Why Jason Collins’s coming out is so meaningful

In this April 17, 2013 file photo, Washington Wizards center Jason Collins, right, battles for a rebound against Chicago Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich. Collins is the first male professional athlete in the major four American sports leagues to come out as gay.

In this April 17, 2013 file photo, Washington Wizards center Jason Collins, right, battles for a rebound against Chicago Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich. Collins is the first male professional athlete in the major four American sports leagues to come out as gay.

When I was in 20s, my queer friends and I had a phone tree. One of the most fun excuses to call was when a gay character would pop on TV. These were like rare birds or comets. There was a certain delight in seeing them, even when they were terribly written or acted, or when their ultimate effect was negative. For us, who rarely saw ourselves reflected in the flickering light of media ordinariness, seeing another member of our species in almost any circumstance was an affirmation that we existed, that we were, in fact, everywhere, however covertly.

I was thinking about those times again after reading Jason Collins’ moving coming out storyin Sports Illustrated. We live at a time when queer people have never been more ubiquitous in media and out in the world. However unequal we may in fact be, we’ve never been more equal. But Collins’ description of life in the NBA closet harkened back to a darker and lonelier time, a time when the stakes of being found out could be life-altering and devastating.

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