Jason Collins NBA: Breathe a Sigh Of Relief That the Media is Covering His Coming Out Right
When Sports Illustrated broke that Jason Collins was the first gay major athlete in the Big Four professional sports leagues, headlines across media exploded with the news. But many of them told it in a particular way.
The major headline was not that Collins was the first playing gay athlete in the Big Four. Instead, it was that Collins had chosen to break the silence that he had maintained for years on and off the court. The focus on the significance of the act of coming out rather then the fact that he is gay showcases a moment in the media's coverage of LGBT issues in a positive and constructive way that somewhat illuminates the process of coming out.
Being gay is not an event that can be reported on as such. There is no gay/straight switch that suddenly flips in a person's mind. Coming to terms with being gay is a long, evolving process that is always ongoing in a person's life. Human Rights Campaign, in their coming-out guide, repeatedly says that coming out is a process that every person considering it must not only do to others but to themselves. Collins expresses similar sentiments, saying in his interview, "Some of us know and accept our sexuality right away and some need more time to cook. I should know, I baked for 33 years."
The majority of gay people grow up with straight parents and think heterosexuality is the norm. Many gay people unfortunately must struggle to accept and be happy with who they are, a process that can take years or even decades. One can go for years grasping with a desire to be "normal" to the outside world and what they feel on the inside before they become somewhat comfortable with themselves.
The act of coming out to others, however, is seen as something of a statement or an event in popular culture. The term is shorthand for another metaphor, coming out of the closet, which differed from its previous meaning in the past. From the 1920s to the 1950s, coming out referred to coming out into the gay community. It was only after the Stonewall riots, a watershed moment in LGBT history, that the term became associated with coming out of the metaphorical closet of loneliness, isolation, and self-hatred.
It has taken on a political axis, the act of coming out being a powerful public declaration of a gay person's growing comfort with themselves. It also demonstrates to friends, family, and other people that their sexuality is an essential part of their person and if they have a problem with it they need to deal with it.
For a person in the public sphere such as Jason Collins, coming out is an action that takes on larger meaning, confronting the established cultural zeitgeist. Collins talks about his shame at not marching in a Gay Pride parade with one of his friends, stating "I want to march for tolerance, acceptance and understanding. I want to take a stand and say, 'Me, too.'"
The media coverage, outside of outright disparaging remarks, has been mostly positive. And by focusing on the fact that Jason Collins made a decision to come out rather than that fact that he is gay, we've been granted a moment in the media where we can see part of the progress of LGBT issues.