It’s been a few months since the publication of John Amaechi’s coming out tome ‘Man In The Middle’, and for better or worse, he’s become a more recognizable public figure writes the Guardian’s Gary Younge.
There is a scene in the TV series Footballers’ Wives that has seared itself into John Amaechi’s mind. Noah Alexander, a gay player who has recently been outed, runs into what he believes to be a mob of adoring fans only to find they are a homophobic mob, who proceed to beat him up badly. For Amaechi, the former National Basketball Association star who, four months ago, became the first player in the premier-league sport to come out, it is just a little too close for comfort. Standing 6ft 9in tall, with a mocha complexion and broad frame, Amaechi is used to being both easy to spot and a victim of mistaken identity. The thing is that the distance at which they spot him is having a decisive impact on which mistake people now make about his identity.
“At 400ft they see a big black man and they cross the road to avoid me,” he explains. “At 200ft they cross back because they realise that I’m a professional basketball player and they want a closer look.” But recently, he says, they have come a bit closer and then crossed again. “At 50ft they recognise me as the gay bloke who just came out and then they cross back across the road again.”
“In Britain I think they find it easier to take it all in,” he says. “Here in the US they say, ‘He’s black and English and a basketball player and clever and gay …’ It’s all a bit overwhelming. They can only deal with one thing at a time and that one thing now is the gay bit. It’s disappointing, because you spend all that time studying, researching, training, and after all that work I’m just that ‘big gay bloke’.”
He finds being gay in Britain easier than in the US. “In Britain we’ve basically got to a point where it’s a human rights issue … with objections,” he says. But in the US, the intense levels of religiosity make the debate tougher. “It’s the inconsistency I can’t stand,” he says. “If you’re going to quote Leviticus, then don’t eat shellfish or wear mixed fabrics. Poke your eye out if you look at women other than your wife … then come to me.”