what it’s like

March 7, 2008

Hey remember that Everlast song?…Yeah it was pretty bad. I kinda always liked it though. Gimme a break, I was a teenager.

I was thinking lately about this here blog. How I’d started it as some kind of personal mini-protest towards a homophobic situation I encountered while being around a bunch of sports dudes. How I thought it’d be a general kind of sports blog (before I suppose necessarily turning into a Mets blog, seeing as that’s my main interest/love) imbued with my own personal perspective, my own slant, one that would be necessarily “queer” but informed–that was the whole point, that I could prove the legitimacy of my fandom and interest in attempt to never have to prove it ever again. That the proof would be in the pudding, that it wasn’t just about the hot dudes (though forgive this old gender studies warrior for seeing the deliciousness in queering such a masculinist and homosocial world as athletics). The political act of it is muted I think, mainly because I try not to make it an Issue, but I feel like it’s always there when I say such-and-such is cute or when you see the damn header at the top that reads SMEAR THE QUEER. The fact that I chose that as the name isn’t an accident. I wanted to extract the embedded homophobia that exists in sports, ingrained since childhood, institutionalized to such an extent that those who happen to be gay in this world automatically know their place, and became damn good at hiding themselves. Smear The Queer. Every single time I see it, I value that text’s experiential rupture (cf. Julia Kristeva, ah I’m an old lit theorist as well! My perfect death is by library avalanche I think) in myself and hopefully whoever reads it.

But I have the good luck of not hiding. I have the good luck of being loudmouthed about it if I so dare. I have never been any good at sports, much to my chagrin. Always passable. I could run decent enough, I could always pull a single through a hole in the left side, I could tackle even though I was tiny, I had quick hands at the net and a stiff volley, I could find the open man but never hit the shot myself. But I never approached anything more than competence. I am not an athlete, nor will I ever be. There are athletes, though, that are gay, and live with that every day. How many of them are open? Are open during their career? I can name Martina Navratilova and Amelie Mauresmo. Then there’s the innuendo cast in the direction of the LPGA and WNBA. Sheryl Swoopes. Notice how they’re all women? Somehow it seems much more acceptable (though certainly not entirely; witness Martina Hingis’ early comment that Mauresmo was “half a man”) for women to be out in sports than men. Not sure why that is; possibly the stigma is already there for women in sport because of the masculinization of athletics itself. Which makes gay men in sport seem like a conundrum, a fluke, a perversion. Because gay men are fags and sissies and have no idea how to throw a ball. Gay men have no business in sport; they are only there to be smeared.

Think of the gay male pro athletes who have come out: Dave Kopay, Billy Bean, Esera Tuaolo, John Amaechi. All part of a team, all post-career. And every time it happens, someone exhorts, “Now if only someone could do that while still playing.” Yeah, in a perfect world, sure. But one has to understand the mindset of the vast majority of athletes to know how much of an impossibility it seems. For every Ben Cohen (the dude made a calendar and is hosting a party for his gay fans for Chrissake), there’s 50 (or more!) Tim Hardaways.

This isn’t about the aspect of coming out (an intensely personal decision and hell, it’s hard enough to do it in normal life) but the aspect of being in the closet. That there are gay athletes out there playing the games that they love–the games that we love–and we cheer them on and know nothing of the inner turmoil that they face. I have the luxury of openness; I may get a derogatory comment or vague threat of violence, but I’m not out there on that field or in that locker room, worrying that my teammates don’t support me. I’m up there in those stands, and more than anything else and for better or worse, up in those stands we have a shared collective experience that nulls our differences for those precious few hours. And if you don’t like me because of what goes on in my bed (which, ha! Nothing happens in my bed) then you can fuck right off. I have that luxury. Gay athletes do not. Imagine your livelihood–the thing you love most in the world, the thing that you’ve devoted your life to–being threatened by your sexual and romantic proclivities. It seems impossible, and yet these men (and women, though to a lesser extent because I do find an experiential difference here that really is inescapable from the idea of masculinity among men) face it every day.

Which is why I think that airing out that experience is valid and honorable. I’d been thinking about this for the past week or so, but it really came to a head when I stumbled onto this blog, which chronicles the day-to-day life of a closeted minor league baseball player who is currently a non-roster invite to a Major League squad. Not only do I always enjoy hearing about athletes’ lives, the grind of the job, how their day is structured, what they do for fun, etc., but the added aspect of this blog’s intrinsic struggle with sexuality and masculinity in a notoriously homophobic sphere makes for a fascinating read. For one, I’m grateful that this guy has an outlet; most people in his situation don’t. And by the sheer fact of expressing his thoughts and emotions, he validates and shares in the communal experience of those in his same boat. So much of being in the closet and struggling with sexuality (especially for the very young) is the sense that they’re all alone. The more people tell their stories, out of the closet or no, the better. It allows people to feel part of something larger, which is an important first step in engaging with yourself and the like-minded people around you instead of burrowing even further into isolation and possibly suicide, which is how so many of these stories end up.

A seemingly all-too-common and depressing experience for many gay athletes can be seen in the story of Greg Congdon:

But sometimes there’s hope and optimism and surprise in these stories, as evidenced by Corey Johnson:

Whether they’re typically upsetting like Congdon’s, uplifting like Johnson’s, or accepting but frustrated like Slugger‘s, these stories are important to hear because they showcase the struggles of gay athletes everywhere, validate the emotions of their counterparts, and possibly foster a sense of community even if in their “real lives” there’s a built-in sense of isolation. All they wanna do is play ball. All we wanna do is join in the experience.

I promise the next post will be full of dick jokes or something.

Advertisements