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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Jason Collins: Someone I Haven't Known A Long Time

May 2, 2013
Call me cynical, but I wonder if Jason Collins wishes the FBI could have put off arresting the marathon bomber clean-up crew for a few more days.

Sometime during my lifetime, news became a one story at a time proposition. I don’t like it. I wonder how reporters feel about it? Suppose nothing sensational happens for weeks? Would reporters be reduced to doing investigative reporting about Jason Collins’ nose hair?

I pay about as much attention to the NBA as I do to professional curling, so if Jason Collins’ sexual orientation coverage seemed tedious to me, it must have been overwhelming for those who watch TV and care about stuff.

My first thought – who is Jason Collins?

My second thought – why is everyone so frantic about this?

Maybe it’s always been this way, but as I see it, three things shifted at the same time.

1) News broadcasts reported on one story – till something else salacious happened.

2) People started putting tolerance and co-exist bumper stickers on their vehicles.

3) Everybody got pissed about everything.

It seems to me that taking sides is more important now than it ever has been before. You can’t just have an opinion – you have to have a position. You have to be emphatic. (Exclamation mark intentionally omitted.)

Are you for Coke or Pepsi?

No store bargain brand cop-outs allowed! You have to take a stand. You have to grab a label, peel back that stubborn backing that never comes off like it’s supposed to, and slap that tag over your heart! Get frantic!

(But I don’t drink cola…) NO EXCUSE!

(What about minor brands?) What? and waste your vote!?!

I’m all for people believing what they believe in. I admire it, but the way we insist on being two (and only two) armed camps on every issue seems counter to the tolerance that both of these armed camps are screaming for (but defining differently) at the top of their lungs.

I wrote an editorial about labels years ago – back when the NBA was still popular and being gay wasn’t. It’s supposed to be in the increasingly mythological chapbook, Headley Makes Cents. I don’t expect it to be helpful, but it fills up the rest of the post, nicely.

No Response

I, for one, would like to applaud the people who aren’t afraid of being known for who they are. There’s something almost John Wayneish or Gary Cooper-like about a person who’s in touch with their feelings, their strengths, their desires, their aspirations, and doesn’t give a baby brown M&M who knows it. (For those of you under 18, the baby brown M&M was the only M&M that the M&M Mars company actually put flavor in. The company replaced it with the blue M&M due to baby brown’s unfortunate resemblance to rabbit droppings). Such people are easy to look up to – you know the ones that don’t give a baby brown...

Yeah, Okay.

Of course, you can strain your neck looking up all the time. Those of us who trod the lower strata: Those of us who are insufficiently aware of what’s significant about ourselves can find these confident types exhausting.

So he says to me, “I’m a gay man.”

It’s not easy to give the proper response to a greeting like that. The natural impulse is to give the appropriate colliery, “I’m a straight man.” Of course, if I heard someone announce that he was a straight man, I might assume he was George Burns and start looking around for Gracie Allen. What then, is a good alternative?

I’m a white man.”

I’m a middle aged man.”

I’m a bald man?”

He’s standing right in front of me, and as he didn’t say, “blind, gay man” each of these choices appear to be a bit obvious. Perhaps using “man” is a mistake. After all, he used the term and it might sound like I’m cheating – you know – copying off his paper?

How about something that shows the way I think?

I’m a Presbyterian.”

I’m a Libertarian.”

I’m a tacoandfriesforluncharian?”

I don’t know. Seems like pretty shaky ground. Saying such a thing is likely to get a reply like –

How do you reconcile Calvin’s tenant of the depravity of man with the utopian hopes inherent in basic libertarianism, oh and by the way, your lunch is high fat, and leads to serious gas issues.”

(You’re telling me!)

Well, perhaps the warm and fuzzy approach is best.

I’m a friend to all the little forest creatures.” (Except the ones I hit with my car)

Will he then assume that I classify gay men separate among the fauna from humankind, or even worse, conclude that because he is not a forest creature, I could never be his friend?

I’m floundering for any categorical statement that precludes misinterpretation. I can’t simply avoid category – only God and Popeye can say, “I yam what I yam.”

Maybe I need to take a breath and focus on what he’s telling me. He’s well under ninety years of age, so I can assume he’s not just telling me he’s happy. He’s introducing himself by way of his sexual orientation. Perhaps some sort of positive response is in order.

Oh good, I like gay men.”

(No chance of that being misinterpreted.)

Well, I won’t set you up with my sister?”

Hmm, I can’t put finger on it, but there’s something wrong here too.

Maybe he wants me to give him an opportunity to expand on his statement. All I have to do is relax and focus on him. What doors of inquiry should I open? I’m not keen on hearing about positions and methods. (Another reason to avoid the forest animal bit)

Do you have a partner?”

How does that work for you?”

So, do you find that hard – I mean difficult?”

Misinterpretations Abound.

Being known for who you are is a wonderful thing, but can you really sum up a person in eight words or less. Say what you will about labels being inaccurate or harmful. To me, they’re just confusing. How can you relate to both a person and their label simultaneously? A label is a bit like encountering a rotary: it might take you where you want to go, but it gets you dizzy in the process.

Lucky for me, I had Hollywood, America’s greatest cultural resource, to fall back on. Borrowing from the Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan movie “Joe Vs the Volcano”
I tell him, “I have no response to that.” A line I’ve always found useful – especially when questioned about what I do for a living.