Kate Fagan played basketball for the University of Colorado from 1999 to 2004. With a reporter’s eye for detail she has chronicled her experiences there which comes as no surprise since she’s an ESPN columnist. Fagan joined Bill Littlefield to discuss her new book The Reappearing Act: Coming Out as Gay on a College Basketball Team Led by Born-Again Christians.
Highlights from Bill’s Conversation with Kate Fagan
BL: While you were still one of the younger players on the basketball team at the University of Colorado, well before coming out seemed like a possibility, several of your teammates invited you to join a Christina Fellowship group. What was the attraction for you?
KF: It really felt like social engagement. I really looked up to my teammates. I enjoyed being around them. I wanted to emulate pretty much everything they did. And as they started to become more involved in their faith, they invited me, and there was music — not the kind of music I was used to as a Catholic. It was contemporary and it felt very easy and light. And at first I really just thought: I want to hang out with my friends and if this gets me a few more hours with them, then it’s something I want to do.
BL: One of your best friends in college adopted the attitude of “hate the sin, love the sinner.” Was that a comfortable basis upon which that friendship could continue?
KF: I thought so. In the first moments that I heard the phrase I thought love. I latched onto that word love and wanted to believe that “hate the sin” was not going to effect me or affect us — the love would be enough. But as I watched that phrase become daily interactions and play out I realized the offering really was like a rock painted gold. It looked wonderful and shinning on the outside, but it was nothing you could connect with. It was nothing that you could grow a friendship out of because whenever I was around any of my friends who thought who I was and my choices were sinful, it reminded me of the internal shame, and I internalized even more shame each time we interacted. And it became pretty clear to me within months that I could not continue those relationships when “hate the sin, love the sinner” was the basis.
BL: At one point when you were still playing basketball at Colorado you spoke with the team’s director of basketball operations who you knew was gay, and she characterized women’s college athletics as paranoid and closeted. Was that an accurate description 10 years ago and is it accurate today?
KF: It’s 100 percent accurate then and now. Right now there are 351 Division I women’s basketball programs and approximately 50 percent of them are coached by women. And there is only one openly gay female head coach. And the players are receiving a message that it may be OK to be gay in a small circle, but you should not be open with who you are to everyone. That’s not something we talk about in the sports world — the media sports world — because women’s sports don’t move the needle enough to really have the kind of watchdogs that we would need to start writing the kind of stories necessary to help make this change. My hope is that this book, at least in some small way, gives somebody some courage to step forward and be a role model.
Bill’s Thoughts On The Reappearing Act: Coming Out as Gay on a College Basketball Team Led by Born-Again ChristiansIt took years for Kate Fagan to figure out who she was. That was in part because Fagan is gay, and her most influential teammates on the basketball squad at the University of Colorado spent a lot of time encouraging themselves and anybody who’d listen to them that gay people were on the road to hell.
Some of Fagan’s story about how she eventually accepted herself and stepped away from the people who could do no better than “hate the sin and love the sinner” is sad, but more of it is triumphant. This is not only because Fagan is a strong and determined individual, but because she is a fine and honest writer. Readers inclined to file The Reappearing Act beside other tales of adolescent angst will change their minds when they encounter passages like this:
“A civil war had erupted inside my head, and my mind and body were exhausted from the conflict. Is there anything more tiring in this world than keeping yourself from loving someone?”
How does one play D-I basketball under those circumstances?
The basketball, obviously, is the least of Kate Fagan’s worries. Eventually she reaches a place from which she can say, “Now, the thought of lying about who I am makes me feel sick, the same way the truth used to.” She hopes her book will help others to reach a similar place. That seems likely.