Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Gay Old Time

I've been watching the 'Brendan Burke is gay!" story play out over the last few days. Sparked by John Buccingross's fine writeup over at, the coverage has spread far and wide. An interview aired last night on TSN.

It's not really much of a story. Or at least, it shouldn't be. Brendan Burke, 19, is the son of Brian Burke, general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Brendan's gay. That's it.
Well, okay, that's not quite it. Brendan came out to his dad last Christmas. The elder Burke is the very definition of a 'man's man'--he came to Toronto boasting his new team requires 'the proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence." No nancy-boys on a Burke team, understand.
There are fathers all over the world, made more or less in the Brian Burke mold, whose reaction to a son's coming out ranges from disdain to rage, sometimes killing rage. This father said "we love you, this won't change a thing." He said "I had a million good reasons to love and admire Brendan. This news didn't alter any of them."

"I wish this burden would fall on someone else's shoulders, not Brendan's. Pioneers are often misunderstood and mistrusted. But since he wishes to blaze this trail, I stand beside him with an axe! I simply could not be more proud of Brendan than I am, and I love him as much as I admire him." -- Brian Burke

To be honest, once I determined Brian Burke fully accepted his son, I've been much more interested in the reaction than the story itself.

There are many online venues where people comment about hockey games as they unfold, and I usually have one tab open while I'm watching on TV, contributing my own observations on occasion. The interview between Brendan, Brian, and TSN's Dave Hodge aired in the first intermission of last night's Leafs-Lightning game, and the forum lit up with several species of disbelief. The dominant reaction seemed to be why is this a story? Who cares if his son's gay?
I felt a stab of Canadian pride, reading this over and over, because in an ideal world, this wouldn't be a story...and in Canada, at least, we're moving towards this ideal world rather than away from it. Gay marriage has been legal here for over four years. The hullabaloo has died down. On the surface, at least, most people accept gays.
But only on the surface. I kept reading the forum, and noticed something that extinguished my pride like a dash of cold water. More than a few people still have this deeply ingrained schoolyard tendency to dismiss anything they disagree with (or simply don't understand) with the words that's so gay. A person they disagree with is branded a fag or a homo. When tempers get heated, the epithets include cocksucker and queer and other even more colourful terms, all meaning the same thing: homosexual.

A confession: I used to be a homophobe. It was kind of a default stance, really: I hadn't considered it. In my cocksure teens (pun definitely intended), I'd never, to my knowledge, met a gay person and the thought of what gay people did with each other disgusted me. You put your dick where? EWWWWWWWW! (Interestingly--at least to me--lesbianism never so much as crossed my mind.)

Looking back, I can trace my first doubts about my homophobia all the way back to the schoolyard. I distinctly recall wondering why so many things were gay and so many boys were faggots. It didn't make sense. One wrong step in the schoolyard dance and you'd have that faggot burden on you...and once your classmates decided to label you that way, no amount of protest could get it off. Hell, at first I didn't even know what a faggot was, but I knew damned well I didn't want to be one. Unfortunately, it's ridiculously easy to become a faggot, at least in preteen imaginations. I was one in short order.

I never spoke up. Not once did I ask somebody why doing well in school, or singing to yourself, or any of a thousand other things made you a gaylord, particularly after I'd earned that label a dozen times over. I had the bullied boy's unerring sense of consequence, and I knew no good could come of questioning the judgment of my peers. Stupid and queer, too! That's two reasons to bash his face in! One reason was more than enough for the guys I went to school with, thank you.

There have been doubts about my sexuality shot at me from odd quarters over the years, well beyond the reflexive insults of elementary and high school. People wonder why I don't tend to fixate upon, or even notice, stunningly beautiful women, for instance. I rotate between three answers to that question:

--who cares? it's not as if stunningly beautiful women are ever going to fixate upon, or even notice, me
--I've never, not once, looked at a man and thought, wow, he's stunningly beautiful.

But I can put paid to such speculation even more easily. Like 37% of males (according to Kinsey, and the number could well be higher) I have had a homosexual experience--and I have no desire whatsoever to have another. Not out of disgust or shame, I'll say that. I don't regret the experience I had, although I did in its immediate aftermath. Actually, it was kind of fun. But once was enough.

How does one go from from homophobe-by-default to gay acceptance? Two short steps:

1) Make some friends, and be friends with them for a while
2) Find out your friends are gay.

You're then faced with a decision: reject your friend on the basis of this new piece of information about them, which, so long as your friend isn't attracted to you, doesn't impact you in any way, or...realize, understand and accept that homosexuality is okay.

"Things like gay slurs, I think once players realize there could be a gay person next to them or a gay person around them they stop using them. It's not that they're homophobic, it's just that they don't think about what the consequences for a gay person next to them might be."--Brendan Burke

Is it that simple, I wonder? There's a subset of the population that reacts with hatred and thinly disguised fear whenever someone around them is outed...almost as if they're afraid homosexuality is airborne, like H1N1. I get the feeling these macho types think they're so attractive to women that they must be attractive to any passing queer, too. Ludicrous.

My closest friend is gay. He's anything but flamboyant and to look at him, you'd never suspect. I'm given to understand that much of the gay population is like him: interested only in minding their own business, regarding their sexuality, on those rare occasions when they have to--as no different from the colour of their eyes or hair. Statistics suggest at least one in ten people is a homosexual, which means that chances are you know a gay person, whether you know you do or not.

As for gays in sport, I can state with certainty that there are many of them. I do hope Brendan Burke's courageous decision to make his sexuality public knowledge makes it easier for others to do the same. Because the people on that online forum are wrong: Brendan Burke's sexuality is newsworthy. But they're also right: it shouldn't be.

1 comment:

Rocketstar said...

Nice piece, right on.