What We Can Learn From Ellen Page Coming Out

bigstock-LOS-ANGELES--MAR---Ellen-P-19798496

(c)kathclick/Bigstockphoto.com

Ellen Page’s coming out speech at the HRC’s Time to Thrive conference about her sexuality was moving, heartwarming and refreshingly authentic.  (See the video below) Among other things, she said:

“I’m tired of hiding and I’m tired of lying by omission. I suffered for years because I was scared to be out. My spirit suffered. My mental health suffered. My relationships suffered. I’m standing here today with all of you on the other side of that pain.”

These words are a reminder of the pain society is capable of inflicting on others.  And the pain we are capable of inflicting on ourselves.

This isn’t just about Ellen Page’s sexuality, or sexuality period.  Page provides a good reminder of society’s need to protect and perpetuate itself by conditioning its young to believe and behave in a certain way.

In opposition is the individual’s desire to express and be accepted for his or her uniqueness.  It’s an age-old battle born out of the need for survival, and of fear.  It will not be settled today.

When the conditioning doesn’t take or feel right to the individual, he or she is left to question:  do I, or how much of myself do I suppress for the sake of fitting in?  For the sake of survival?  Do I risk scorn?  My ability to provide for myself and my family?  Or  hurting the ones I love by expressing my individuality or that which I have felt the need to hide?

In her speech, Page alluded to years of succumbing to social pressures to behave and “represent” as being a person she was not.  She took responsibility for her fear and her lie, and admitted what the cost was.  She then courageously stepped forward.

Tomorrow, it may or may not cost her certain acting roles, and it may adversely affect a relationship or two.  But in the moment I’m guessing it felt quite liberating and a relief.

Hiding and lying by omission is not exclusive to sexuality.  Society puts pressure on us in many ways and in many forms.  Exerting pressure directly and indirectly on us to make certain choices and to look and behave a certain way.  It can be malevolent or benevolent, depending on the person or circumstance.  The intention is irrelevant from the point of view that when we succumb to this pressure, consciously or unconsciously, we give away a part of ourselves.  As was the case with Page, our spirits suffer, and our mental health suffers. That is the high price we pay if and when we disregard our emotional needs and our authentic self.

This isn’t a call for extreme selfishness, renouncing compromise or to break laws.  It is an invitation, to search ourselves and to be honest about who we are.  To see and measure if there is difference in who we are and what we put out in the world.  Where do we possibly sacrifice ourselves?  Not out of give and take compromise, but out of fear?  Out of selling ourselves out.  Not for survival but a superficial need.  What do we think we need to survive but in truth do not?  How in or out of sync is our internal and external self?  If we are out of sync, the questions are: by how much? At what expense?  Are we deluding ourselves with negotiations that state something to the effect of, “I’ll be myself when…”  However, does that “when” date always seems to get pushed down the road?

“Coming out”, is a phrase typically reserved for a woman or a man announcing that she or he has a same-sex sexual preference.  However, any of us that hide a true part of ourselves is capable of having a coming out moment.

It doesn’t always have to be a speech, and it doesn’t always have to be public.  It starts with you.  With being honest with yourself.  With weighing the cost of coming out, and doing what is right for you, when it is right for you, and with whom, versus living a life as someone or something less that what you want to be.

Depending on one’s circumstances, coming out can come with emotional, social and financial risk.  These consequences should not be taken lightly.  Nor should the consequences of not coming out.

The result of assuming one’s true self does always have to be negative.

Perhaps Ellen Page will experience an inner peace she has never known.   Existing relationships with some maybe become healthier and stronger.  And or new ones may form as well.  Those acting roles she might miss out on?  I am guessing there will be new roles and opportunities that will come her way that would not have otherwise.    Whether they will pay as much or do as well at the box office I do not know, but I’ll bet they are  more fulfilling, and without the spiritual suffering.  How much is all of this worth?

**THE ABOVE REPRESENTS MY PERSONAL OPINION.  I AM NOT A LICENSED THERAPIST.  ANY WORDS IN THIS BLOG ARE NOT MEANT TO, NOR SHOULD THEY REPLACE THAT OF A DOCTOR OR LICENSED MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL.**

An X-Factor Regarding Michael Sam

michael SamFor the most part the media response I have been hearing about Michael Sam coming out as being gay is exactly as it should be.  Supportive, encouraging and welcoming of Mr. Sam.  I often give ESPN’s Colin Cowherd a tough time but I think he spoke beautifully on the topic on his 2/10 radio show that you can download as a podcast. 

