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Dennis the menace.

Having broken down the barriers between male and female and gay and straight, basketball's biggest renegade star is finally wondering where his own gender conflicts are going to take him

Yes, basketball superstar Dennis Rodman has a penchant for wearing nail polish, makeup, and ladies' undies. And it's true that the athlete likes to hang out in gay bars and has made repeated disclosures about the various homosexual fantasies bouncing around his brain. Yet to see Rodman, a forward with the Chicago Bulls and a ten-year National Basketball Association veteran, as merely a drag dabbler or a coy closet case would be to ignore the far more significant role he is playing - both within the world of professional sports and in society at large.

Steadfastly refusing to compromise his individuality to fit into the NBA's - and America's - idea of what it means to be a male professional athlete, Rodman has consistently sought to enlarge our culture's often-constricting definitions of masculinity and sexuality. "In this country gays can do a lot of things," says Rodman, "but if you're gay and a sports figure, it's not accepted. They clash. But life shouldn't bog you down and tell you, 'Hey, you have to live a certain way.' Life should give you a dictionary of everything so that you can explore."

Admittedly, Rodman's fame, talent, and money allow him to "explore" the different facets of his sexuality without fear of retaliation motivated by homophobia. In other words, no one is going to fire Rodman from his job because he likes to wear sequined halter tops in public. Others are not nearly as lucky. Rodman's freedom to move across boundaries of gender and sexuality makes him a potent fantasy figure for the gay community - particularly gay men. Who among us doesn't imagine being able to explore the depths of both our masculine and feminine sides without fear of oppression? Wouldn't we all like to move as fluidly across the gender landscape as Rodman effortlessly does?

"I like what he's doing. Nobody's going to call him a sissy," says Olympic athlete Greg Louganis, who for years feared coming out of the closet because of the repercussions it may have had on his career. Louganis does not think Rodman's brand of flamboyance would be tolerated if the basketball player were openly gay, however. "The stuff he does," Louganis says, "definitely would have worked against me. People would have thought of it as an extension of the stereotype of what gay people are like." Still, many gay men, including Louganis, are glad to see Rodman representing a less brutish brand of masculinity in the world of professional sports. "I like the way he's redefining gender," says the champion diver.

Motivated perhaps by both self-promotional narcissism and genuine political conviction, Rodman has paraded his cross-dressing, homo-loving proclivities on the basketball court, at awards shows, on talk shows, and at book signings. Indeed, Rodman brought public narcissism - and gender bending - to new heights when he showed up at a book signing for his best-selling autobiography, Bad As I Wanna Be, in August in a wedding dress with the intention of marrying himself. Was this Rodman's way of showing support for gay marriage? More likely, Rodman was merely giving in to a long-held desire to know what it feels like to walk down the aisle as a beatific bride.

Some of Rodman's critics - including his former flame Madonna - have implied that Rodman's adventurousness is more a manifestation of pathological sexual confusion than a liberating devotion to his true self. No question, Rodman comes off as somewhat bewildered by his amorphous sexual identity in this interview. The athlete was obviously greatly affected by the lack of a father figure growing up in the Oak Hill projects of Dallas. Brought up in a house of women (his mother and two sisters), Rodman says he thought he was gay when he was a teenager and that he was a self-proclaimed late bloomer when it came to heterosexual sex. "I just didn't like girls," he says about his teenage years. The basketball star lost his virginity to a prostitute when he was 20. "But it still didn't feel right," he says. Rodman has been married once and has an 8-year-old daughter from that union.

This interview took place in the gym of the Rihga Royal Hotel in Manhattan while Rodman was in town filming his new series for MTV - The Rodman World Tour - which premiered December 8. In keeping with his image as a freewheeling, anything-goes kind of guy, Rodman met each question head-on, determined to answer even the deepest personal inquiry with the most thoughtful answer he could muster.

The Advocate chose you to be on the cover of its 1996 year-in-review issue because you've created so much awareness for gay people. Do you think so?

I didn't really know what I was striving for. Every man has a feminine side. Any man that says he don't is a liar. It's like saying when you ask a man, "Do you believe in kissing another man?" [Makes a disgusted noise] "Oh, no! I think that's disgusting. That's gross."

Oh, really? But how can you say that without having spent time thinking about it? You know?

Why do you have the courage to explore your feminine side so openly in public?

