Wait, are we the cool people now? This will take some readjustment.
We grow up, figure out we're gay, fear it, dread it, hide it, deem it a flaw, hope for tolerance, gird for disapproval. In some cases, we're told to seek help. In some very rare cases, American parents send teens to conversion therapy where the lessons can include learning to play football, because even prospective brain damage beats being us.
We assume and accept that we'll always live at least somewhat at the margins of society, and then one day the NBA-sized shoe drops, and out comes that big brute Jason Collins in Sports Illustrated -- and look around. Kobe Bryant expresses pride, urges Collins not to "suffocate" himself in "the ignorance of others." Steve Nash tweets "maximum respect." Michael Strahan deploys the verb "salute." Doc Rivers chimes in with utmost decency (but then, that's Doc Rivers). Baron Davis feels "proud." Chauncey Billups feels "proud." The Washington Wizards organization goes with "extremely proud." Metta World Peace contributes: "It can just bring unnecessary stress to your heart, to your mind and when you can release it and talk about it, you feel better."
David Stern applauds from the NBA office.
Jay Carney admires on behalf of the White House.
Bill Clinton approves, still amid the long crawl back from signing the Defense Of Marriage Act.
How ever do we cope with this flood of kindness?
Well, the least we can do is try.
We used to be acceptable only in certain parts of certain metropolises, and now we get kudos unsolicited from Kobe Bryant. All this comes in a year that included a high point in February when Mr. Dana White praised Liz Carmouche, the first gay female coming out in his sport -- "I love what she did" -- and welcomed any gay male by saying, "Most of the guys that are in this sport are really good people." He's the president. Of UFC. The president of UFC equated acceptance with "good people." Then again, maybe I shouldn't have toppled halfway to the floor at that. If you've been to UFC, you know it feels futuristic.
The deluge of positivity surrounding this issue has astounded me, especially after six years abroad. You spend a good long while in life just hoping for a lack of derision, maybe some measure of distant understanding, and then so much of the nation just up and gives a big embrace. To a gay person -- well, this one, anyway -- it's like spending years yearning for a Christmas puppy, and then the door opens and a whole litter stampedes out to swarm you.
Suddenly, it does seem that if Collins' free agency ends in a new contract somewhere, his hecklers and detractors might seem outnumbered and irrelevant. They might even be ostracized. As they like to say in my beloved Colombia: What time did this happen?
Like soccer's Robbie Rogers, I do feel a wave -- or a wavelet -- coming beyond Collins, but while a star or even just a starter figures to follow, I like that we have a workmanlike journeyman in our midst. It might expand the understanding about the range of gay people in the minds of those long oblivious or uninformed. He hits the boards. He does what he can for the team. He toils. He endures (13 years in the league). In a country where might still impresses, that probably matters. Homosexuality and machismo continue their gathering detente.
"My mouthpiece is in, and my wrists are taped," Collins wrote. "Go ahead, take a swing -- I'll get up. I hate to say it, and I'm not proud of it, but I once fouled a player so hard that he had to leave the arena on a stretcher. I go against the gay stereotype, which is why I think a lot of guys will be shocked. That guy is gay? But I've always been an aggressive player, even in high school. Am I so physical to prove that being gay doesn't make you soft? Who knows? That's something for a psychologist to unravel. My motivations, like my contributions, don't show up in box scores and frankly I don't care about stats. Winning is what counts. I want to be evaluated as a team player."
Still, we ought not extol the breach of stereotype at the expense of that other impossibly rugged being, the men who do fit the "stereotype." Men branded effeminate have withstood more needless, mindless crud through the years than most of the rest of us put together, weathering it through high school, college, taunts in their neighborhoods and frowns in their families. As conquerors of one of the great human fears -- that of what others think -- they're among the toughest sorts we've got, much tougher of hide than those who needle them.
They probably roll their wary, wise eyes at any perceived coolness now, as well they should. There's no need to bask in such a thing when the zoom of the culture on this issue makes it seem just another step toward the understanding of the normalcy of an aspect of nature.