Wellbeing

I Love a Good Party!

Who doesn’t love a good party? I just try to be sure I get invited to my fair share. What makes a great time is a good crowd of happy-go-lucky people in a good mood, yummy snacks, an assortment of beverages, and music that pleases the crowd. You can keep it simple as parties go, no need to cater and fuss. People can bring food: the famous pot luck. You get a lot of interesting, often ethnic food, that way. You never know what will appear in the mystery pot. Depending upon the age of the guests, the food will be edible, gourmet, or sensational. I think it is fun to find out so when I hear it is pot luck, I don’t shy away.

A recent party of note that I attended and enjoyed was for a friend who had just finished his medical residency. This is a pretty big step in life for a doctor that merits celebration. Not only did I contribute my share of food and drink, but I wanted to buy a nice gift for the occasion. So what does one give to a medical professional on his way up the hospital ladder? Obviously, he’d already bought all of the essential medical school supplies, so I had to think harder. I suppose almost anything will do. You can chose from a stethoscope, a blood pressure monitor (like the portable wrist type that is easy to carry about and use), and a backpack worthy of the new career. I like this idea and possibly filling it with some medical supplies like tongue depressors, Q-tips, moist tissues, bandages and tape, a pen light with a battery, and assorted waterproof carrying cases in case something spilled inside. There would be no iodine. Can you imagine that colorful mess? I also had the idea of a gift certificate for a set of scrubs (his old ones were more than retired since the residency). Shoe covers and a surgeon’s bandana would complete the ensemble.

I fussed over which gifts for some time before the actual date of the party and waited until I heard what other people were bringing. That would narrow my focus and help avoid duplication. I wanted to be the most original with my gift since he is a good friend, and I didn’t mind if it had more than a pinch of humor. I might put in the backpack the book “Laughter is the Best Medicine,” an anthology from Reader’s Digest of hilarious medical jokes. There are lots of funny prints that doctors can put up in their offices and tons of cartoons that can be mounted and framed. I had lots of possibilities. I really had to narrow it down. I ended up with several small gifts neatly ensconced in the backpack. I could add others later for his next career graduation. Don’t medical students have two years of residency anyway? I enjoyed the process of selection and was more than willing to go through it again the next time around. It would only be one year later anyway.

Athletes You May Not Know Are LGBT

LGBT issues can be particularly important in sports because sports are areas that have explicit gender separation. If you’re a trans woman or a trans man, transphobia could keep you out of the leagues that match up with your gender. Too many people in sports care more about your birth-assigned gender than your real one. With lesbian, gay, or bisexual athletes, they’re mainly challenging the homophobia and biphobia of a lot of their potential fans and existing fans.

Some people will still be surprised to find out that certain athletes are LGBT, or that certain celebrities in general are LGBT. You really shouldn’t. LGBT people don’t come in a box. We really could be anyone. Since we could be anyone, there shouldn’t be any surprise when a random person comes out as LGBT. Hopefully, I can help people be a little less surprised by listing some of the athletes that are LGBT.

If you’re looking for a lesson on the history of coming out as a professional athlete, then pro-tennis player Martina Navratilova should definitely be on your list. She’s been out as a bisexual since 1981, and she got the conversation going at that time. Martina Navratilova helped pave the way for a lot of LGBT athletes since then. 1981 was a scary year to be LGBT, so the people who came out during this time period deserve even more credit for bravery.

Matthew Mitcham, Olympic diver extraordinaire, is LGBT as well as a person who has struggled with mental illness. Now there’s another civil rights issue in modern athletics that merits some serious discussion: professional athletes who are struggling with mental illness or who have struggled with it. We know that there’s no shortage of athletes that are like that today, and many of them dare not admit it. Being mentally ill means you’re weak to a lot of fans who are riddled with toxic masculinity. At least Matthew Mitcham had his long-term partner to fall back on when he was horribly depressed and burned out in his earlier years.

Figure skater Johnny Weir probably didn’t shock anyone when he finally came out when he published his memoirs. He did make a lot of people impatient before then, and he pointed out to the gay community that they weren’t exactly encouraging him to come out that way. I do think that straight people should remember how emotionally difficult coming out can be, and that it’s even more difficult to do so on a massive scale. It’s a personal thing and no one should be forced into it.

Sheryl Swoopes, WNBA star, is one of the most high-profile professional athletes to come out in recent years. She seems to have taken it in stride. The WNBA has been a source of empowerment for oppressed people for a long time now. Sheryl Swoopes is black, LGBT, and a woman, and would know a thing or two about oppression.

Gus Johnston, hockey champion, came out on YouTube, which should solidify just how twenty-first century his experience really was. He regrets not coming out sooner, and he managed to share some pretty heartfelt feelings about the emotional difficulties of his current situation and situations he has been in as an athlete.

The history of professional athletes coming out is older than a lot of people think and older than a lot of other people remember. Many of them came out when it was scarier to do so, and some of them were outed by different circumstances. They paved the way for the rest of us, like we’re paving the way for the LGBT folks of the future.

