Sunday, August 24, 2008

role model gold

Last night there was a huge upset to the Chinese gold medal diving sweep when Matthew Mitcham, Sydney Australia's openly gay, 20 year old diver did as close to a perfect backwards two and a half somersault with two and a half twist dive as one is ever likely to see.

Mitcham is the only openly gay male Olympian in Beijing this year and though he struggled to get his partner into China with him and though he has repeatedly spoken about his sexual orientation in interviews there's been no mention of it in any major media coverage.

Why is that?

Why is it I know about the fiancees and spouses of several track and field athletes but only learned of Mitcham's struggle to get his boyfriend into China by doing extensive internet
searches? Why is it that Bob Costas asked the US volleyball gold medalists about their husbands with great interest and yet an openly gay gold medalist in a host country with a heinous record of human rights atrocities perpetrated against gay people is not seen as news?

Someone has decided that it is very important for the media to continue perpetrating the lie that male gayness and athleticism are incompatible.


Earlier in these Olympic games I sat riveted in front of my television watching the men's synchronized diving with great surges of emotional pride. Americans David Boudia and Thomas Finchum, neither of whom have spoken of their orientation, are talented, muscularly honed and at the same time rather effeminate young men at the top of their chosen sport. I watched them climb to the top of the board where one of them would crack a joke and the other would cover his mouth and giggle girlishly just before they would compose themselves and perform the most improbable feats of gymnastic daredevil in the air before plunging perfectly vertical and unison into the pool below them.


Every four years the eyes of countless Americans, and indeed citizens of every nation, are on these young people and though the sexual orientation of a few of these young champions is most doubtless the nation cheers for their victory with great pride. Young gay people being showcased and held up as a source of national pride is so foreign a concept and though it may remain unspoken it is very real.

Growing up gay in a straight world is difficult to say the least. Every movie, nursery rhyme, TV commercial and cartoon tells you that you're different and therefor wrong. For me, the unspoken sense of shame, the feelings that I had somehow disappointed my family, the sense that something I did or something I was rightfully incited the teasing and mockery I received from other children, the need to keep my feelings a secret and, eventually, the visceral belief that I was a second class citizen were overwhelming. So to witness the nation cheer as young gay men perform, near superhuman, feats of strength and grace melts away what remains of years of shame and self-loathing.

For NBC and any other media source that reports on these Olympic games and keeps the news of Mr. Mitcham's sexual orientation quiet: SHAME ON YOU.

Like it or not, we live in a world where the volume of role models for young gay men is slim. Television and films are full of gay characters who are either deviants, tragic figures or clowns. Where a straight boy can turn on a TV at any time of the day and see sports heroes, TV dads, judges, policemen, pilots and even political figures a gay boy might see Jack from Will and Grace. A promiscuous clown, a fool. Acceptable because he is there to be laughed at.

Last night when Matthew Mitcham took his Olympic gold dive a message went out to every young gay boy around the world:

You can be anything you want to be. You can do anything you want to do. No matter what your family, the people at school or your church tells you - you are a person of worth and you are fine just the way you are.

When the young Olympian realized he'd won gold tears ran down his face. As I watched, tears ran down mine as well. I'm so proud of him. I'm so happy for him and I'm also happy for the next generation that now has a wonderful new role model in Matthew Mitcham. As do I.

4 comments:

Matthew said...

Hey there - I just finished watching the Mithchum victory on DVR for the first time, and I cried and cried. Then I read your blog. I couldn't agree more. Oy! And where was the medal ceremony? I know he's not American, but we deserve to see that. I'll have to go look for it online. I'll be reading more later, but that's all I've got in me for now. Thanks, Matt

Matt said...

Addendum:

Ok, if you haven't gone to watch the medal ceremony, you MUST. More, more, more tears. I hope that every Australian in the world saw this. And I am proud as a man, a gay man, a human being. WOW. http://www.nbcolympics.com/video/player.html?assetid=0823_sd_dvm_me_l1291r7&channelcode=sportdv&_source=rss&cid=

ptmulcahy said...

Wow! Thank you for including this story. I also went to the link to watch the gold medal ceremony and was moved to tears. Mithchum is so proud and playful in this clip and it is also good to see how much he loves his own country. His singing the national anthem for Australia reminds me how much I love our country even as certain policies and individuals attempt to limit our rights and demonize our sexuality. I am sad that the press missed a great opportunity to share a positive experience of love in this human story. I am over the moon happy for this individual and all of his fellow countrymen who are hailing his praises as a great athlete,son,friend and patriot. Keep sharing these stories in your blog as I for one appreciate learning something that was not on my radar. You are the best!

Peace,
Patrick

Bob said...

Bravo for all that you said. I couldn't agree more.

If the straight media do not report that Matt is openly gay, most teen and young gays will never find out about what a great role model Matt is for them. By not reporting that Matt is gay, the straight media are ignoring the needs of gay youth -- because many gay kids desperately need positive role models, especially athletes.

Many gay kids have parents who monitor their Internet site usage, so the kids are afraid to go to a gay Web site because they don't want their parents to suspect that they are gay. These kids are also afraid to pick up a gay publication in a bookstore or newsstand. I know; I was a gay kid growing up in a small town. Parents in the US generally are not happy, and are often very angry, to hear that their child is gay. Some gay kids are thrown out of the house or disowned by their parents.

In the US, especially in small towns and conservative communities, gay youth often fear going to school because they are harassed, ostracized, or even beaten if the bullies find out that they are gay. If straight media don't tell their readers about a hero like Mitcham, how are these young gay kids going to know that there are gay role models out there, like Matt Mitcham? How will the bullies find out that some gays are actually top athletes?

Bob