Why are we still talking about Michael Sam? Why do they keep replaying his kiss with his boyfriend on ESPN like it’s a Super Bowl-winning touchdown? Just let the kid play football and live his life.
Some people just can’t look past the fact that he is a man who is romantically involved with another man. Why? Because, fundamentally, they believe it’s a choice. That Michael Sam woke up one day and decided to sleep with men, the same way he chose to wear his pink polo shirt that day instead of the orange one. They think homosexuality works like a light switch that we can flick on and off at any time.
There are few things that infuriate me more than this uninformed opinion, as it is one born from stubborn ignorance. It attempts to invalidate the experience of the young child who weeps as he prays that the cup would pass from him. That God, the Universe, or whoever is listening would remove his “unnatural” attraction to the same sex. These are the same folks who believe women’s bodies can prevent pregnancy when they are raped. Or the ones who think video games are to blame for violent crimes in America. Instead of seeking to understand, they judge.
As long as they believe homosexuality is a choice they’ll refuse to sympathize. I understand that. I have a hard time sympathizing with men who wear dress shoes with no socks. When they pass by on the street I resist the temptation to ask them, “did you really just walk out your door looking like that?” That’s because I know at any moment they can (and hopefully will) go back into their room and slip on some black Dockers or patterned Calvin Kleins. Similarly, because some believe homosexuality is a choice they don’t understand why gay people don’t just stop, well, being gay.
It can’t be harder than to quit smoking, right? Where’s the degayifying nicotine-like patch or the 12-step program? I’m reminded of a mother who posted a comment on Facebook saying her son was being gay only to get back at her for forgetting his birthday three years in a row. (I could insert a joke about her poor parenting skills here but I digress.)
But the idea that homosexuality is a choice seems ludicrous when you glance at history. Throughout the ages, gay people have been castrated, imprisoned, hung, burned, whipped, and tortured in the most devious ways. What’s more, tragically, many of these practices exist even today. In several countries, convicted homosexuals face anywhere from six months to life imprisonment. Merely kissing a non-relative of the same sex could merit you a whipping or public stoning. No, I’m not talking about biblical times. This is happening in 2014.
Some don’t even get a chance in court. Mobs more horrific than the KKK are ready to band together and execute their own form of judgement.
Who would choose to endure such punishment if there were a way out?
After ruminating on this topic for years, I came to the conclusion that in one (and only one) way homosexuality is a choice. They are simply following Polonius’s advice in Hamlet. They choose to be true to themselves. Coming out is a choice to not live a lie. It’s an active opposition against The Powers That Be who demand we conform to antiquated ideas of manhood and womanhood. Many gay teens today contemplate suicide due to constant pressure from family, religion, and other influences to be someone they cannot possibly be. From such a young age, they understand that living a lie is no life at all. There is no light switch.
Unfortunately, we as a society struggle with tolerating and accepting difference. Did you know people were once discriminated against for being left-handed? The left hand was viewed as “Satan’s Hand.” That’s why you will often see devils holding pitchforks with their left hands in images of antiquity. But you can’t change your dexterity or sexuality the same way you can’t naturally change your gender, race, hair color, height, and many other attributes. People have been discriminated against in all these categories, simply because they were different.
“To thine own self be true.” That’s your choice. It’s like, in the Matrix, when Neo had to choose between the red pill and the blue one. On the one hand, you can be who you were meant to be. On the other hand, you can live a lie while dying on the inside. The truth is, we all have that choice. Whether gay or straight, male or female, Black, White, Vegan, Christian, Muslim, musician, circus clown, everyone. At some point in our lives, Laurence Fishburne will appear before us wearing temple-less shades and holding those two pills. It is my hope, friends, that we all make the right choice.
Michael Sam made his choice. Jason Collins made his choice. Ricky Martin made his choice. Ellen Paige made her choice. Ellen Degeneres made her choice. Jane Lynch made her choice. Harvey Milk made his choice. And I made my choice along with millions of others.
We chose life.