The Sports Illustrated story covered a lot: Collins’ inner struggle with acceptance and conformity to societal expectations, the future of his career and predictions of what this means to his relationships with his teammates, fans and family.
After reading the story, I began to draw comparisons. Collins and I are roughly the same age. While we don’t share similar backgrounds and had very different experiences coming out, there were many elements of his story that inspired me.
Another challenges me.
The inspiring part was the realization that a man started this conversation by putting himself on the line. Whether Collins is at the beginning or twilight of his basketball career—as some have suggested, he has put himself in the spotlight for criticism and made himself a topic of discussion to further gay rights in an environment that isn’t always tolerant or accepting. Being the first to navigate that process under the public eye deserves accolades. Period.
The challenging part was how Collins’ over-compensated for the masculinity points he perceived lost by coming out.
In the article, Collins reaches out to his teammates and fans by reinforcing his own solid manly traits on the court as “the pro’s pro,” and goes on to say, "I go against the gay stereotype, which is why I think a lot of players will be shocked: That guy is gay?” Collins calls himself fearless and then shoves his vital statistics in our face like a personal foul: an intimidating 7-foot, 255-pound body.
Even within the comfort of accepting his homosexuality, being effeminate is still bad.
The personal and societal expectations of being a man that blocked Collins’ ability to live an honest life are not going away. Despite his preemptive outing, which gives him more freedom to live with a level of ease, he will continue to battle with those expectations, as we all do.
I can relate to Collins’ reaction. When I came out, I didn’t just forget about the expectations of being man. Most expectations are defined by not what you should be, but instead, what you shouldn’t: feminine. These standards are always in the back my mind. When I leave my home. When I head to a bar. They were present when I interacted with schoolmates in grade school, college and now, colleagues at work. These standards appear as a mental checklist when I find myself in the company of strangers; acquaintances or any straight male friends who I perceive still have some uneasiness about having a gay friend.
I’m not sure I've ever intended to conceal my orientation as adult, but I do catch myself trying to screen out girlie behavior from time to time. It makes some people uncomfortable.
It makes me slightly uncomfortable. Five years ago that would have read differently. I probably would have puffed up a bit, exclaimed I was raised a man, by a man in a very rigid, Hispanic environment. I would have said I was just your average guy and didn’t fit the gay stereotype.
That is, until I acknowledged my discomfort, examined it and shifted my self-image to include the qualities and mannerisms that make me both a masculine and feminine creature. I’ve always secretly enjoyed the “feminine” side of me: the nurturer, the caretaker and the emotional man who cries when hurt and dances when joyous. It always made me feel freer. The only difference now: it doesn’t come with a side of shame.
The truth is no gay man fits the gay stereotype. We are all unique men who have likes, dislikes, gifts and flaws and no one is perfect. It took time to feel ease and comfort in my own skin and there are still moments when I struggle to feel indifferent to how people perceive these behaviors or mannerisms.
Sounds like it will take Collins some time too.
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Photo By: By mariselise (Flickr: greg monroe jared sullinger) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons