Previous Joints

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Brokeback Collins

Jason Collins (some NBA player I’d never heard of until recently) declared, to much fanfare, that he was gay. In his coming out piece to Sports Illustrated he began by saying:

“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”

I’m feeling a little proud of myself at the moment because my reaction to this big story is me wondering why it’s a big story. I genuinely don’t care. I didn’t even know who this bloke was until his name started clogging up my Twitter timeline and appearing on news-sites.

What did catch my eye was the emphasis he put on his skin colour. I’ve seen a lot of coming-outs of celebrities in my life time, but I can’t remember them bringing their race into it. In fact, come to think of it, I can’t remember any coming out of a black celebrity at all. And when my lady and a couple of friends asked me why his race was such a big deal in this subject matter, I simply shrugged and said: “we black folks are some homophobic SOBs”.

About 7 years ago I was probably the most homophobic little runt around. I put this down to many factors. And yes, being black, or more specifically, of African descent, was one of them. I come from a very religious family. Not just religious, but African religious. If you know anything about how African countries treat gay people, you know the term homophobia just doesn’t cut it. On top of this, I am a huge hip-hop fan and that isn’t a gay friendly music.

But I can point to one event that changed my outlook on the LGBT community. To the point, one film that started to make me look at this subject matter very differently.

Brokeback Mountain.

I have very contradictory views about Brokeback – It’s a very ordinary movie, while also being an extraordinary movie.

I remember the hype surrounding this film, marketed as if it’s a shocking and revolutionary piece of cinema, when in truth it’s simply a love story. In fact, if you swap the two male leads for a heterosexual couple, it becomes an unremarkable love story like the ones in Dear John or The Notebook. But as it stands, with its gay characters, it becomes something more. That unremarkability gives you space to actually think about the subject of gay relationships and homophobia, without being distracted by controversy.

If this was a film with heterosexual leads, they would be unsympathetic adulterous characters. As it stands, it’s still a film about two people cheating on their wives, but all the way through this film I felt sorry for the poor bastards. I mean, I felt excruciating sympathy for them. Not disgust or anger at the fact that they are gay, but heartfelt sorrow for their situation.

The difference between me now and the homophobic me back in 2005 is that I didn’t understand what true desperation was. I am an extroverted person, I wear my feelings on my sleeve. I have never been in a situation where I couldn’t be… well, me. What Brokeback Mountain gets across very well is how these two characters have had to lie for most of their lives about who they are. That time up the mountain is the only time they could be themselves. It also happens to be the case that in 2005 I was at university and actually got to know gay people. They were not just a theory, the proverbial monsters – they were real people I studied with, I talked to and to my surprise (yep I was/am that big headed), they didn’t try to jump me or convert me in anyway. They were cool. Knowing this and watching Brokeback, it was difficult to see Jack and Ennis’ story unfold, brush it aside and quote the “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” line.

In truth, watching Brokeback Mountain was difficult for me. It was bad enough watching the torture of Jack and Ennis, but it was worse watching the behaviour of the farmer, Jack’s wife and ultimately his killers. Their intolerance and homophobia bothered me. It messed me up because in their hatred I saw myself and started to question why I felt that way and the truthful answer is that I didn’t know. I didn’t know why I discriminated and was openly hostile towards a group of people that I had absolutely no dealings with.

Brokeback Mountain is the first film that revealed what an ugly fucking person I was. And importantly, it showed me that I was a hypocrite.

Back then, me and my baby mama (who was just my girlfriend at the time) experienced minor events where complete strangers took umbrage at the fact that we were together (by the way, my lady happens to be white). I remember while watching Brokeback wondering how I have the balls to look down and discriminate against gay people when people were doing the same to me. If me and my woman lived in the American south not too long ago, it would have been illegal to be together. People claimed it was against nature.


And then I started to think about all the arguments against gay people and the stupidity began to unravel. Although I was from a religious family, I wasn’t even a little bit religious. And as far as I know, not a single gay person had tried to convert and break me and Lady Bear up. Now heterosexual folks on the other hand…

I’m not saying this 180 in thinking took place over one sitting of this film – that wasn’t the case. I’m saying that this film was the catalyst for that change in thinking. Having gay friends that were out and could share their story and experiences helped as well. Also, as stupid as it sounds, seeing Eminem (“Homophobic, nah, you’re just heterophobic”) perform with Elton John helped too. Thinking for myself was a huge revelation. All this helped me to get to a stage where I can shrug off this Collins story and just simply say that it’s not a big deal.

But I know that Collins could inspire some homophobic black kid somewhere to rethink his stupid views until one day we can reach a point where all this hatred isn’t necessary and everyone can just live their lives -minding their own business.