In case you hadn’t heard, NBA center Jason Collins is gay.
Most of the internet has reacted very positively and supportively. Few people are freaking out in public. But I’m guessing you have heard, as I have, more intense freakouts in private. They’re boring repeats of a billion boring private freakouts I’ve heard from straight men about gay athletes a billion boring times before.
But you know what? There’s more to the way some people freak out about gay male athletes in a way that they don’t about gay female athletes than the fact that stereotyped lesbians (masculine) confirm the stereotypes about female athletes (masculine, all lesbians), while stereotyped gay men (feminine) challenge the stereotypes about male athletes (masculine to the max, exemplars of traditional masculinity).
Above and beyond that, the reaction to the spectre of a gay male athlete has its roots in the fears of loss of privilege. (Spoiler alert! A privilege women never have!)
Have you seen the picture meme that goes around that says “homophobia: you’re not afraid, you’re just an asshole”? While the latter is true, I don’t think the former is true. I think this gets closer:
The straight men who think about being in a locker room with a gay athlete and freak out? I think they’re for once imagining themselves in a woman’s position. Only they’re also imagining themselves being themselves in a women’s locker room. And they know they’d act shitty.
Powerful gay men incite the fear of rape into the hearts of assholes. Particularly rapist assholes. Also clueless assholes who for some reason view rape as the result of extreme desire, rather than abuse of power and control.
This is not a guess. This is not some crazy, extrapolative feminist overreaction. They tell you this, with their words, when they have their freakouts about gay men in locker rooms that start with “But what if he…”?
Lesbians are no threat to straight men, right? They can do what they want, a lesbian can be as horrible as she wants to any woman she desires, and it will never touch a straight man. Even if a lesbian wanted to hurt a straight man, she has lower status than him as a woman to start with, and what’s she gonna do? She can’t put her cunt inside him. Physically overpower him? Definitely not. She’s a woman!**
But a gay man? To a straight man whose only lens through which to understand a gay man is the way he himself treats the gender he finds sexually attractive, the way he treats the gender he thinks of as getting penetrated, the way he thinks of the gender he considers weaker… when he pictures himself potentially on the other side of that lens, feminized, that worst thing, the ant instead of the giggling sadist, well, then he is scared.
The existence of physically, socially, economically powerful gay men removes assholes’ privilege that is the assumption of safety from sexual assault and rape. That wasn’t entirely true before– they weren’t 100% safe. But they were safe enough to walk around assuming they were. And it is not true that gay men are de facto predators. But gay men are men, the only sex that assholes allow themselves to respect enough to fear. And it suuuucks to live with the knowledge of that intimate vulnerability. Doesn’t it. Shut the fuck up.
To frighten and piss off members of a powerful, privileged majority, well, that is dangerous. And fucking brave.
And, finally, well done Jason Collins.
And fuck you to all the assholes.
* There’s also “homophobia: the fear that other people will realize I’m gay.”
** If only I could read that out loud to you with my eyes rolled all the way back in my head while I literally dripped with the essence of sarcasm. Sadly, I cannot. Facts: women can rape men. Some women can physically overpower some men.