Athletes are very scared to come out and say "I'm gay" unless they come down with AIDS. Then they're accepted because people feel sorry for them. God, I think that's wrong. So I go out and support the idea that an athlete can be gay. People think that I actually am gay or bisexual, but they still accept me. So I'm opening the door.

What if you were Dennis Rodman the plumber? Do you think that you would still be so adventurous when it came to exploring your sexuality?

I think I would. I think that my options have always been open. The only thing that my options are not open to is drugs. That's the one thing I won't do. As far as being adventurous and being open-minded and sexually attracted to all beings that walk, I've always been there.

What about sleeping with a man?

I'm not going to try to prove that I can be with a man just to make a point. If I'm gonna be with a man, it's because that's what I feel.

Let me ask you what most gay people want to know about you.

You went around and asked gay people?

Oh, yes. I talked with millions of them. You say you've done some sexual experimentation with men, like kissing. But if you fantasize about being with a man, why wouldn't you have sex with one?

Because I'm just not there yet. My body is not asking at this particular time to be with one. You can always fantasize about doing anything, but it don't mean you have to act on it. When the time comes, we'll see. It's like any gay guy can say, "I really know that I'm gay," but when did you know this? You don't really know until one day it hits you.

No, I understand. I'm gay. I fantasize about sleeping with a woman, but I'm not going to do it.

But you never rule out the possibility, right? If I decide to sleep with a man, I'll let the world know that I am bisexual or gay. I'll have no choice. In this country gays can do a lot of things, but if you're a sports figure, it's not accepted. They dash. It's like saying that's a man's world. And no one in this man's world can be nothing more than a "real man."

How open have you been about fantasizing about being with men? Like in the locker room?

Sure, and I think they say, "Dennis is just fuckin' with people." It don't matter to me. It's like if I see someone - an athlete or an individual -who has a great body...I look at all great bodies. It don't matter. If you see something that's attractive, you have to look at it. I think that's where your mind starts to explore.

So you think even straight men recognize the nice body of another man.

Of course.

And you think that men are appreciatlng other men's bodies?

You have to. You might not voice your opinion to anybody, but you are voicing your opinion to yourself. And you will say, "Hey, that's a nice body." I'm not looking at these guys' dicks and saying, "Let me go over there and check it out...get closer and see what it's all about." No, that's not what it's about; it's about the total package. So you can get fucked by anybody, but as far as mentally, I like to mind-fuck people a lot. Men and women.

Mind-fuck people? You mean fuck with their heads? Or in your head you're having sex with them?

Yeah, if you see someone that's attractive, you fuck them in your mind.

So you fantasize about sex with a man.

Oh, of course. I've done it. It's easy to do. I kiss guys. I mean, it doesn't frighten me at all.

Do you think you're eventually going to be having sex with men one day?

I think that the more I keep exploring myself in that area maybe one day it will happen. If it happens, my body's going to tell me it's happening, and I'm gonna do it. And I'm gonna enjoy it. If it happens for me, I'm gonna damn sure enjoy it!

You said in your book that you've kissed guys and that it was like kissing a little boy or a teenage son. But I've kissed a lot of men, and it wasn't like that. I've had passionate kisses with men. So why do you perceive it that way?

I was trying to compare it to something - like a little boy, like if your dad kisses you. Why can't that individual grow up and kiss another man in his life on the lips? What is the difference? The only difference is the man has a penis, and people in the world have this fucked-up idea that you can't kiss the same sex, you can't fuck the same sex, you can't enjoy and be in love with the same sex. That's a bunch of bullshit. I got a lot of gay friends, a lot of guys that cross-dress, a lot of transsexual friends, and when I see them, if I feel like I want to kiss my gay friends, I kiss my gay friends. If I feel like I want to go around and hug and dance and be all sexual with that friend, I do it.

Do you know that a lot of gay people view you as either a closet case or someone who's using some of the sensibilities of gay people and transvestites for your own public-relations game?

I'm not a closet case. I think if I was a closet "fag," it would already have been out by now. Because I'm too wild, too open with a lot of stuff, and too honest when I speak. It took me 3 1/2 years to really come out and start expressing these issues.

What about when people think you're exploiting this gayness or bisexuality and transvestism to become more famous?

