I remember the decision to leave the small town in Iowa where I had spent six years feeling supported while simultaneously alone as a gay man. Part of me felt I needed to find a place where I could see myself reflected in the community, and the other part me wondered if I was abdicating my responsibility to serve as an example of the Christian LGBT community by leaving.
Maybe it’s not my responsibility to effect change in a conservative small town, but then whose is it?
Can we engage in conversations about inclusion or change when we’ve chosen to remove ourselves from those situations? Is the pedigree of our past experiences enough to make us experts, or does effective engagement require a commitment to life in tension?
These questions remind me of Coming Out To Play, a memoir by Robbie Rogers, an athlete and the first openly gay Major League Soccer player.
The book follows his story before coming out and the challenges of the locker room, the struggle for respect in a stereotypic-male dominated sport, and the personal tension of coming out to his family. Throughout the narrative he writes about growing up Catholic and the added tension present in holding to a faith while working to understand who you are and how God created you. The book culminates in the retelling of his coming out and his decision to leave professional soccer, thinking that being both openly gay and a world class soccer player was impossible. But only a few months later he signed with the LA Galaxy becoming the first openly gay player in Major League Soccer. Robbie realized he could do his part by setting an example and being a role model for any young athlete wondering if they can be true to who they are and do what they love, even if it meant Robbie would be walking into countless uncomfortable and tension-filled moments.
Could Robbie have had an effect on the soccer world from the outside? Maybe. But I think his active engagement will have much more of a lasting effect. Can I have an effect on my Iowa small town from the comfort of a west coast residency? Maybe. But will it have the same impact as if I were partnering with the very real justice advocates living in that small town? Probably not.
It’s extremely easy to live in self-created/self-curated echo chambers and ideological silos.
The way we interact with the world around us, in social media or the neighborhoods we live in, can further reinforce who we encounter. I know I do this. And so I constantly ask myself: “Where in my life am I choosing to enter into tension for what I believe?” “Am I missing something by being too comfortable in my echo chamber?” Maybe if more of us were like Robbie Rogers the tides of inclusion could come a little faster.