Becoming A Man: A Gay Athlete's Journey

Jarred Kennedy-Loving

Jarred Kennedy-Loving overcame 22 foster homes to become a successful gay runner at Bowdoin College in Maine, where he explores his racial and gender roles in a 'laxbro' culture.

Steve Buckley had seen this before.

The gay Boston Herald columnist, who made a splash in early 2011 with his own coming-out story, had just finished a speech at Bowdoin College for their Anything But Straight in Athletics program. He was the latest in a long series of speakers aimed at ridding the school's athletic department of homophobia.

After his talk, student-athletes, coaches and others at Bowdoin lined up in the auditorium to thank Buckley for his time.

Yet there was one striking young man in white khakis and a green sweater standing by himself against a wall, trying to remain inconspicuous while at the same time grab Buckley's glance. As the line dwindled and the room cleared, Buckley couldn't help but notice.

"He was patiently waiting off to the side," Buckley remembers. "The people in front of me just wanted to chit-chat. But when someone is standing off to the side, I know this isn't just, ‘hi, how are you?'"

His instincts were spot-on. When the admirers had past, Jarred Kennedy-Loving approached Buckley with his beaming smile and tall stature. He had a lot to say.

"He didn't so much speak as he exhaled," Steve says, "like he had a balloon in his head and it just let out all the air."

An uprooted childhood

Jarred's first foster home came as a surprise. He and his twin brother, James, were only 8 years old when their mother took them to the Department of Social Services, signed them over to foster care, and left.

"It's amazing how fast you can sign kids over to the state," Jarred says. "It was like we went grocery shopping and she just dropped us off."

That began a run of 22 foster homes for Jarred and James over the next decade. One home of note was that of a deeply religious couple who, according to Jarred, were desperately homophobic.

"I can remember them talking about gays being demons," Jarred says. "I was so afraid. At the time I knew I liked men, but I was trying to cover it. Being in the house, everything was so demonized. At times they'd refer to my brother and me as demons when they weren't happy with us."

The toughest pill to swallow came one Christmas at the couple's church, the Greater Love Tabernacle in Boston. Now 9 years old, Jarred had been practicing for a dance recital with a church group.

As the recital approached, Jarred became increasingly excited. His imagination took him to dance performances in the greatest halls of the world. He envisioned himself before throngs of admirers, dressed like an angel in his white linen pants.

The church pastor asked to see the group's performance before the recital. Jarred was thrilled: Finally, a small audience to watch the results of all the hard work he had put in. Moments after the rehearsal, a beaming Jarred was given the news: The pastor was removing him from the dance routine.

"He said a boy shouldn't be moving in that way," Jarred remembers. "He wasn't ready to have a man expressing himself through dance. I sucked it up and didn't question it. But it was tough, hearing I couldn't be in the dance show. I was so excited. We had put so much time into it."

Jarred learned a lesson that day: Being gay or perceived as gay was not okay. It didn't make a man.

"It kind of went along with the homophobic ideology that is prevalent in those churches," Jarred says.

That ideology never took hold in Jarred: Little did the pastor know, Jarred had a "huge crush" on the pastor's son, who played the drums at the church. His crushes on boys weren't going away any time soon. While James pursued more traditionally masculine pursuits and now plays basketball for the Boston University Terriers, it wasn't easy or natural for Jarred to do so.

Like a black man at a hockey game

Statistics paint a bleak future for products of foster homes. According to University of Chicago statistics, via Arrow Child & Family Ministries, 55% of males who "age out" of foster care in the United States are arrested at least once, 50% are unemployed and nearly 30% are homeless by the age of 24.

Jarred is not a statistic.

Despite jumping from home to home, Jarred stayed focused on school and his grades. "Mom had always stressed education as a priority," he says. By the grace of a scholarship, he eventually headed to the elite Choate Rosemary Hall, prep school of the likes of John F. Kennedy Jr. and Glenn Close.

But of all the places Jarred could have headed for college, the least likely may have been Maine.

