Michael Sam has publicly announced his sexual orientation, which has stirred mixed reactions around the topic of masculinity. This seems to be an ongoing trigger for many, and despite the number of athletes—professional, Olympic gold medalists—who have come out as gay, we seem to have the same heated discussion each and every time.
Society, and the individuals who make up our society, seem to have preconceived notions about what “being a man” means. Those notions are imbedded in archaic thought processes, such as the “he-man” syndrome, in which men present themselves as hyper-masculine, perhaps in case someone perceives them as less than manly.
Gays began becoming more publicly visible starting back in the 1970s when the gay stereotype was quite popular. This, in turn, brought other cultural and societal peeks at gay men and women—first as anomaly and titillation, then more seriously—which eventually brought us into the 21st century with much more visibility and acceptance.
Still, there are pockets of dissenters around the world. Headlines ricocheted through the media, as Michael Sam was both celebrated and vilified. Some have stated that such a masculine sport as professional football “will never” support or endorse a gay player. While at the same time, hundreds of thousands have congratulated Sam as a pioneer in courage and vision.
This conversation is redundant. Masculinity is evolving and, as usual, we find that many are resistant to evolving with it. Reading through the numerous articles and posts on The Good Men Project tells us that much. When our personal perception and definitions of masculinity are threatened, the human way of dealing with it is quite similar to the traditional five steps of grieving.
First, it’s denial and isolation. Grumblers have stated that football is for manly-men, not effeminate men who ogle their comrades in the showers.
Then comes anger. Naysayers take to Twitter and Facebook, venting their impotent outrage that gays are “taking over the world” with their “gay agenda” and other such nonsense.
That’s followed, of course, by bargaining. “Fine, we’ll let you play but only on the condition that you don’t make a big deal out of it.”
Then it’s depression. “Why are there so many gays in the world? Don’t they know it’s an abomination?”
Finally, acceptance begins to win out. This is when those who were so vehemently opposed to gays in the military, gays in the work force, or gays in professional sports, come to realize—some much more slowly than others—that a gay person is no different than they are in any way except in whom they’re attracted to.
Gays continue to win awards, medals, trophies, and the like; they raise beautiful families, create stunning works of art, and volunteer to help others in need. But it’s the archaic thought processes that become a stumbling block when highly skilled and talented individuals come out as gay. Suddenly, we’re no longer sure of anything.
As Bill Murray so blithely put it in the original “Ghostbusters” film, “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together. . . mass hysteria!” Yes, society tends to go Old Testament when personal viewpoints are threatened by new information.
Rarely has an anti-gay rant been effective. Rather, it usually points out those who cannot bring their way of thinking into the 21st century without kicking and screaming.
The fact that an athlete can openly announce his sexuality is a testimonial to how far we as humans have progressed. Now we must all band together to help those less fortunate souls across the border and into the modern day.
AP FILE PHOTO/Tim Sharp