When I was a kid I never owned a pair of hockey skates. While Mark was out on the rink, I was silently wishing that we couldn’t be home with a warm cup of hot cocoa making cookies. I hated having to play Little League, and at birthday parties and play dates (well, we never called them that back in the 1900s!) I was much more likely to join the girls and their Barbie dolls than the boys tossing a football. I was consistently a target during middle school dodge ball games in gym class, and barely made it through two years on the high school swim team. I hated sports. I liked cooking, and my pet bunny rabbit, and being a part of the musicals at St. Joe’s and Mt. St. Mary’s.
Okay, so I grew up a stereotype. (Did you really not know I was gay?!) In many ways I still am that sports-avoiding stereotype. Is that so wrong? Maybe; I struggle just a little with the idea of it. Of course, I am who I am, perfectly happy to be without a Saturday football viewing routine. But, in some ways I wish I were more able to defy the stereotype.
The men in my life while I was growing up—Dad, Mark, our neighbors, my male cousins, most of my friends from St. Rose and St. Joes—liked playing, watching, and talking about sports. In that way they fit the stereotype of the straight guy. But you are right: I have some fine examples of family members who bust through that stereotype in many ways, not the least of which is how they support me as a gay man. Mark was the first family member I told I was gay, and was there for me as support when I came out to you and Dad. Only a few months after I came out, Dad sent me articles about gay men who were adopting children, and years later joined you in walking me down the aisle at my wedding. I see in both of these men the kind of man I want to be and want Jordan to be (regardless of whether he is gay or straight): kind, generous, devoted to family, and someone who contributes equally to the raising of children and the running of a home.
Dale Hansen’s reaction to Michael Sam’s announcement of his sexual orientation definitely brought tears to my eyes (again, not the classic manly reaction, at least according to society’s gender norms). As you point out, beyond my family there are lots of old and young straight guys out there who are not bigoted, who do not fit the stereotype. Most of America seems ready for Michael Sam to be out, proud, and playing in the NFL.
I hope that Michael Sam is drafted into the NFL. My straight male colleagues tell me it is almost a certainty (although they mention that he probably will not get the huge payday he might have had he played it straight). I hope that his tenure in the NFL is long and storied. I hope that his bravery inspires the many other closeted players in the NFL to come out, and inspires future draft choices to be open about their sexual orientation.
Whatever happens to him and his NFL career, even his announcement helps to dismantle the old stereotype of what it means to be a gay man. Many gay men do like—and are really good at—sports. I hope some straight guys will let their appreciation for athletic skill override their bigotry.
But more than that, I hope that we as a society will start to break down gender stereotypes wholesale. Wouldn’t that be great? I think about my own role in this. How do I perpetuate or dismantle stereotypes with my students? How do fay jokes with my friends, gay or straight, reinforce gay stereotypes? In what ways have I perpetuated gender stereotypes in my parenting of Jordan and Isabella?
I think the lesson from Michael Sam’s announcement, the reaction to it inside and outside of the NFL, and Dale Hansen’s commentary is that while we are at a great place in this journey, there is still more work to be done. But, it’s heartening to see it being done…and so publicly.