The Pine Tree State is the most remote of the contiguous states, the only one bordering just one other state. In the latest census, Maine's population was the oldest and whitest in the nation. In 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau said that only 1.3% of Maine's people were black; The national average is 13%. In 2009, Maine also voted to ban same-sex marriage after the state legislature had legalized it. That ban was in effect when Jarred chose Bowdoin.

Being an 18-year-old black gay man would make him one of a small handful to fit his description in the whole state.

After accepting his invitation to attend the small school in Brunswick, Jarred visited the campus for a diversity weekend. For four days he got acquainted with the campus alongside faces of all colors. When he returned to campus to begin his freshman year, it was as though the campus had been white-washed.

"I thought, oh my god, where is everyone? I was kind of fooled by the diversity weekend."

Jarred found a culture dominated by the "white laxbro or hockey jock." It was an unfamiliar environment for him. Even at Choate there was a diversity of color and backgrounds. At Bowdoin, Jarred stood out like, well, a black man at a hockey game.

"Oh I absolutely notice I'm black here," Jarred observes. "The things I think about the most at Bowdoin are being black, and the concept of beauty. Bowdoin is a very white school. On my track team there are only three to five black people on a team of 60-plus. When we have track parties I realize I'm one of a very few. I become very aware of my status as a person outside the majority group. I'm very aware of it."

"What kind of man you are"

Before the Maine collegiate indoor state meet last year, Bowdoin track coach Peter Slovenski gave his traditional speech to the team. He conveyed the importance of digging deep inside yourself to find strength for the big meet. And he talked about the importance of these boys becoming tough like men.

"He said, ‘we'll see what kind of men you are,'" Jarred remembers. "And I was really affected in the wrong way by it, this concept of men needing to be tough."

Jarred had been told all his life what it was to be a man. No matter what definition he heard, themes of toughness and power over others emerged. They never sat well with him.

After the team meeting, Jarred approached Slovenski and conveyed his doubt in these pre-conceived definitions of what it was to be a man or a woman. The coach didn't relent.

"In all the sports growing up, there was a lot of emphasis on us becoming the kind of men that people would be proud of," Slovenski says. Raised in the heavily Protestant Lewiston, Maine, just 40 minutes north of Bowdoin, traditional values and roles for men and women were instilled in him decades ago at an early age. "Sometimes I think it's valuable to talk and teach about what women do and men do. And saying that men are courageous, that doesn't mean women aren't as well. Sometimes you need to talk about boys becoming men and girls becoming women. It drives the message home."

1jared_medium

Still, Jarred wasn't satisfied. Whether it was from a pastor or a coach, the idea of gender roles weighed heavily on him. In that moment, Jarred took a deep breath and told his coach that he's gay. Having coached his first openly gay athlete in 2000, Slovenski couldn't have reacted better.

"Jarred is one of those guys who knows how to reach out and connect with throwers and distance runners, with men and women. He's a real inspiration to others," Slovenski says of his runner. "People strive here to be All-Americans. Jarred is an All-American person at Bowdoin with his friendliness and generosity."

Jarred has since come out to the whole team, and he says he hasn't felt any change because he's gay. In fact, he praises Slovenski for his handling of sexual orientation and inclusion.

Still, his mind roils with a conflict about traditional gender roles in society largely because he feels he doesn't fit them...in part because he's gay.

A gay dinner party with a straight baseball player

Over Thanksgiving break last November, Buckley hosted a dinner party at his house. It was a couple weeks after Outsports ran a story on gay former Southern Maine baseball player James Nutter, and Buckley wanted to introduce the newly out Nutter to some new friends.

Two other guests of note were in attendance. One was Matt Paré, a straight baseball player at Boston College. Paré's brother is gay, and he had struck up a friendship with Buckley hoping to find some way to impact the culture in sports.

The other notable guest was Jarred.

"Without introductions being made, Jarred and James and Matt all found each other," Buckley remembers. "One by one, they all migrated to the back of the house. It was Matt on the end chair, James and Jarred on the couch. They just had their own thing going."

The trio of athletes - two gay and one straight - talked about deep issues affecting LGBT people in sports. Other men at the party tried inserting themselves into the conversation, but the three young men were so engrossed in sharing their own stories and ideas that the interlopers soon stepped away.

