It’s a very sad day in 2017 when we still have to plead the case against homophobia. But here we are, thanks to former NBA star, Amar’e Stoudemire, who reminds us that we have a long way to go in the fight for the humanity and respect of same-gender loving people.
When asked if he would have a “problem” with a gay teammate, the basketball star, who now plays overseas in Israel, responded: “I’ll shower across the street… make sure my change of clothes are around the corner… and take a different route to the gym.” Stoudemire would later say his comments were meant to be taken as a “joke;” however, they were never funny to begin with.
There is no humor in suggesting that someone is a threat to your physical space simply because of his or her sexual orientation. Not only is it textbook homophobia, but it reeks of toxic masculinity, insecurity and speaks to a long and storied history of anti-gay culture in sports and entertainment.
“The answers I gave were meant to be taken as jokes & I am deeply sorry for offending anyone,” Stoudemire said in a statement after his offensive comments were made public. “I am open to creating a dialogue to assist the fight the LGBT community encounters daily and will continue to focus on playing basketball.”
By implying that he would not change in the same locker room, shower in the same bathroom or workout in the same gym as his hypothetical gay teammate, Stoudemire gave legitimacy to the warped hetero male view that same-gender loving men are sexual predators and a danger to their masculinity with unwanted advances.
Though he rightfully apologized for his schoolyard commentary, this kind of reckless speech can go on no longer. Not when young boys are being bullied in school simply because they’re different from the others or don’t know how to dribble a basketball. Not when trans women of color are being murdered by their cisgender male counterparts, who refuse to acknowledge their humanity because that, by virtue, would require them to recognize the lacking in their own. That is the destructiveness of hyper-masculinity, and until we put an end to it, we are all losing participants in a society that should be rooted in what feminist writer bell hooks calls an ethic of love and liberation.
Words matter. They have the power to speak life or death and, more importantly, they have great influence — especially when you’re a public figure.
One would like to believe Stoudemire’s apology was heartfelt, but it’s clear he’s only sorry because of the public outcry against his dangerous hate speech. This isn’t the first time he got called out for his apparent homophobia. In 2012, the then New York Knicks star was fined $50,000 for referring to a fan online as a faggot. For decades, the gay slur has been used to ostracize and vilify gay and bisexual men and position them as inferior to their hetero peers. It’s also a word that is cloaked in violence and intimidation.
This ugly and pervasive stereotyping by Stoudemire, and men and women like him, was also rooted in ESPN’s ridiculous report on the NFL’s first openly gay draft player, Michael Sam, and his locker room activity. Rather than covering his performance as a player with the St. Louis Rams, reporter Josina Anderson focused on Sam allegedly avoiding the team shower out of “respect” for his teammates.
There’s such an obsession over the bodies and sexual appetite of LGBT people simply because they are same-gender loving or gender nonconforming, and with that obsession comes distorted views of how lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people live their lives. While LGBT representation in sports is still in its infant stage, it’s clear that in the world of sports and beyond, there’s plenty of room for growth in understanding sexuality and gender expression. We’ve seen few yet significant steps in the right direction with the coming out of sports male figures like Jason Collins, Michael Sam, Derrick Gordon and others.
By simply living out loud as gay male sports figures, these brave athletes shook up perceptions of what it means to be gay, which is often tagged with stereotypes like the assumption that gay men don’t do sports. Their presence on the football field and basketball court wasn’t just about them playing the sport they love but about them existing in a space where gay men aren’t traditionally welcomed, or even expected to be.
But there’s more to be done if we’re still overly concerned about what a man does in the privacy of his bedroom, and in tandem, conflate one’s sexuality with perversion. There’s more to be done when the Amar’e Stoudemires of the world are essentially suggesting the segregation of locker rooms by sexual orientation, much in the same way white supremacists segregated public spaces because of their warped and disgusting views on race and the imposed inferiority of black Americans.
