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It was a hot spring day in April of 2003 when I made a decision that I thought would alter my life forever. As I sat down with my mother in our spacious living room I said the words that I had been secretly dreading for many years.
"Mom. I'm Gay"
There is a special kind of anxiety coupled with fear that any gay or lesbian person goes through when struggling with the decision to inform their parents and friends about their sexuality. Often times, friends are more accepting than relatives (although, I found that many of my friends weren't as accepting as I wanted them to be) and, specifically in my case I was raised with the notion that being gay was worse than committing some sort of war atrocity.
My mom, in a weird bit of emotional denial, merely said, "Oh ... I know." Then she waved her hand dismissively at me and chastised me for making it seem like I was making a big announcement. Of course, my jaw dropped and I stared in shocked amazement. "Ummm, how did you know," I somehow managed to choke out. My mother said, "You liked the Golden Girls way too much to be straight."
So, yeah ... that was weird. The build up to that moment was so horrendous that I couldn't sleep for days beforehand. It is something that nearly every gay man goes through, however, I found out that sometimes it goes differently than you expect. In the intervening decade I have found that my decision to announce my sexuality to my mother (and subsequent family) wasn't nearly as important as my acceptance of myself. For gay basketball players I suspect it is the same situation.
I believe with all my heart that there are gay NBA players in the league, as there was in the past (like former Orlando Magic center John Amaechi, pictured at the top of this story). I also believe that those who write well-intentioned articles on gay acceptance in professional sports miss the point, just a bit. Yes, there is fear that you won't be accepted by your peers and suffer from humiliation. However, I would argue that acceptance of one's self is just as big a factor in making the decision to come out in the sports world. Finding your place in this world and being stuck between stereotypes is just as bad. It's like being stuck in limbo with two "Exit Only" signs. You can't move.
I can tell you from my own life experience that defying the gay stereotype comes with its own price. If you know me, you will understand that upon first glance there's nothing about me that screams "gay". Just the opposite in fact. I am horribly color blind so my sense of dress is quite off kilter. I don't have a pronounced feminine lilt to my voice. I am a huge NBA fan and I tend to like rock music. On the other side I love dancing, decorating a room with the correct flow, art, and I have a weird fascination with Judy Garland (shut up). I'm right smack dab in the middle of stereotypes. I suspect that gay NBA players struggle with the same thing. Wanting to reach out to both sides of themselves without compromising the other.
In this way, the fear is not entirely about acceptance from teammates, but equally about being accepted in the area that makes you different from those who are your teammates ... trying to find identity in both. In this way, those who don't accept who they are in every aspect are paralyzed with fear from all sides. I can tell you that is a miserable place to be. If you are unwilling to accept yourself you will be rejected by all.
As always, the issue of coming out in the sports world is far more complex than people are willing to admit. Making the choice to reveal your sexuality to people who trust you is one of the most emotionally gut wrenching things you can do. There is no black and white to it and there definitely wasn't for me, and I'm not an athlete. I can't say I come at this from a perspective of "I figured this out". Not at all. I'm saying that the pathway to getting where you want to be comes when you stop looking all around you and look within.
After I told my mom I was gay, I spent the next couple years in disarray. Coming to grips with what I've always known was far more difficult that I could ever imagine; particularly for someone who doesn't fit in neatly to preconceived notions of what a gay person should be. As a matter of fact I hated who I was, and became a very miserable person. I turned to alcohol and drank a lot, made many mistakes and suffered from my own personal prison of an identity-less drone. It was miserable. Secretly hoping that I'd wake up from this dream and be normal just like everyone else I knew. Silly, delusional notions.
Then, one day I recognized that, in the grand scheme of things, I am who I'm meant to be. The pathway to acceptance by those you care about, and whom you trust is best achieved by embracing your best qualities. Being who you are at all times and not pretending for anyone. In this way I was able to ease myself into the world of sports writing, as well as working in the art world. And being happy in both.
I can't speak for gay athletes. Everyone has their own personal struggle and I certainly don't have the personal key to eternal happiness. I can speak to my own experience. I can look myself in the mirror now and understand that I'm a perfectly flawed human being who just happens to be the most amazing gay sports writer on the planet (it's true isn't it?). Living scared of yourself means you are scared of life. It's not meant to be that way.
If Jeff of 2012 was speaking to Jeff of 2003 I'd simply say ...
You're going to be alright. You've made the right decision. Now don't live scared ... just live.
That's what it's about.
Twitter: @jmorton78 https://twitter.com/#!/jmorton78