“I hated being gay. I couldn’t reconcile being gay, an athlete and a man because I was taught so early and for so long that being gay was the worst thing that you could be.” explains Wade Davis, a former NFL player raised on the hyper masculine world of football where dudes are revered, worshipped, the Alpha.
Wade joins me for this week’s #theCONSENTconvo, my public conversation campaign on consent where I talk with Black men and women about their personal journeys in learning about consent, and how those journeys shaped their relationships – to their bodies, to sex, to women, to men, to power. Wade talks performing stereotypical heterosexuality, losing the mask of hyper masculinity, reconciling his world of football to being a Black gay man, reframing consent.
Like so many of the contributors to this week’s long public conversation campaign, he had not heard the word ‘consent’ coming up.
“I was never taught about intimacy, sex, consent, I learned about sex from television and porn. Those are some of the worst ways to learn about it. I don’t remember anyone in my life ever talking to me about consent – as a kid, as a teenager, even as an adult.” Aggression is breathing in the world of football and vulnerability is death. And yet for Wade, consenting to sex was initially about safety. Wade admits his struggle meant being scared of sex and being naked with someone. “We as men don’t talk a lot about safety when it comes to sex. You want to feel safe, so you’re not going to be shamed. I wanted to feel my ‘performance’ wouldn’t be shamed,” he explains.
Wade played for the Tennessee Titans, the Washington Redskins, and the Seattle Seahawks, as well as for two different teams within the NFL Europe league.
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Football was love, instinct, and joy. Being gay was a struggle.
“I fell in love with football at the age of 7. I was born to play. But when I realized I was gay, I believed that being gay meant that you were less than, less than men, less than women, the lowest common person in the world,” he says. So, Wade explains he hid. His hiding place was stereotypical heterosexual hyper masculine behavior. “I didn’t know how those two worlds would ever come together and co-exist. So I just hid.” Wade explains he lived on a performance diet of heterosexuality that included objectifying women, going to and being seen at strip clubs and rolling with multiple women on his arm. The one thing he had to do daily and continually was perform stereotypical heterosexual hyper masculinity. And perform it he did.
“I wanted to make sure that in my toolbox there was nothing that could be seen as feminine, whether it was my style of dress, my speech. I wanted to make sure that it was masculine."
Wade would leave his home of Colorado and travel to New York to reconstruct family, convinced that coming out would lose him the love of his mother in particular – a love and intimacy he treasured and that had nurtured and supported him.
“I had to recreate family structures, I didn’t believe my mother particularly would love me the same way if she knew I was gay,” he shares.
New York would present opportunity and a fresh set of challenges. “I started to investigate, to re-invent myself. I started dating someone who gave me courage, who gave me strength to ask ‘am I going to continually allow my mother to live my life or am I going to create my own story.”
Exploration came. Peeling off the mask of performing hyper masculinity, he would go on to explore who stared back at him in the mirror – and whether this man could combine his gift with football, his love of his sport, being an athlete with being gay and Black. He found inspiration from working with trans teens whose insistence on declaring themselves lovingly and out loud gave Wade courage.
Consent in the end was so much more than having sex. Ultimately, for Wade consent meant giving himself permission, finding power in choosing himself and facing the consequences of that choice. He concludes:
“Consent is the highest form of self-love.”
LISTEN TO THE FULL CONVERSATION HERE:
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