The Reappearing Act

Coming Out as Gay on a College Basketball Team Led by Born-Again Christians

By Kate Fagan

Sky Horse Publishing

185 pp. $24.95

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Reviewed by Jen Colletta

College is, for many, a time to evaluate ideas and ideals, explore different ways of thinking, and, perhaps, experiment - with the goal of emerging on graduation day ready to enter the world more in touch with one's true self. But for former Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter Kate Fagan, the closer she came to self-discovery, the farther away she had to pull herself from the life she knew - and the life others envisioned for her.

In The Reappearing Act, Fagan explores the four formative years she spent at the University of Colorado. Though she was a standout on the basketball court, internally, Fagan was weighed down, trying to understand and come to terms with her blossoming sexuality and reconcile it with the faith community in which she was immersed.

The memoir takes readers through each step of Fagan's coming-out process, but goes far beyond the buildup to or fallout from confessing that one is gay to friends and family. Fagan delves deeply into the psyche of her college self to tell a story that deftly fuses her emotions and perspectives of the time with her more self-actualized understanding, illustrating the chasm she needed to cross to truly accept herself.

The coming-out experience is different for every lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender person, as each comes to that moment from his or her own unique walk of life. Fagan's walk was sharply influenced by her lifelong affinity for basketball. From weekends spent shooting hoops with her father to the national stage as a member of CU's team, basketball was in Fagan's blood. But, unbeknownst, initially, to her, there was another aspect of her inborn identity that was also gradually coming to the surface.

At CU, Fagan, who did not hail from a religious family, was surrounded by a number of teammates who were practicing evangelical Christians. Seeking community and exhibiting college-age curiosity, she began joining in on their weekly Bible study and Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings. But, when conversations turned toward the ills of homosexuality, it struck a nerve with Fagan, whose own recollections of adolescent crushes began creeping into her consciousness. And when she met Cass, a proclaimed lesbian atheist classmate whose non-apologetic approach both intrigued and attracted her, she finally began to formulate a context for her own identity.

"It was like [Cass] had shined a flashlight into some secret compartment inside my heart," Fagan writes, "and I think I knew that everything packed away in there was about to demand examination."

That examination was shadowed by her own still-forming religious views and the fears of how her teammates and friends would react if she gave voice to the internal battle she was waging. That concern was justified as her relationship with her best friend took an abrupt detour the night she disclosed she might be gay. So Fagan sought to repress herself; she tried to pray the gay away, clutching a Bible to her chest as she slept, and picked apart her emotions to identify all the factors that pointed to her not being gay. Ultimately, however, the facade she was trying to fool herself with quickly crumbled, and she, and her basketball career, almost buckled under the weight.

The Reappearing Act doesn't tell the coming-out story as a finite tale with a definitive beginning, middle, and end. Though by book's end, Fagan, now a writer and columnist for ESPN, had accepted that she was gay and had begun acknowledging such to friends and family, and later to coworkers and employers at The Inquirer, the story illustrates that coming out is a continuous journey, with peaks and valleys.

For that, the memoir is an excellent companion piece for any LGBT person; whether one is just heading onto the path of examining his or her own sexuality or had taken those first steps years ago, The Reappearing Act gives voice and, in turn, validity, to the complex struggles many LGBT people undertake within themselves.

But the story can also be a valuable tool for those struggling to reconcile their own world views with a loved one's LGBT identity. Fagan has admittedly distanced herself from the evangelical Christian community, but her writing doesn't demean those with religious convictions that they interpret to mean they should reject homosexuality. Instead, it puts a face to the "sinner" in the "Love the sinner, hate the sin" mentality, respecting one's capacity to employ that approach while exploring the real-life impact it can have.

Though The Reappearing Act is the exploration of how one woman found her own truth, the adept illustration of the importance of self-acceptance will resonate with anyone who has felt the limiting confines of societal expectations.