My Body Terrifies Homophobes
John Amaechi is a British psychologist and a former NBA basketball player. At the age of 17, when he first picked up a basketball, Amaechi was not considered athletic enough to have any chance of success in domestic sports, much less overseas. Six years later he became a starting center in the NBA for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Over his eight-year career in basketball, he also played for the Orlando Magic and the Utah Jazz.
Since retiring from sports, Amaechi pursued a Ph.D. in psychology, recently co-authoring a paper on the subject of self-esteem, goal setting, and personality. He is a fifteen year veteran of the American Psychological Association (APA) and a member of the British Psychological Society (BPS), its division of occupational psychology, and the BPS Psychometric Testing Group.
In 2007, he released his bestselling memoir “Man in the Middle,” chronicling his life and work and revealing to the world that he was gay, making him the only openly gay man ever to have played in the NBA.
Amaechi also has his own charity, the ABC Foundation, with a center in Manchester that sees 2,000 young people per week go through its doors. He has teamed with researchers at the Pennsylvania State University and the San Diego University for Integrative Studies to create a program that promotes social emotional training in young people who are coached in life as much as in sports.
Question: At what age did you suspect that you were gay?
John Amaechi: I suppose I knew I was gay at age 11 or so. I don’t know if... I mean I’m smiling about it now, but I don’t even know if there is any particular thing that kind of made me think about it. I had gone on a few dates. I thought kissing was good with girls, but I always thought you know it probably could be better, so there was nothing really... There was certainly nothing really sexual about my youth growing up, simply because the fact remains if you’re the fat kid in a school and I was the only fat black kid in the school—in fact, I was the only black kid in the school—but if you are kind of ostracized on many different levels in your school the last thing you’re worried about is sex. I just wanted to fit in, so probably early on I knew, but it was... social life was such a distant part of my existence when I was in school that I didn’t even think about it too much.
Question: Was it easier to come out to your friends and family or to the media?
John Amaechi: I came out to my friends and family much earlier, probably a decade, 15 years earlier than I came out kind of to the whole Universe. And it was lovely because... Well it was lovely in a way. I think I was a little bit disappointed because everybody who I knew, my best friend said that he had known since I was 16, which I was really mad about. Because I was like "Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you tell me when I was 16?"
My sister who I felt great trepidation about telling and not because I thought she was judgmental, but because I you know she was so important to me. I told her and she just looked at me and kind of shrugged and said, “I’ve always thought of you as asexual.” Which I don’t think is particularly complimentary. But then... and the great part about it is that is a normal coming out that you do and you’re surrounded then by people who love you and know you fully, which is great.
Coming out in 2007 to the universe is a very different thing because then you find yourself... I always think coming out is something that you do for people who really deserve it. It should be. It shouldn’t be something that you just tell random strangers, just so you know, unless you’re trying to make a political point, which I think is what I was trying to do. But when I came out to the universe it had this really strange reaction from people. I think the vast majority, maybe 85 percent of people were wonderful and warm and supportive. And then there was this 15 percent minority that was so weirded out by it. You know they looked at me and they looked at this body and they just thought "How can that be gay? And if that is gay that is terrifying. You know he is massive and he is black and he is gay," and it was like any more things and the world would explode. So it just became a little difficult for me because all of the sudden I had gone from being what I thought was this pretty multidimensional person with lots of different identities that I was really quite cool with all mixed up, and then the day after that day in February of 2007 I was just that big gay guy. A bit disappointing really.
Question: How did being in the closet affect you psychologically?
John Amaechi: I think one of the most damaging things about being in the closet for anybody is that when you’re in the closet not only does it isolate you from normal relationships because it forces everyone you know and everyone who knows about you into the closet as well. But more than that, especially when you’re doing a job that requires a high level of focus... You know, there are some jobs that people go to and 75 percent of their mind is all that is required for them to get the job done. In the NBA you need a little bit more than that when Jordan is front of you. You need a little bit more than that when it is Barkley or Karl Malone or Shaq or whoever else. You need a lot more than that frankly if you’re the English kid who can’t jump. And what I found was that you only have a finite amount of psychic energy in your head and certain portions of it and sometimes it was only two or three percent, but certain portions of it were always reserved to protect my ego when I heard my teammates talk about fags. Certain portions of it were there to protect me when... to keep me mindful of when I was talking about what I was doing to use gender neutral pronouns and that two to three percent of my energy was just never available for basketball even when it was basketball was on the line, even when I wanted it to be it was just never available because it was already being used.
And I think that is the biggest shame about being in the closet. It’s really about performance in your life and in your workplace. If you’re in the closet, there's energy there that will never be available for the daily tasks.
Recorded October 7, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller
When the basketball player publicly came out in 2007, 85 percent of people were "fantastic." The other 15 percent were "weirded out."
Swiss researchers identify new dangers of modern cocaine.
- Cocaine cut with anti-worming adulterant levamisole may cause brain damage.
- Levamisole can thin out the prefrontal cortex and affect cognitive skills.
- Government health programs should encourage testing of cocaine for purity.
Sarco assisted suicide pods come in three different styles, and allow you to die quickly and painlessly. They're even quite beautiful to look at.
Death: it happens to everyone (except, apparently, Keanu Reeves). But while the impoverished and lower-class people of the world die in the same ol' ways—cancer, heart disease, and so forth—the upper classes can choose hip and cool new ways to die. Now, there's an assisted-suicide pod so chic and so stylin' that peeps (young people still say peeps, right?) are calling it the "Tesla" of death... it's called... the Sarco!
Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:
"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."
Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.
Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.
It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.
Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.
Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.
The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.
It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.
In their findings the authors state:
"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."
With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
- Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
- Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
- We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
- If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.
There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:
"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.
This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.
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