Posts tagged ‘sexual orientation’

February 16, 2014

The Real Value to American Society of Michael Sam Coming Out

by Kelly Clark

Sociologist Eric Anderson credits the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic for rendering gay men visible in contemporary society. Here-to-for only a concept in the minds of most Americans – “yes there are those people out there lurking in the dark” – the AIDS epidemic brought gay men into our living rooms via TV news coverage of men dying and men and allies “acting up” forcing anyone and everyone to finally pay attention to their plight. The AIDS quilt, with panels laid end to end stretching clear across the mall in Washington, DC gave visible gravity to the staggering numbers of gay men dying from AIDS. In the flash of one decade, gay men were forced out of the closet to save their own lives and Americans were faced with the reality that gay men were in fact all around us. In every state, city, village.

According to the Pew Research Center, today only 13% of Americans say they do not know someone from the LGBT community. Yet the stereotype that all gay men are effeminate and all effeminate men are gay still holds. Michael Sam’s coming out has now forced Americans to consider that their stereotype and thus their ability to pick a gay man out of a crowd is null and void. That an elite male athlete from a combat sport like football is gay flies in the face of this stereotype. Unlike his NFL predecessors who came out after their time in the limelight – David Kopay, Esera Tuaolo, Kwame Harris, and Roy Simmons, America will watch Michael Sam as he plays his heart out in the sport he loves with all of himself – his male self, his African American self, his college educated self, his gay self.

The real value to Americans in Micheal Sam’s coming out is that it chips away at the stereotype of all gay men being effeminate. Like the early days of AIDS, it is another shock to the American psyche that will force us not only to recognize that there are gay men all around us, but that we cannot readily pick them out of a crowd based on lame stereotypes. That just as there is no one way to be a straight man, there is no one way to be a gay man. That in fact, there exist a wide range of masculinities and men are indeed able to be “real men” in a multiplicity of ways.

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