I don't need to be more famous. I've won championships. I've won this and that, and I've stepped over the line of being an athlete and somewhat of a role model. I know gay people have come up to me and said, "Why are you doing this?" I've said, "Maybe it's because that's the way I feel." People are going to have to accept me as a different breed. All I'm doing is challenging the world when I say, "Hey, one day I may be gay. Or maybe I am and I'm just not accepting the fact or it hasn't hit me yet. So accept me for who I am - gay or straight. Either way, I'm going to be the same Dennis Rodman."

In a way you're gayer than a lot of gay men. Gay men, just like straight men, can be afraid of their feminine side.

A lot of people tell me that. I think a lot of gay people are threatened by me. But I think they're really happy that I'm doing what I'm doing.

Why do you think people are upset?

They're worried why I'm going around saying I'm gay. At least I am bold enough and man enough to come out and say, "Hey, yeah, I've thought about it. I'm thinking about it, and one day maybe it'll happen. One day it's gonna happen. But are you man enough to come out and say that? No. Because you're afraid of what people might think."

Do you think being gay makes someone any less manly?

No. Like I said, every man has a feminine side. Every man likes to be loved. Every man wants to be caressed. I don't give a fuck if it's by another man or a woman. It's the same thing.

Yeah, but do you think every man wants to have anal sex with another man?

Well, if that man's sex drive is saying, "I haven't done everything." Hell, yes, he wants to have anal intercourse. He has no choice, because it's like saying, "What's left? What other areas in your body or in life are left?

Can we talk about cross-dressing? How do you feel when you put on a sequined halter top? What does it make you feel?

I feel more like Dennis. It makes me feel beautiful and more confident. It makes me feel that people are gonna accept me no matter what I am. It makes me feel that I'm fulfilling every possibility of what life has to offer me.

And you're not afraid?

There's fear, but once you get in there and start dippin' in the bowl and start trying to taste it, then you say, "Shit, maybe this is not so bad after all." Then you start reaching out. If I was going to fuck a man, I wouldn't be afraid of it. For me, it's not the right time to get involved with a man sexually, but mentally I'm ready.

How long have you felt this way?

That's what I've been feeling for a long time - maybe because I haven't had a male figure in my life as a father. My father's been gone since I was 2, and that was 33 years ago. When I was 13, I thought I was gay. I swear to God.

Why do you say that?

I feel like I was going through a change in my life for some reason. I couldn't take time with no man. I was afraid to be around boys my age. I was afraid of being around guys.

Why?

I thought guys would make fun of me. So I was hanging around my mother and sisters, and I felt like I was a girl. And for some reason I keep flashing back and thinking that I've had sex with a man when I was young.

You think you might have been repressing the memory?

Yeah, I think that I've had sex with a man. It keeps coming back to me.

When you were a teenager?

Yeah. I swear to God. It's so real that every time it pops up I try to dig and dig in deeper: Did it really happen?

Have you gene to therapy about this?

I have, but I don't think therapy can help me. I think I have to do it myself, I think I'm strong enough and mentally able to do it myself because I practice visualization, and for some reason I think I've had sex with a man. Not on my terms.

You mean you were abused?

Not by my father, by somebody else.

Your father was long gone by then?

He was long gone. I think that I was - and I've never told anybody this - abused when I was younger by a man.

Really? You think you were abused?

I think now that maybe that has something to do with some of the things I've been feeling for the last couple of years as far as being with a man.

This is amazing.

In fact, I really can't explain this, but all I know is that for ten years I've had this feeling that if I'd lived in L.A., San Francisco, or New York, I think that I would have been with a man by now.

Why? Availability?

Totally.

When you thought you were gay when you were a teenager, is that when you started being attracted to men?

I didn't know what was going on. I was scared. My mother wouldn't hire me a big brother so I could be around men. I think she thought that something was seriously going on there. Mothers have those instincts.

So you were afraid to be around men, and you were surrounded by women in a platonic way. When did it change?

I was 20 when I first slept with a woman, but it still didn't feel right. When I was 19 - it sounds kind of stupid - I masturbated for the first time.

So you were a late bloomer?

Total late bloomer.

In your book you say the NBA's about money and sex. So in the NBA you started having a lot of sex with women?

No, not really. It's just that the availability was there. I mean, you go out to clubs and hear, "Oh, you're NBA? Oh, great, let's fuck." I got offers with married couples: guys who wanted me to sleep with their wives, guys who wanted me to fuck them so their wives just sit there and get off.

Do you sleep with a lot of women now?

