Former NFL player Wade Davis spoke about the intersectionality of identities on Tuesday, Feb. 5, at 7 p.m., in the Curtiss Banquet Halls.
Several SVSU departments and RSOs collaborated to bring Davis to campus, including Student Affairs, Student Association, Student Life, The Counseling Center, The PRIDE Center, Program Board, Multicultural Services and Diversity and Inclusion.
Davis is the NFL’s first LGBTQ+ inclusion consultant. He currently consults with several professional sports teams on the intersectionality of sexism, racism and homophobia.
Davis defined intersectionality as “accounts of systems of power.”
As a young man, Davis struggled with the intersectionality of his identities. He identified as an African male, a Southern Baptist, a football player and a homosexual, but not all of his identities were affirmed.
“On the inside of my house, I was this really tender, vulnerable kid,” he said. “On the outside, I was a real rough-and-tumble boy who loved to smack people in the mouth and be all tough. And one (of these identities) was validated and one was not.”
From a young age, he was taught by religion and his family that “being gay was evil.” Because of these messages, he was encouraged to hide his queer identity.
“What do you do when part of your identity isn’t affirmed? You lose it,” he said. “I decided I could not be gay.”
Throughout college and his football career, Davis “played heterosexual” to fit into his environment and be successful.
“I was performing heterosexuality because I needed you to believe me,” he said. “But I was miserable because I had yet to become myself. And we have the responsibility to become ourselves. But no one told me how to do that, because all those identities, all those intersections, were never affirmed. They were rendered invisible.”
During his four years in the NFL, Davis had several girlfriends and frequented strip clubs to keep up appearances.
Afterward, though, he moved to New York City so he “could be gay in private.” After meeting and having a boyfriend for two years in New York City, he finally told his family he was gay. His mother had responded by telling him, “You’re already black.”
“Your parents have big dreams for you,” Davis said. “Those dreams are normally heterosexual ones. Because to be gay is to issue yourself a death sentence.”
Davis explained the effects of a family member being lynched when his mother was a child on her ability to accept his identity as a queer man.
“(Her job was to teach) her only black son to stay alive,” he said. “So, it wasn’t that my mother was against me being gay.”
Instead, Davis sees that his mother was trying to protect him.
“What she was saying was, when you’re already black, you now have given the world two reasons to destroy you,” he said.
After “mourning the death of her heterosexual son,” she eventually began to “meet her queer one,” he said.
Davis also discussed the work that he needs to do on himself to be a better man, including being an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and learning about sexism.
After calling a young woman who worked for him “sweetie” and belittling her for arguing with him, his female boss told him to read Bell Hook’s “Feminist Theory from Margin to Center.”
“I read that book and realized, “‘This book’s about me,’” he said. “This book is about the fact that I didn’t see her as my equal. This book is about the fact that I would have never called a man ‘sweetie.’ This book was about the fact that I, because she was a woman, didn’t think she had the right to disagree with what I was thinking.”
Davis credits this book for giving him in the “language for what it is like to sit at multiple identities.”
To close the lecture, Davis encouraged the audience to explore their own biases, but also to exercise self-love.
“We don’t know how to love ourselves,” he said. “How can you expect to love others if you can’t love yourself? … When you look for validation through the eyes of others, love is not possible.”
Davis believes we are not given the tools to successfully love ourselves. He said he learned to through largely by reading.
“When you read books, you find one amazing thing out – your struggle is not singular,” he said. “Read about everything, and ask questions about everything, and own your (baggage) as you are reading. Because you’ve got to be able to learn more about yourself if you can ever hope to love yourself.”
A question-and-answer session followed the lecture. DeAndre Brown, a pre-medicine sophomore, and Kyle Baxter, a nursing fifth-year, attended the lecture to help their fraternities be more diverse.
“I’m leading an Alternative Breaks trip to New York, so where (Davis) is from,” Baxter said. “It’s to an organization that he helps run, actually. It’s Gay Men’s Health Crisis. They work with people in that whole city who have HIV or AIDS and give them resources to have healthier lives. … He’s doing a lot of great things, definitely inspirational.”
Both students found the lecture inspirational. “There are so many different perspectives from people and how you can see things,” Brown said. “I really caught that message.”
Reporting from Kaitlyn Farley, Vanguard Editor-in-Chief