want our hero/athlete to be just like us, and if he is not like us or doesn't prescribe to our social, ideological, and religious belief system, we feel duped. We feel manipulated. We feel conned. In America, we like those whom we support to do as we say and what we want them to do, and at the least, we want them to conform while they perform. Jason Collins, the 12-year veteran center for the Washington Wizards, has done all of these things, yet while he is being lauded as an activist for Gay Rights, he is being condemned, and further marginalized, just the same. 

Though Collins is no all-star nor a future Hall of Famer, the fact that he is a highly paid, professional athlete makes his disclosing of his sexual orientation (or sexual preference, depending upon you subjective perception of homosexuality) newsworthy, blog worthy, and fixture in media and social networking circles—at least for the time being. What is interesting is that since President Obama’s public stance in support of Gay marriages our nation has been inundated with dialogue, both positive and negative, concerning not only Gay marriage, but homosexuality in general. And, that is a good thing. And Jason Collins’ “coming out” in the revered public sphere of American athletics/sports is, by some means, another way to champion the rights of gays as well as breaking down barriers of discrimination so many homosexual Americans endure, both explicit and implicit, on a daily basis. Collins’ Sports Illustrated article in which he outed himself by stating, “I am Black…and I am gay” seems to suggest that he is somehow correlating the discrimination and inequality heaped upon the African American with the homosexual experience which seems to be far reaching. And, I’m not so sure, “coming out” can be juxtaposed to other forms of inequality that are solely based upon one’s physical aesthetics. 

How can an employer not hire you if you are a homosexual if they do not ‘know’ you are a homosexual? Maybe I am a proponent of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’? Maybe your sexuality and sexual activity should be a personal thing, like your mate’s G-Spot or the fact that you abuse your wife or husband or children, either mentally or physically, or that you chug down a bottle of Smirnoff every evening after work to make it to the next day, or that you nasally scoff down five or six lines of Peruvian on a nightly basis to cope with your inadequacies, or that you eat a ‘family size’ platter of Popeye’s chicken while locked away in your bedroom to satisfy your pleasure principle. In my opinion, some things should be an individual’s own business. 

I am concerned that when Gay individuals compare their movement to that of the African American Civil Rights Movement they are minimizing the sociopolitical and economic restrictions that exist when discriminatory actions persist because of one’s appearance. Black don’t come off, but you can hide Gay. For instance, unless one walks around adorned in the androgynous garbs of an Adam Ant or 1980s…and 1990s…hell, 2000s, you would be hard-pressed to readily identify one’s sexual preference via the natural visual aid we call appearance. 

Are Gays, or is the LGBT, community piggybacking on the Civil Rights Movement? Yes, I know that Gay Rights are nothing new to the national agenda, yet I get sick of hearing the comparison between the two movements. I mean, really? How in the world is being ‘gay’ at the least similar to being Black. I can’t hide my hue or the tint of my skin or the permanent tan I’ve had from birth—Gays can. Sure, you will eventually have to bring your mate to the company picnic or the company Christmas Party or whatnot, but I can never leave my Black at home—no way no how. Sometimes, if I could, I wish I could leave my Black at home while searching for a prestigious position at an elite company that will afford me the opportunity to pay off student loans, for the two degrees and graduate certificate which I have earned, and garner me enough of an annual salary where I can properly provide for my son and his college education and first car and prom and attire he can wear to school without being ridiculed by his classmates for not having upper middle class garments and summer vacations abroad, but I cannot; I cannot hide my Blackness—you can see it in my skin and in the juicifully thick lips and kinky, black hair. And my walk and the base and rhythmic intonation of my voice and my…’cool.’ Gays can hide their sexuality. Even if they bring their mate to a company outing or out in public, who’s to say the two, or the couple, are not just close friends, or friends? People know me and my ‘Blackness’ aren’t friends—they know we are one—one in the same. And I know everyone reading this article will reference the U.S. Miscegenation laws from 1913-1948 where 30 of 48 states enforced a ban on interracial marriage and the 1967 Loving vs. Virginia case where the Supreme Court ruled the Virginia Racial Integrity Act of 1924 unconstitutional and readily compare that one aspect wherein the Civil Rights and Gay Movements intertwine. But sexual preference, and the ability to display one’s sexual preference, and one’s race are incomparable like shit to fart—they both smell, but one is of substance and the other is just gas. There is a reason why old adages exist like ‘that’s like comparing apples and oranges’ or ‘that’s neither here nor there’—because arguments like this one fit that bill. 

