Friday, May 3, 2013

TNR: A Gay Athlete In The World's Most Macho Sport

When I wrote my final "America's Screaming Conscience" column for Gawker, I remember sitting at the keyboard, panicked about how much my world would be upended by simply changing my name. I knew some readers would instantly hate me, while others would resent having assumptions about me so radically altered.

In a frankly very lucky, if not privileged, sense, it was like "coming out" on an extreme micro level. That term just became the shorthand metonym in work emails about what I was writing—"the coming-out piece," "your coming-out piece," etc.—and I wound up using it myself. All the same, it still made me itch. This was all voluntary. Nothing I'd done was hardwired or determined by any biological imperative. I chose to admit to choosing to doing stupid things, and my five years of obfuscating my identity inhibited a little behavior online and virtually none in real life.

Part of my circumspection came from, just months earlier, standing in a locker room with a short man who'd just told the world he was gay before agreeing to a physical confrontation where someone could legitimately beat him, if not do death, then at least to crippling brain damage. No amount of my social or career discomfort—especially from the ether—could compare to his not only living some place where people like him were still beaten to death by other citizens but also going to work at a job where his very selfness could be motivation for someone to legally cripple him. I felt instantly both in awe of and impotently protective of that man. His name is Orlando Cruz, and last October he became the first active, out, male boxer.

I thought about Cruz this week when reading Jason Collins' moving coming out piece in Sports Illustrated, and I thought other people might enjoy reading about him. I was lucky to be asked by The New Republic to go cover Cruz's first fight after he came out, and unfortunately I wasn't able to share it with readers at the time because I had not.

Click the pic above to go to the New Republic article.