Jason Collins is the first NBA player to announce that he is gay. Jason received a call from President Obama praising his efforts as a role model. It is a little unsettling to realize that in 2013 one’s sexual orientation is still news, but as a former high school teacher, I celebrate Jason’s willingness to be the first in his profession to blaze this trail.
I worked with a handful of openly gay/lesbian teens when I taught English. They were fearless souls, all of them. Being fifteen and open is a tremendous act of courage. I knew many straight teens who spent countless hours concerned with the impression they were leaving on others. It is hard to be authentic in an environment where the right pair of shoes matters so dearly. To be fully out of the closet in high school is like walking around with your heart outside your rib cage; one is left so achingly vulnerable without armor.
I worked with one student, Chris, who was particularly stunning in his courage.
Chris spent the beginning of his life as a little girl. He went to grade school with most of his classmates and was known by a different name during those years. By the time middle school rolled around, Chris had made some serious decisions in his life. The most notable being that he did not actually consider himself a girl.
As his peers looked on, Chris slowly peeled away his feminine exterior. By the time he landed in high school, he had a crew cut. He had bound down his breasts, camouflaged his female curves with massively baggy clothes, pierced one ear, and changed his name.
He was a bright, quiet kid. He did his work; he faded into the background. Chris wasn’t on the receiving end of constant outward violence. He didn’t get beat up daily, or to my knowledge, threatened. Chris was quite simply ignored. Kids thought he was weird; they talked about him behind his back; they referred to him by his old female name; they disrespected him with their cold-shoulder treatment and feelings of superiority.
I often wonder what happened to Chris. He would be in his mid-twenties now. I hope he lives in a great community; I hope he is involved in a career he loves. Most of all, I hope the world has stopped ignoring him. I hope everyday he is seen and heard. And someday soon I hope one’s sexual orientation is no longer news. It shouldn’t warrant a phone call from the president because it shouldn’t matter to any of us.