You want me to play basketball in what tournament? And in Chicago?
Before moving to New York City last fall, watching an episode of Ellen or Queer Eye for the Straight Guy was the closest I think Id ever been to an actual homosexual. Sure, I met my moms gay cousin at a wedding a few years ago, yet strangely, nobody in the family has talked about him since.
But fast forward nearly a year, and here I am, a straight guy, returning home to Chicago with a gay friend to play ball in front of family and friends in the Gay Games. If this resembles any of those flamboyant pride parades Ive seen highlighted on the news, Im in for a real interesting week.
I grew up 30 miles outside of Chicago in the heart of lily-white, middle-class suburbia. A place where people fight to keep homosexuals off their lakes. Where your mom cant access the Games Web site because her employer has it blocked. I grew up around guys who bragged about whose car was faster, who made the most money, and who had fucked the most girls. There was no such thing as an alternative lifestyle. Everything, and everyone I knew, was pretty much the same.
Boy, has that changed. I never had a friend confide in me about a fight he had with his boyfriend, or tell me about a hot new gay club. (Im still not ready to go with him to one of those, but I expect that day will come.) But after meeting LZ Granderson at ESPN The Magazine last winter, these conversations, and others I thought Id never be participating in, have become the norm. Since our first conversation, which consisted mainly of trash-talking in a cutthroat one-on-one battle on the courts of Basketball City at Chelsea Piers, weve rapped about everything from sports to careers to women to him pointing out a good-looking guy walking through Chelsea. Im still not used to that.
Although my gotta-be-a-man-all-the-time attitude wont let me tell him, and even though hes the black guy with dreads from Detroit and Im the cleancut white boy from the burbs, I consider him the older brother I never had. I am forever grateful for him as an editor to trust me and my writing skills on a national level. Hes been the calm when I get frustrated and just want to pack it all up and return to Chicago. Damn, he even helped me move recently. Never forget those friends, you know, the ones who sacrifice their Friday night so you can move your boxes of crap and Craigslist furniture into another cramped Manhattan apartment.
One of the most important lessons hes taught me is that, no, you cant tell who is gay based on how they talk, walk, what they wear, or how they play ball. Damn, I thought my Gaydar was always on target. Now Im more careful with my accusations. And for a guy who digs dudes, LZs shared some of the best advice on how to pick up women and keep them guessing. Hell, hes even set me up on a few dates.
A few months ago when he asked if I wanted to run in a Chicago basketball tournament this summer, I jumped at the opportunity to get out of NYC for a week and hoop in front of friends and family. But later, when he told me he was setting up this team for the Gay Games, I hesitated for a moment. Actually a few moments. Then I remembered that basketball is just basketball. Count me in. But what are the guys back home going to think? How many gay jokes am I prepared to handle in the next few months? Damn.
A week before the games started, I began receiving a steady stream of harassment. Ha ha gay games or youre gay or you like penis. I could go on and on with these text message taunts. Trust me. Sometimes Ill get a call from Greg Louganis thanking me for my participation in the tournament. I think my friend actually scripts his phone pranks so he can get the maximum gay bash value. But I think our teams play is going to quiet him and his insults. Theres a lot of talent on this team, not to mention a lot of pressure. For the guys who are pushing the big 4-0, this is the last go-around. Theyve been through the battles in New York in 94, Amsterdam in 98, and Sydney in 02. And with four years separating them from the next Games, Chicago is their last stop. Even LZ, who I tease for being an old man at 34, said this is his retirement party.
Im disappointed that some of my friends refuse to attend this event, but what Im hoping this experience brings to the friends and family who do attend is the knowledge that stereotypes only create fearwhich is something I cant afford to carry around with me during the game if I expect to return to New York City with that gold medal.