I applaud Sam’s courage, I applaud the support he received from his college at Missouri.  It’s about time, it’s overdue and I am glad this moment in history has arrived. 

Two prominent NFL team owners, Bob Kraft of the New England Patriots and the New York Giants Co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch have voiced support for Sam.  And other teams have released supportive statements as well.

On the other side, there have been anonymous general managers who have said that Sam’s draft status will fall as a result of his announcement because some locker rooms aren’t ready for an openly gay player.  Even those on the side of Sam, who are being very supportive, such as First Takes’ Steven A. Smith, acknowledge this is possible.  And that there can be locker room issues that are not necessarily related to discrimination. 

Whenever you are dealing with firsts, there are a lot of things that are possible, but you do not let it stop you from doing the right thing.  (Steven A. never suggested not drafting Sam.  He is strongly on the young man’s side.)

As far as the locker room goes, here is where the X-factor comes in.  Michael Sam may be the first openly gay player in the NFL, but he will not be the only gay player.  Odds are, whatever teams drafts him will have at least one gay player as well. 

IF Sam is having problems in the locker room because of his sexual orientation, will they stay silent?  I won’t judge them for not “coming out” previously; I can’t understand what it is like to be in their position.  But I would think, and hope, that they would feel a call to stand up for Sam should the need arise.  I would also hope that leaders of the team, whether they are gay or not, would also step forward if need be.  Ideally, they do so on day one before there is issue and firmly let everyone know there will be no issue.

For example, if Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady stood up in front of the team the first day of training camp and told everyone this is how it is going to be, zero tolerance for discrimination, or you’re out of here, I have a feeling things would be okay in the locker room.  Same thing if John Elway, Jon Fox, and Peyton Manning did so for the Denver Broncos, and so on.  They may not be first ballet hall of famers, but all teams have their leaders, here is hoping they will do the right thing if their team drafts Sam.

Given the overall positive response to Sam, I don’t see it being nearly as long for someone else to come out.  Whether it is on Sam’s team or not, he will have company soon.   I believe this X-factor can help.

A note of caution.  While people with good intention should and will be quick to defend Sam against any sexuality-based discrimination, no one should assume it when it isn’t there or without evidence.

People who don’t know about the game will hear glowing facts like defensive player of the year,  and college All-American, and cry foul over a draft projection for Sam of being in the 3rd through 5th round.  Based on the comparables, or comparisons to similar players in terms of height, speed and ability, that sounds right.  

Keep in mind, great college players don’t always make great, or even good football players.  The Heisman Trophy is awarded to the college football’s best player, and Heisman winners are often not first or second round picks, or even make it in the NFL.

It is also possible a team thinking of drafting Sam  would be concerned about cutting him if he is not one of the best 53 players in camp.  Then a team that did the right thing by disregarding his sexual orientation by drafting him, could fear accusations of discrimination.  Obviously if there was any evidence of that it would have to be followed up.  But only if there is actual evidence to support it.

Another possibility, (although my gut tells me otherwise), that Sam could fall to a lower round beyond the 5th.  Not necessarily because of his sexuality, but because his sexuality could be viewed as a distraction.  Generally your 3rd through 5th round draft pick does not get more attention than your first round pick.  Or your entire team for that matter.  Regardless of the reason, teams generally do not like distractions like that.  Whether the cause of the distraction is sexuality, religion or whatever, unless you are an upper echelon player, some teams will turn away.

Ultimately, I think it will be a team with strong leadership that drafts him.  If I was player, I would rather go in the 6th or 7th  round, as opposed to the 4th or 5th, if it meant going to an organization like New England, the New York Giants, Seattle, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, or Denver, just to name some.  Draft position falling can sometimes be a blessing in disguise.

Wherever he lands, I’ll be rooting for him to succeed (with the possible exception of if he is drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, sorry, I’m a Giants fan, lol).  It took too long, but now that an openly gay player is here, hopefully he paves the way for others, not only in the NFL, but for major league baseball, and other sports as well.