Thursday, May 2, 2013

Jason Collins: Some Day Soon

On Tuesday night I got back from my school visits in time to meet my family, including one of my son's friends, for dinner at a local Mexican restaurant.  I asked the boys, who are seniors in high school and avid sports fans, what they thought of Jason Collins, the NBA player, coming out as gay.

My son's friend shrugged.  "Okay," he said, "so, everyone remembers Jackie Robinson.  But can you name the seventh black major league baseball player?  Nobody knows his name.  In another couple of weeks more players will come out, and it'll just be, like, over."

Appearances to the contrary, I am not old.  I don't feel old.  But boy howdy, how attitudes toward homosexuality have changed since I was my son's age.  I know we're not there yet.  I know there are still people insisting that being gay means being some sort of predator, that being gay is a choice, or that somehow the few words the Bible says that might be against homosexuality (I've read a lot of Biblical scholarship lately, and I'm pretty sure most people are reading the Sodom story wrong) are much more important that the Biblical prohibitions against tattoos, divorce, and eating bacon.

I don't remember ever talking about homosexuality in my high school.  If I thought about gay people at all, I maybe thought Liberace.  A clear odd-ball, an outlier--something so random that it simply didn't happen at all at Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

It did.  Oh, of course, it did.  It was just so completely hidden.

Even in my own family.  My beloved great-uncle died of AIDS in 1978, except that AIDS was not recognized as a disease until 1980, which meant no one knew why my uncle died.  We grieved.  We loved him so.  I wonder now if the adults in the family--I was eleven in 1978--understood that he was gay.  Perhaps they did, but they never said so.  It was only later, piecing together the symptoms of illness, that we realized how he died and what that meant.  "But he was the nicest man," one of my relatives said, as though afraid I would love him less now that I understood he was gay.

My great-uncle spun me around in my red dress and told me I was beautiful.  He bought me a hideous gold plaster dog because I loved it.  He held my hand.  He listened to my stories.  He listened to all of us, and I will always regret that we never really listened to him.

I'm friends with lots of my high school classmates on Facebook now.  At dinner a few months ago I said to my husband, "Did you know So-and-So was gay?"

My husband said, "No, he's not."

"Yes, he is.  We're friends on Facebook now."

My husband frowned, remembering.  "No, I'm pretty sure he had a girlfriend in high school."

My son coughed into his hand: "Cover-up."  I ignored him.  "Well, he's got a boyfriend now," I said.  "Named Alex."

My husband said, "That could be short for Alexandria."

"Could be," I said, "but this Alexandria has a beard."

We looked at each other across the table for a moment.  I thought of this friend as I'd known him in high school, nearly always smiling.  I said, "Our school would not have been an easy place to known to be gay."

"No," my husband said. 

I know it's still not easy.  I know high school is still difficult for everyone, and anything that makes you an outlier makes it more so.  I know there are still slings and arrows and ignorance and hatred.  But pretty soon there will be a seventh gay pro basketball player, and no one will remember his name.  And some day, I hope some day soon, it''ll just be, like, over.