Robbie Rogers' autobiography, Coming Out to Play, contains two sections of full-color photos. In the first part, you'll find photos of him swimming as toddler with his dad at his grandparents' pool, you'll see him with soccer trophies on the field in California, and you'll see him goofing around playing "Cool Girls" with his sister Coco. Kid stuff. The second section is the Robbie Rogers we have come to know and recognize: He's the soccer stud racing down the field, shirtless in agony over losing a pivotal match, and as icon (including this image from the 2013 Out100, which is featured). It all adds up to an inspirational message that is clear for middle-America to devour without even reading a single word: Being gay is OK. You can be happy, healthy, and have people who love and treasure you.
The fact that Robbie struggled with his sexuality and identity as a gay man is well-known by now--he's done plenty of interviews both for TV and in print (READ: Out's August 2013 cover story)--and he repeats it many times in his book. That's partly to let moms and dads understand, as well as for young gay boys and girls who may be sensing their own differentness and need to relate. The fact that he's accepted the mantle as poster boy for healthy living as a gay man and clearly able to stay on message, deliver uplift so consistently, must be a burden, but Robbie doesn't seem to let that show. Plus, he does it all with a sense of humor.
Take, for example, the fact that he not only has a book to promote, but that he's dating TV bigshot Greg Berlanti (a 2014 Out100 honoree), who helped him pitch his story and get a sitcom pilot. Men in Shorts is expected to air on ABC, and it promises to be something that we've never seen before on TV. But there doesn't seem to be any angst or drama. When asked recently about the way it will be an exagerrated, Rogers told ETOnline:
That's been my way in the locker room -- showering with guys for the first time as a gay guy, and traveling and talking about gay sex -- I thought it would be fun to laugh at guys, make fun of them, and not too be sensitive when they make fun with me. And that's the sports locker room. There's a lot of banter. You have to be open to it and respectful and sensitive in a way and able to laugh at things. We have discussions about marriage equality and things that just don't go on in locker rooms. It's a very different atmosphere that I've ever been in, and I think it's a different atmosphere from that of a lot of other locker rooms. [The producers and I] just want to share that with people and teach people through laughter and just share that whole side. I think people will enjoy that more. ...We just wanted to take a different approach.
I was born in the late '70s, grew up in the AIDS-era '80s and '90s, and we never had similar role models. I idolized Olympic diver Greg Louganis as a kid--even more so when I found out he was gay, like me. When he eventually published his memoir, Breaking the Surface (written with Eric Marcus), I was shocked and saddened to discover he suffered from low self-esteem and was raped by the man he lived with. He still struggled with his sexuality as an inevitable burden (luckily, I was able to interview him about the happy relationship and marriage he is now in as a mature man).
With Robbie Rogers' book (also written with Eric Marcus) and TV show, he's actually changing the narrative. Robbie Rogers is the Golden Boy of a Golden Gay Generation: one that is being told you can be happy, in love, funny, and free to be whatever you want to be. It truly is a new day.
Coming Out to Playis out now.