Updated: Nov 22, 2021
In an interview with GQ, Dennis Rodman credited drag and gay clubs for saving him. Rodman’s gender-bending began at an early age. He confessed his early fascination with androgyny to GQ. As a kid, Rodman blithely accentuated his feminine aura. His father was absent; his mother aloof. But he had his sisters. He allowed them to dress him in women’s clothing.
“I didn’t have no brothers. No father. I hung out with my sisters all the time, and they was just trying to make me dress up,” he told GQ. “Wearing a dress made me feel good. You know?” His latent androgyny would linger for years.
Rodman’s estranged mother later disowned him. He would move from foster home to foster home before he could subsist on his own. Once the Detroit Piston’s recruited him, he developed a close relationship with coach Chuck Daly. Rodman saw Daly as a father figure. Daly offered stability to Rodman. He counteracted the often capricious talent.
After Daly died in 1993, Rodman’s pillar imploded, and he spiraled into despair. That year, he planned to kill himself. He slept in the parking lot of The Palace of Auburn Hills, clutching a rifle. Policemen woke him up with a knock on his window. For the moment, he had survived.
Irrespective of what may have contributed to Rodman’s depression, suicidal thoughts are all too common among gender-nonconforming individuals. The scarcity of support systems for these people only exacerbates intrusive thoughts. Compared to the overall population, lifetime suicide among trans and gender-conforming people is exceptionally common, with rates ranging from 30% to 81%.
Rodman’s own struggles endured. He stayed locked in his home for months after. His identity atrophied. The old Rodman decayed. “When I came out of my house, that’s when the new Dennis came out,” he told GQ. The Spurs recruited him. In San Antonio, he ventured into the gay scene. “I started going to gay clubs. I started going to drag clubs,” he said.
The gay scene had extracted Rodman’s essence in its purest form. “When you talk to people in the gay community, someone who does drag, something like that, they’re so fucking happy," he exclaimed. Drag taught him to live freely. “They’re not ashamed of shit.”
Rodman’s story is not unique. According to the LGBT Health Organization, a network of LGBT friends and allies greatly reduces suicide in gender-nonconforming people. Queer people need allies who validate and understand their plight. Rodman can testify to this advice. In the mid-1990s, his life altered; he started dressing in women’s clothing.
It was the 90s. Buffalo Bill was one of the prototypical gender benders. Though other male celebrities vied for that role, few stretched imaginations like Rodman. Sam Ratelle, a gender-fluid fashion designer, praised Rodman for changing the landscape. “Dennis taught us something hugely important: to not give a single f**k! I see him in OutKast and Macklemore, in Burning Man, in all the '90s trends that are seen on the catwalks, and even my own work with Billy Porter,” Ratelle told CNN.
Today, Rodman has reached the big 60, and he continues to frequent gay clubs three to four times a week. He has returned from the brink, and, in part, he can thank his LGBT friends for that resurgence. Hopefully, he focuses more on gender-bending than befriending authoritarian leaders.