"I got a really good understanding from Jarred for what it was like in the locker room and the casual homophobia that's used," Paré remembers. "And James described it too, that it's so hurtful especially to someone who isn't out yet."

For Jarred, who chooses not to shower with his teammates in part because of his sexual orientation, this was a revelation. As Paré sat and listened intently, ideas of what it means to be gay, and what it means to be a man, were being challenged in Jarred's head.

"It was as if there was an invisible wall between everyone else and the three of us," Jarred says. "The fact that this straight athlete was talking to me about locker room culture, I didn't expect it. He was asking me, ‘What can I do to help change that culture?'"

Buckley's dinner party was also the first time Jarred called himself "gay" outside of the confines of Bowdoin. In many ways, it had been easier for him to be out in sports at a Div. 3 liberal arts college in a small corner of Maine than in his hometown of Boston.

"There were so many other gay guys at the dinner, and it really opened my world to a different concept of the LGBT community," Jarred says. "At Bowdoin, you can really get lost thinking that's how the LGBT community is around the world. But to be around people that [Steve Buckley] is around, and to meet people like James and Matt, I was so liberated."

That night, Jarred visited his first gay bar. While Buckley stayed home, Nutter and some of the other men at the dinner were his escorts.

"I don't think I ever felt so free in my life."

Dancing into the future

Not a week after his liberating night at a Boston gay haunt, Jarred exorcised another demon. He had been taking a class on African American Diasporic Dance. A decade after being told he couldn't dance for his church, he was taking the stage for a semester-ending performance that would celebrate both his personal and academic journeys.

The first dance featured a singing of the traditional "Funga Alafia," which means "welcomes and blessings." In his black pants and West African vest, Jarred performed five dances with his classmates in front of a packed house.

This time around his performance wasn't met by a disapproving pastor, but rather an applauding audience. After his dance, one of the professors asked Jarred when he was going to take her ballet class.

"I love dance and moving my body," Jarred says. "I know how to move my body, and it's very liberating. It frees the mind, body and soul.

"People think you only learn by writing papers and doing labs, but in dance your body learns patterns. Life is about learning patterns. And if you can teach your body patterns, that can be very powerful."

Like many athletes, Jarred hopes for a professional future in sports broadcasting and journalism, just like his new friend Steve Buckley. But unlike most men, he wants to make his mark working in women's sports. He's already starting down that road, doing play-by-play and commentary for the Web casts of the Bowdoin women's volleyball team.

"Women are often told to not be aggressive, and in sports you see women be fearless and strategic," Jarred says. "I admire that."

While he's now considering a minor in dance, Jarred is still searching for the focus of his studies. Whatever it is, he knows it will further his journey of self-discovery. That continues next month when Jarred will travel to Chicago to give a presentation at the Gender Matters Conference at DePaul University. There he'll explore the "limiting dichotomy" in the representation of women in literature as either passive angelic characters or outspoken monsters. His presentation applies that theoretical framework to none other than Tyler Perry's Diary of a Mad Black Woman, which launched the popular "Madea" movie franchise.

While Jarred still hasn't figured out what it is to "be a man" in today's culture, he has come to a conclusion that may end up turning his journey into a Möbius strip.

"Being a man is impossible. Society labels people when they're born as either a boy or a girl. But that's constructed. My gender is obviously male, but I certainly don't think my whole make-up fits 100% of what society deems a man.

"I don't think it's possible for anyone to completely fit society's definition of what it is to be a man. Identity isn't stable. Masculinity is a process, because it's always changing. And because it's always changing, no one can ever truly attain it."

Earlier this year, Slovenski gave another speech to his team, much like the one that spurred Jarred's coming out a year before. The coach again referenced the need for boys to be men, and to prove what kind of man you are. It drew an audible chuckle from Jarred.

Some things, on the other hand, would never change.

Jarred Kennedy-Loving can be reached via email. You can also find him on Twitter.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Outsports

You must be a member of Outsports to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Outsports. You should read them.

Join Outsports

You must be a member of Outsports to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Outsports. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.