LGBT Athletes Should Be Able to Be Honest

maxresdefaultNo one is really surprised when a musician comes out of the closet, I guess. It’s even less surprising when actors come out of the closet. We’ve still internalized all of the stereotypes from high school to the extent where we still think of actors as theater geeks at some level, and think of musicians as chorus geeks. In all fairness, that’s what a lot of actors and musicians were when they were in high school.

However, we have our stereotypes about the jocks, too, and one of the unifying factors is that they are aggressively and even evangelically heterosexual. The gay star athlete shocks more people than the gay star of the school play, even if it’s the exact same person.

This is one of those very gendered stereotypes, of course. I know that one of the stereotypes about all female athletes is that they’re lesbians. Bisexual people are still often invisible in the minds of a lot of folks, including LGBT folks who forget what the ‘B’ stands for. Still, LGBT people in general are still fighting for visibility in culture, so it makes sense to help us recognize the LGBT people who have managed to succeed in athletics in general.

One person who would agree with me about the weird gendered disparity with sports homophobia is Megan Rapinoe. Megan Rapinoe is a soccer player who was talented enough to make it to the Olympics. She is also a lesbian who has been with her loving girlfriend for years. She said that her teammates were fairly accepting of her, and that this isn’t the sort of thing that usually stays secret among female athletes.

She went on to say that it is much different for male athletes. I also wonder if it’s different for professional athletes who don’t play team sports. They only have to be at the mercy of their fans and their coaches. Team sports amplify everything. If you get along great with your team, it makes your career so much better. If you’re at odds with them, then every problem gets so much worse.

NBA star Joe Amaechi has set an example for LGBT athletes in many ways. We have to stand up for one another, and we have to call out homophobia when we see it happen or it’s still going to be normalized in the world of professional athletics. When Kobe Bryant used a slur against gay people, Joe Amaechi criticized him for it. This is Kobe Bryant we’re talking about, and he is clearly a terrible person to begin with. I doubt he’s listen to anyone calling him out on anything. The thing is, Joe Amaechi’s criticism wasn’t really aimed at Kobe Bryant. It was aimed at the culture at large.

Joe Amaechi spoke to the admirable fact that it is no longer socially acceptable to use racial slurs in the public sphere, and that as a black man, he doesn’t have to put up with them as much any more. However, he still has to put up with homophobic slurs from people like Kobe Bryant, and he contends that those should be just as politically unacceptable. We need more LGBT folks and our allies to have the courage to say things like that.

One of the great things about coming out in the world of sports is that every single time someone does it, it makes it that much more common and it will make it that much easier for people to do it later on. When Ellen came out back in the 1990’s, it was a scarier time to be openly gay, but you could still be openly gay. Before then, it was even harder. Today, celebrities come out right and left, and it isn’t even newsworthy anymore. I’m hoping that we’ll get to the point where it is no longer newsworthy for professional athletes to come out as LGBT. We all know that plenty of them are. Society is finally becoming mature and compassionate enough to accept that reality.

Should LGBT Athletes Be Outspoken?

Olympic Diver Tom Daly

Olympic Diver Tom Daly

Athletes vary a lot in their outspokenness on the LGBT issue. Some of them are basically LGBT rights activists in their own right. Others want people to be so quiet about the LGBT issue that you’d swear that they wanted to shove it into its own closet. Not every single LGBT person has to be an activist, it’s true, and I don’t want to put a lot of pressure on people to feel like they have to be a representative for their sexuality and people with their sexuality all the time. However, professional athletes have a lot of power, and the athletes who can use that power are really advised to do so as much as they can.

Gareth Thomas managed to settle a lot of bets among rugby fans when he confirmed that his is, in fact, LGBT. He’s very much of the school of thought that it shouldn’t matter, and that he wants people to stop talking about it and focus on his performance as an athlete. I understand where he’s coming from, and I want to bring about a world where it doesn’t matter, and being gay or straight is like being brown-haired or black-haired. However, we don’t live in that kind of world yet, and we can’t just pretend we’ve already won. It’s like sports. Even if you know which team is going to win, we have to actually have the match and play it out. We know LGBT rights are going to be second nature to the people of the future, but we have to create that future.

The movement can have people like Gareth Thomas, but everyone can’t be like that. Gareth Thomas is a somewhat older athlete in a profession that tends to skew young, so it makes sense from a generational perspective that he would be more likely to hold this particular viewpoint. He’s more accustomed to a culture where people concealed their sexuality from the public if it was a controversial version, and there’s clearly part of him that is primed for that.

Younger professional athletes who grew up in a less homophobic, transphobic, and biphobic time period may be better activists anyway. They’re going to feel more comfortable with coming out more openly, and they will tend to have a younger and more tolerant fan base in their own right. Gareth Thomas has fans from a more homophobic era who are probably lamenting the ‘loss’ of one of their athletic heroes, and Gareth Thomas shouldn’t regret losing them. Younger professional athletes help embody the future of athletics. When they come out and they’re outspoken about it, they’re sending the message that this is the way things are now, and you have to get used to it. That’s really always been our message.