Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production

Vol.87.7: GRRRRRR, GAY TIGER

© 2014, UrbisMedia

© 2014, UrbisMedia

This is hardly the first time I have engaged the subject of homosexuality in these pages, and it probably won’t be the last. [See, from the DCJ Archives Nos.  2.4,  29.1,  30.2,  64.1, and  66.7] No, I won’t be announcing that I am “coming out”; I am still unashamedly, unrepentantly, unequivocally (if sometimes protractedly un-actively) contentedly hetero.*

Some of the nation’s (if not the world’s) attention to Vladimir Putin’s putatively “gay-free” Winter Olympics in Sochi appears to have been stolen by the announcement of an African American football player’s from the University of Missouri that he is gay. Michael Sam, a defensive lineman, is the co-SEC conference leading defensive player, and NFL draft prospect, a young man who has risen up from a disastrous family situation, and he is gay. Sam “came out” to his Missouri Tiger teammates before this last season in which they went 12-2 and were ranked 5th in the nation.

Sam’s sexuality has, of course, exactly nothing to do with his team’s performance, or his performance for that matter. He was born gay, just like he was born with the physical attributes that have helped him become a star football player. He didn’t choose to be gay, although he did choose to use his six-foot two, two-hundred and sixty pound body to play football. But the bigots and homophobes that linger in the front offices and locker rooms of the NFL, and have anonymously expressed themselves to Sports Illustrated** did choose to adopt their prejudicial attitudes and act upon them, wrapped in cowardly euphemisms about how the locker room might be affected. A personnel assistant: “I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet. In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game.” Just like the NFL had to be dragged kicking and screaming to deal with the player concussion issue.

The NFL is an organization that is much more comfortable with promoting the military and beer, pizza and big trucks than it is with social issues like gay rights, or the health of their retired players. Indeed, the NFL is probably more comfortable dealing with its players that are arrested for beating their wives or girlfriends, carrying guns and shooting themselves or others, making racist comments and rants, etc. than they would be with Michael Sam’s sexuality. After all, violence in all its manifestations is a “manly” thing, more many than the “love that dare not speak its name.”

No doubt, the homophobia of those NFL executives who have expressed their locker room concerns about a gay player in badly concealed statements are concerned about the image of the NFL as the represented to of American “manhood” that is exclusively heterosexual. But I can’t help wonder if at the bottom of all this is the difficulty of dealing with the idea that if they were an offense of player on the field with Michael Sam they would be in a circumstance of literally having the shit kicked out of them by a gay African-American man. And, here should you be finding me a bit too preachy on the matter, I might borrow a scene from an earlier posting [64.1], recollecting a time when I was far less enlightened and experiences than I later evolved to be. A true confession it goes as follows:

Yup. It’s confession time, right here in Dragon City Journal. Let’s do one of those movie effects where calendar years peel back through the decades to New York in the late 1950’s, and now we go from blur to sharp focus and the sound begins to come up. There’s snow in the streets of the city and people scurrying about as Christmas is only days away.

And there is your author—young, lean, strong, handsome and hirsute—on Christmas break from school and working some days with a package delivery company back in New York during the Christmas season. From an overhead shot we see his truck is parked in a bust street and he is taking packages off a conveyor belt that brings tem up from a store’s basement. We sense some frustration and anger on is face because also coming up from below is the falsetto voice that every day is singing “White Christmas”—over and over. Our protagonist has been told by the guys back at the trucking company garage that the store hires gays (the terms in those days were “fairies” or “queers”) to gift-wrap packages because, as one of the drivers added, “they like to tie bows.”

For reasons lost to memory they managed to install their homophobic software in my young and innocent mind and it all found a substantive target on that “falsetto-voiced, bow-tying fairy” in the basement of that department store. For a couple more days I listened to “White Christmas” as I retrieved packages from the belt and stewed in the anger (at insulted manhood) that came up from that unseen, debauched netherworld of “queer package-wrapping.”

A couple of days before Christmas, when the final packages were coming so fast and furious that I was hardly able to keep up with them, I was so sick of “White Christmas” that I would have strangled Irving Berlin and Bing Crosby. The guys at the garage had really worked up a homophobia in me and I yelled down, “Stop the belt!” Ready to kick some butt as I charged down the staircase of the store to the package room I yelled, “Which one of you goddamn fairies has been singing “White Christmas?” I figured to intimidate him with my manly manner.

“That would be me,” replied the six-foot-four, rippling-muscled, African-American (in those days that would be “Negro”) guy just snugging up a bow on one of the packages, his voice tinged with falsetto. He towered over everybody. “Can I help you?”

The room was silent. It was as though all the air had left. My adrenalin was looking for some other place to do its job. Every eye was upon me. It was fight (manhood time) or flight (poultry-hood time). Mr. Falsetto had a slight smile on his face, but it wasn’t a “gotcha” smile; it was a friendly smile, actually a let-me-off-the-hook smile (he probably had to employ it before to keep from committing homicide—or would that be homo-cide?).

I never learned if the homophobes at the garage knew about this guy and were just setting me up. Maybe they were having a good laugh at the “college kid.” No matter, I have to smile, too, when I recollect how I got out of getting my arrogant, manly ass kicked by a huge, gay Black guy, and being cured of incipient homophobia two days before baby Jesus’s birthday may years ago.

“Well I’d like to hear ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’” for a change,” I yelled to him across the room in a voice that my unspent adrenalin gave a nervous tremor of falsetto.

He smiled. “OK, why not.” “Merry Christmas,” the gay package-wrappers chorused to me as I started up the stairs. “Merry Christmas.”

Maybe even an asshole like Miami Dolphin lineman Richie Incognito might take a lesson from this tale should he be considering addressing Sam as a “faggot” in the puerile hazing atmosphere of an NFL locker room. Although it is likely that Sam will receive the welcome of most all of his fellow professional players and settler any issues on the field of play, there is a greater likelihood, considering elements of the NFL fan-base, he will have to endure the taunts and slurs of the cowardly bigots who lack his courage.

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© 2014, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 2.13 2014)

*Not that there are not opportunities, cf. DCJ Archives  68.6.
**Yeah, the “sports” magazine whose best-selling issue is their annual porn-ish “swim suit issue.”

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