I have read several articles about star football player Michael Sam and his announcement that he was gay two short weeks before the NFL draft. This is a huge gamble and took some mighty big balls. In a different corner I have read many comments from former Mizzou students of all colors and orientations who call bullshit on all of it. Sam was not the first openly gay athlete at Mizzou. Not by a longshot. However, he is the most popular and biggest sports star to declare this type of major. Many of these students of color felt betrayed in that they were treated like shit when they went there and often felt unsafe with little assistance from the school administration available when they were taunted or harmed. I cannot and will not ever be able to really know what that feels like. It pains me to attempt even for a moment to put myself in their shoes. All I know is how I felt when I was there.
I'm sure I talked about this before but here goes. I was a sophomore at Mizzou and living in the Sigma Chi fraternity house when I came out. It was 1981. Nobody ever laid a hand on me or threatened me in any way. However, the people who made me the most uncomfortable and the ones that wanted me to leave the most were some of my best friends from high school, one of whom was my roommate. I pretended like it didn't hurt. Other guys in the house from Kansas City said who cares, move into our room. I thought about it but politely declined. For a time I looked for a room or apartment somewhere else on campus, but that would require me to still be in the same city and climate as those who shunned me. I was, probably foolishly, not afraid of what might happen to me. I was hurt and confused and ashamed.
In a messy series of events I quit school, moved home, and moved out shortly thereafter. My parents and silbings were not prepared for this shocking development, pun intended. In thier grief and in a sincere effort to help me and to understand I was sent to a Jesuit priest who was also a psychiatrist. It was suggested to me that prayer and electroshock therapy could set me straight. Fat chance. I had had crushes on other boys and had been secretly reading Tiger Beat magazine in the grocery store since I was 10. I thought singer Leif Garrett was one of the cutest boys in the world. I moved out and in with my first boyfriend. This was ultimately a disaster, but I wanted to forge my own path on my terms.
You know what, I feel a little better. It's been over 3 decades and about time I get over it. It was so very uplifting for me to hear that an African-American, all- American football player of all things had come out and that basically nothing happened. People cheered, haters hated from the sidelines and anonymous comment sections on the web. The outpouring of support from Mizzou students who formed that human wall against the Westboro church members was incredibly poignant for me from my whitebread side of the table.
I won't waste any more time worrying about the past. My parents did what they thought was best for me at the time. While they could have handled it better, it didn't kill me and they continued to love me just the same. They have strongly disliked many of my long-term boyfriends over the years and I will freely admit that they were right (almost) every time. It was my friends that did me the most dirt and the most damage. It was a different era, a different time, and maybe they didn't know any better themselves. Come to think of it, my parents didn't like a lot of them either. Hmmm, how about that.
It never occurred to me that any of these societal changes were possible in my lifetime, especially in red state Missouri. I'm happy to be wrong. There is still a vast and difficult road ahead for all involved on both sides with lots of hatred to spare. This world can be cold and cruel, and humans can be the most despicable of all creatures. It's refreshing to realize that sometimes I can still be surprised. Thank you Michael Sam and students of Mizzou. I know that you don't represent all, but a growing voice of a new generation of tolerance and hope. FYI - Tinkerbell and fairy dust can go a long way.