I wanted to write my obligatory senior graduation column, but I’m writing about gay celebrities again.
Tuesday’s illustration by Chicago Tribune cartoonist Scott Stantis is making the rounds on social media and news blogs. The illo is simply titled “Jason Collins,” and features two panels: The first shows Tim Tebow saying he’s Christian to a dismissive journalist and the second shows Jason Collins saying he’s gay to an adoring journalist.
If you hadn’t heard, NBA player Collins became the first active male athlete to come out as gay in a major U.S. professional sport. Many other NBA players and celebrities have expressed their support, including a “proud” Barack Obama.
Stantis’ illustration has been talked about as a fitting explanation of the “culture war” between gays, who increasingly receive positive attention in media, and Christians, who increasingly face persecution for expressing their beliefs.
Yeah, a lot of people make fun of Tebow. To suggest this is “persecution” is ludicrous. Tebow is a powerful celebrity who is being made fun of for claiming an identity that rarely faces quotidian violences.
Christianity is not an identity that is underrepresented in professional sports. Just about every athlete I’ve watched at a press conference thanks God at least once. It’s an okay thing to do, even a normal thing to do.
Tebow was cut by the Jets on Monday, the same day Collins came out, and people have insinuated it’s because of the (lackluster) quarterback’s Christian beliefs. This paranoid suggestion implies that being openly Christian has interfered with sales, which is what actually matters to owners. No, Tebow’s jersey was one of the top-selling in the league, and only began to drop with his playing time.
What columnists and illustrators are getting right is that this is a war. It’s a war between two political powerhouses with lots of lobbying sway.
Christian organizations actively promote so-called traditional family values, which is mostly the restriction of healthcare to those seeking abortions or the denial of adoption rights to non-straight couples.
The gay civil rights movement actively promotes so-called equality for all by way of inclusion for LGBT-identified individuals in national institutions like the military and marriage.
Both sides of the culture war subscribe to neoliberal idea that rights to cultural identities are the key to equality and freedom. Both sides ignore how institutions tend not to provide adequate care or resources to poor and/or queer individuals.
According to many mass media corporations, being gay is the new normal. It’s becoming increasingly important for gay celebrities to come out of the closet, while still being framed as not a big deal — just someone’s private business.
Tebow is flamboyantly Christian, which disrupts mass culture’s understanding of religion as a private practice. If Collins were open about the sex of his sexuality, I don’t think we’d be seeing the same reaction he’s received. Instead, his twin and NBA player Jarron Collins said Jason wants a family, wants to live a normal life.
Being gay has been molded into a private, consumer-friendly identity. It’s important that Collins came out, because the sports world could stand to realize that athlete equals masculinity equals straight is a broken equation.
But if we look at the way the media has framed this as a culture war, we’ll notice that what we should be proud of is privacy of identity.