Gay men and lesbians need to work in large groups to be reminded
how much we like each other and how well we work together
There were only five of us. There should have been 18, but it was Pride Weekend, and it was early in the morning, and the remainder of the Ladykillaz, my Gay Games flag football team, just couldn’t make it to practice that morning.
We were supposed to scrimmage the Diesel Daisies, another women’s team, but they, too, only had a handful of players.
We all sat for a while on the cool grass behind the high school, trying to figure out what to do (Should we just go to breakfast? Should we have practice mid-week?). And while we sat, we watched a men’s team run and throw passes.
Then we had an idea.
“Hey,” I said, coming up to the men’s team and squinting in the sunlight. “Are you guys playing in the Gay Games?”
A few team members nodded, and the captain of the team came to meet me on the field.
“What would you think about scrimmaging our combined womens’ team today?”
The captain, tall, handsome, twirled a football in his hands, considering. “We’re short handed today,” he said.
“We are, too,” I said.
He looked back at his teamthey shrugged in agreement. We were on.
And that’s how the Ladykillaz/Diesel Daisies came to play a men’s Gay Games team.
The rules are different for men and women (aren’t they always?) so we negotiated. We wanted both teams to get a good workout we also wanted to compensate for the men’s additional strength. We added a delay to the rush. We played with an invisible, no entry box in front of the quarterback.
We played for practice, meaning that sometimes we re-did plays to try them again, sometimes we took advice from the other team, sometimes we stretched out our time in the huddle to work out strategy.
Playing for practice means that a scrimmage feels more like one team than two, because both sides are cooperating and trying to help both teams.
The amazing thing about playing on a team any team is that you get to know your teammates and your opponents in a visceral way. You know who will be where, who is aggressive, who is wily, who is a team player, who goes it alone.
You feel a warmth and trust toward your teammates, and respect or anger, or disgust toward your opponents. You know who the nice teams are. You know who cheats and who only cares about winning and who tries to win by whining to the referees instead of playing harder on the field.
The men were fast. And they were kind. It was a very good practice and a very good day.
At the end of the scrimmage, we were all a bit reluctant to leave. We promised to watch each others’ games.
I left the field thinking how rare this was in the gay community. Because the truth is, lesbians and gay men almost never cooperate on a large, group scale like this.
Sure, we might work together for political causes and non-profits as individual gay men and women, but that’s not good enough. That lets us keep our comfortable stereotypes.
We might think: “Well, all lesbians are angry, but not you. You’re the exception.” Or: “All gay men are shallow, but not you. You’re someone who cares about something.”
Gays and lesbians need to work together in large groups so that gay men learn how lesbians interact with lesbians and women learn how gay men interact with gay men. And we need to work together in large groups to be reminded how much we like each other and how well we work together.
Teams are so important because they foster cooperation, trust, mutual care, mutual respect. They are very different from playing individual sports, because you learn to balance your own goals and achievement with what is good for the team as a whole.
This is why I think, in future Gay Games, there should be a Men’s Division, a Women’s Division, andfor some team sportsa Mixed Division.
Straight recreational leagues do this all the time, because straight men and women like to play together. They have teams that must have a certain number of men and a certain number of women. Some gay leagues with small numbers of players also do this, so that they have enough people for a league.
The Gay Games (and Chicago, which has an extraordinary number of gay teams) could do that, too perhaps we’d have a certain number of men, a certain number of women, and a certain number of transgender players.
It is wonderful to have a strong women’s community and a strong men’s community.
But we also need a strong gay community.
And there is no better way to foster that than on a playing field when the sun turns faces to gold.
Jennifer Vanasco is an award-winning, syndicated columnist.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, July 21, 2006