Like any self-respecting gay man bound to a long history of stereotypes and prejudice, my anxiety levels are quite directly related to my proximity to athletics. No doubt the post-traumatic stress of your average junior high school experience, some channel this nervous energy into more productive ventures like the arts, fashion, culinary delights, or sarcasm-laced daytime talk show appearances. But in my case, well, the phenomenon was starting to result in a stature bordering on jolly–both a physical and personality trait that simply don’t work for me.
Standing in the entrance to the inner-city gym where our first dodgeball game was moments away from taking place, the threat of a husky future and the unforgiving cling of the black leotard shirt I was wearing was enough to make me shove my fears aside like a second helping of three cheese tortellini. Rather than commit myself to a clichéd homo-phobia, I chose a head-on approach to overcoming my hesitations:
If I dread being trapped in a room with a hulking opposing team who have been encouraged to whip balls at me for fifty straight minutes, then that’s exactly what I would need to face…a philosophy now on record as lasting no more than forty-five seconds before I was ready to cut my leotard off at the navel and run for the closest gay bar where I actually belong.
The next hour of my life was not okay.
As in, it kind of felt like Space Jam without the happy ending.
To be clear, we joined a beginner dodgeball league–the kind where everyone just wants to run around like you’re in second grade all over again minus the snotty noses and with a little more sexual tension. You know, good ole fashioned fun. Our opponents, however, play regularly in the advanced league but somehow have so little to feel good about in their lives that they also joined the beginners’ league just to crush unsuspecting victims in order to help them forget the fact that they haven’t accomplished anything with their lives.
Not that I’m bitter.
Not only were they infinitely better than us and out for blood, they weren’t even able to play by the rules. Meaning, that over the course of the sixteen straight games that we lost, even when we did hit someone fair and square, they wouldn’t even give us the satisfaction of a micro-victory.
Basically, it was the high school jocks all over again, now with more beer bellies and hair loss. So at least there was that.
By the end of the night, I was sore, angry, and ready to retreat to my usual Wednesday night routine of polishing off a bottle of Malbec and watching music videos on the couch. And I would have if it weren’t for what happened next.
Guys? If you’re like me and tend to stay far, far away from the world of sports, you might just be missing out on one of the most marvelous things that I’ve ever experienced: team spirit.
Sure, we may have had to limp, bruised and broken, toward each other by the end of the night, but goddamnit if we didn’t spend the entire walk out of the gym high-fiving, laughing, joking, cheering, and celebrating how we all hung in there for each other no matter what the outcome. It may have been the hundreds of times that I was pummeled by balls over the past hour, but I’m pretty sure it was the team spirit that made me tear up just a little.
By the time we got home, I would have followed my team into the depths of hell (which at this point didn’t sound so far off from a night of dodgeball). Pulling together a cricket team? Count me in! Want to start up synchronized swimming? Heck yes! Need to ride someone around in an equestrian competition? Saddle. me. the. fuck. up.
We’ve played two more games since that ill-fated first night, each one more fun than the last. Of course, we’re playing against teams with a little more class, but even if we weren’t, I can’t help but think it’d still be okay. We cheer when we make good plays, we cheer when we make bad plays, I mean, ‘cmon…we even cheer when the other team really kills it.
Just showing up for every game seems to be a victory for us, making it just that much sweeter when we actually do win. Especially when we win because I caught a ball. Even when I catch it with my face. Which happens. A lot. And yes, the irony that my greatest contribution to the team seems to be based on the principle of teabagging* has been noted.