How weak your manhood must be that you have to validate how you feel as a man by trivializing one’s sexual orientation.
Even more, for Stoudemire and others to assume that simply being a man in the room makes him desirable to gay men is a toxic narrative that needs to be laid to rest. Gay men are not horny raging perverts out seeking to rape or push up on straight men who do not want them.
The fact that these are the images that come to mind when people think of homosexuality shows that they do not come in contact enough with members of the LGBT community, because if they did, they would see there’s nothing to fear. Gay and bisexual men have long been tagged as sexually aberrant and promiscuous, or a danger to hetero male society. This kind of ignorance keeps alive a toxic hyper-masculine society, where as long as a man is loud and aggressive, he’s considered a ‘real’ man and therefore doesn’t have to acknowledge his toxicity and the people he destroys along the way because of it.
The very notion that a gay man in the same room as a straight man is somehow a hazard to his being is problematic for a number of reasons. It perpetuates the othering of LGBTQ-identifying people who simply want their humanity acknowledged against a global society that says their feelings, their desires and their love is to be rejected at all costs.
For the heterosexual man to acknowledge his homophobia, he must also recognize the evils that reside within, and that is the challenge of today.
Real men aren’t threatened by another man’s sexuality, and the sooner heterosexual men understand this, the better we all will be. Truthfully, we need more gay and straight men sharing locker rooms. Then and only then will we be able to disarm the ugliness of homophobia and the imagined fears around what it means to be gay. As this country grapples with the civil rights of trans people and their place in society and, ironically, their place in public bathrooms, it’s clear we’re reaching a boiling point in America.
When asked on his thoughts of why people “hate” homosexuals so much, the famed writer James Baldwin provided a sobering meditation on society’s history of terror, and argued that the ills of racism were no different than the ills of homophobia. “The sexual question and the racial question have always been entwined… If Americans can mature on the level of racism, then they have to mature on the level of sexuality,” Baldwin told journalist Richard Goldstein in 1984.
“The terrors homosexuals go through in this society would not be so great if the society itself did not go through so many terrors which it doesn’t want to admit. The discovery of one’s sexual preference doesn’t have to be a trauma. It’s a trauma because it’s such a traumatized society.”
It says a lot about a man who makes juvenile remarks or “jokes” about gay men in locker rooms and refers to another man as a faggot. As Baldwin suggested:
I know from my own experience that the macho men — truck drivers, cops, football players — these people are far more complex than they want to realize. That’s why I call them infantile. They have needs, which for them, are literally inexpressible. They don’t dare look into the mirror. And that is why they need faggots. They’ve created faggots in order to act out a sexual fantasy on the body of another man and not take any responsibility for it… I think it’s very important for the male homosexual to recognize that he is a sexual target for other men, and that is why he is despised, and why he is called a faggot. He is called a faggot because other males need him.
It’s time we, as an American and global society, begin to unpack our comprehension of sexuality and question the veracity of our belief systems. Anyone who feels uneasy in the presence of a gay man must reconcile that and ask themselves why. Because it’s not so much about gay people as it is about those who do not understand them and refuse to recognize their humanity.
As we bear witness to the marginalization of people on the fringes of society, whether it be Muslims, Mexicans, African-Americans, or those who identify as LGBTQ, we must challenge one another to take those hard, long looks in the mirror. The challenge, however, is getting to a place where we like the reflection staring back at us.
Stoudemire’s comments weren’t tongue-in-cheek humor as much as they were the subconscious thoughts and feelings that have terrorized and plagued the LGBT community, particularly black gay men, for decades.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people aren’t going anywhere, and until we stop running, we’ll never come to a place where we’re all afforded the freedoms that are, today, afforded only to a privileged few. The freedom to love. The freedom to live out loud. And the freedom to exist like everyone else. There is no locker room or bathroom that should get in the way of that.
Gerren Keith Gaynor is the Homepage and Opinion Editor for theGrio. Follow him @MrGerrenalist.