Earle Fisher:


On the contrary, or to assume the role of devil’s advocate, The “coming out” of the first active same-gender-loving athlete in a major American sport has highlighted the matrix of misogynistic and patriarchal prevalence. The imperial romanticism of male genderizing has stitched a skewed stereotype in our minds of what masculinity is and looks like. As Collins makes his public projection, much of the buzz around is all is that fact that his body politic dismantles the stereotypical male queer. Imagine this 7-foot, 255 pound gargantuan marching in the next gay pride parade. This affirms our psychological and theological fears because our xenophobia and homophobia is grounded in a mythical sense of normativity. The reason that Collins’ remarks have gotten so much attention is because our culture cannot help but admit our fixation and fascination with male sex and sexuality (especially when posited in the lions of the black body). Much of this is grounded in our understanding of God and the Divine (more will be expressed in this regard later).

Furthermore, since most of us suffer from a psychological and sexual deviance and lopsidedness rooted in conquest and not complementarity or sincere adoration, we are sexually scratching and clawing to maintain our social and societal privileges. I believe these privileges (male and heterosexual) are the baseline for the suicide laps Chris Broussard attempted to run in his responsive commentary. The problem with his reflection, however, is that it has been affirmed by a group of people that he arguably indicted along with his condemnation of Collins’ sexual orientation. Broussard grounds his ideology in his theology while committing a common brand of biblical idolatry. To use the bible as a source of discrimination is farcical and all too normative. 

In the midst of the tragic irony, several of Broussard’s supporters have lorded and affirmed his critical commentary while missing what Broussard would arguable call “the plank in their own eye.” Broussard’s approach to biblical sexual ethics indicted many people who condemned homosexuality along with him but cast aside his equal opportunity offense of premarital sex (which by definition of several “supporters” Facebook profiles, pics and posts they are willing participants in). To be clear, Broussard has a human right to interpret his theology as he understands it. We all have a biased and subjective construction of spirituality.

But Broussard is misguided in thinking there is a clear definition of Christianity in a bible that has a testament canonized that preceded the birth of the “Christ.” The early Hebrews were not Christian and Hebrew testament (which is part of the bible might I add) is not reflective of Americanized, Westernized and Europeanized views of the faith (even if they are spewed out of the mouths of black commentators). But I applaud that Broussard was attempting to be an equal opportunity offender. Sadly, however, people don’t take any offense to him indicting people who are sexually active (heterosexually) and unmarried. This could be because people feel his analysis of heterosexuality is insufficient do to the cultural norms of promiscuity and sexual liberation. But those same people feel his pseudo-bible based belief relative to same gender relations is spot on. Go figure. 

The truth is, the biblical context of sexuality ("adultery", "fornication" and "homosexuality") has been skewed and sadly misinterpreted for centuries. For instance, we equate adultery and fornication as "sex outside of marriage" but that is NOT the "Biblical" concept. The "Biblical" concept is that sex to a married Hebrew woman is adultery. However, men could have as many wives as they wanted, and sleep with as many non-married women, Hebrew and otherwise, as they wanted. Fornication was, conceptually, "sex for hire" or sex with a prostitute and was frowned upon Biblically because it usurped financial power from males and empowered females. The bible gives us no real "sex education" (i.e. Adam and Eve have sex and conceive Cain - was that the first time they had sex? Who told them how to "do it"? Why isn't it mentioned? Because the bible isn't concerned with sex and sexuality like we are... In other words, the bible projects sex as a means of procreation and human control through conquest. Paul said that “it is better to marry than to burn.” In essence, this suggests that if you are having problems with “lust” or promiscuity, the best thing to do would be to get married. How would you like that for premarital counseling today? Again, the bible is a BAD PLACE TO GET OUR SEXUAL EDUCATION! So let’s not try to use theology as a justification for negative critics because Jason Collins and any other same gender loving person is courageous enough to “go tell it on the mountain.” 

 

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