No. I had a girlfriend for a year and a half, Stacy Yarborough. Before her I probably slept with two or three different women. Then for some reason I started going to gay clubs. I always liked gay clubs because of the music and because the people accept you for who you are. I started going about six years ago, when I was 29. The more I've been going to gay clubs, the more my curiosity has started to wander.

What do you think of gay clubs?

It amazes me. It's like a figment of the imagination - but actually real. It's right in your face. You sit there and pinch yourself, and the shit ain't goin' away. It's right there. When I first went it was very interesting because I wasn't really aware of what gay was all about.

Then I started going more and more and more. Each week I would go once a week. And then I would go two or three times a week, just to kinda check it out and experiment with what's going on in the community.

Don't you think people are going to think Dennis is gay and he doesn't want to admit it?

Oh, yeah. They say it right now. They say, "Hey, he's fucking gay as hell."

I don't know what to say about all this and about your feelings during your teenage years. What do you think?

It's like I know about Dennis Rodman today, but I don't know what time or place - if ever - I'll decide to make that transition. I can't predict that - like any other gay or lesbian person in the world can never predict what day and time it's going to happen for them. How the hell do you know that...I mean, until you realize or until you get to that point and say, "I am what I am."

OK, it's like I'm 35 and I've developed to where I know my mind, my body, my heart is going to drive me to a point where I will be happy. I mean, there's been a lot of times where I say, "Hey, fuck girls, maybe it ain't so bad to be loved by a man." Many times I've said that to myself.

How many serious relationships have you had with women?

I've probably had three in my whole life. My ex-wife and Stacy and somebody else I don't even remember. There's only three.

Can you ever imagine settling down with a man?

Hell, yeah. I'm always with men. Every day I'm with men.

What?

I'm saying, I'm with men - I'm not with girls all the time. I'm with men - not necessarily gay men.

You mean basketball players?

No, just regular guys. My friends have been around me and seen me kiss men. They look at me like, "Did you just kiss that guy? Was you makin' out with that guy?"

When you kiss men, do you get amused? Have you ever gotten an erection?

Not really, because I wasn't really putting myself in that position to have sex with them.

So were you just toying with these guys?

No. I mean if I toyed with them, I think they'd realize what's going on. I was being affectionate...but with transsexuals, guys that have implants but still have big penises.

You made out with transsexuals?

Oh, yeah, yeah. One.

Did you get an erection?

Oh, of course.

Why?

Because it's walking a fine line between a man and a woman. If you talk to friends of mine, they'll tell you that I have made out with this one transsexual. Fuck, I mean so beautiful as a man and as a woman! I admit it. The motherfucker is beautiful. He has tits. They're like this [indicates breasts], and he looks like Marilyn Monroe, totally, totally. Hell, yes. I mean, if he didn't have...

If he didn't have what, a dick? Does that turn you on more than just being with a woman?

Well, I'm in between. I'm splitting the difference between a man and a woman. He looks like a woman, has them curves like a woman, but he's a male. That doesn't frighten me because there's the security factor that this guy looks like a woman.

You just said that doesn't frighten you. So does that mean that having sex with a man frightens you?

No, because like I said -

Dennis, are you sure?

Totally, it doesn't frighten me at all. But I got to make sure that that's what I want. I just can't fuckin' jump in just because he's sexy.

Yeah, but you don't have to sign on the dotted line. You can jump into bed with a gay, and no one has to know.

I don't give a fuck who knows. Even a couple of my basketball teammates saw me kiss a guy. I don't give a fuck - it's just if I'm ready to do it. Right now I probably can say I can fuck some guy, but I don't think I would let someone fuck me. It would make me feel like I'm a woman.

Why would it make you feel like a woman? You are a man.

I know, but you see a lot of gay-gay-gay gay men that are actually women. They just got a dick.

What do you mean by that?

There are a lot of feminine gay men, very feminine, who actually could be women. They're better than women. They don't want to change their sex, but they're actually more of a woman than a woman is. Some gay men want to feel like a woman in a relationship.

Are you more attracted to feminine men or masculine men?

I think I'm more attracted to men that are very confident. I don't care if they're muscular. It doesn't matter as long as the guy's very confident and accepts me for who I am. I don't care how good-lookin' you are. If your mind is strong and you're going in the right direction and you know what you want in life - fuck it, it don't matter.
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Title Annotation:interview with basketball star Dennis Rodman
Author:Galvin, Peter
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Interview
Date:Jan 21, 1997
Words:4006
Previous Article:Amendment 2 inside out.
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