I was a “little fat girl” growing up.
Ok, well I looked like a pudgy little girl as a kid, and wasn’t the most svelte boy on my little league team. I grew up outside of Philadelphia in North Coventry Township (“Norco” for short) and played on the Norco Nipple Company little league team … no lie (see photo – it was a pipe fitting company in town). Once a season we played the Very Best Wieners—a hotdog shop in downtown (I swear I’m not making this up!). As a 3rd grader we’d chant “Nipple Power! Nipple Power!” from the dugout as the parents would giggle at our innocence and naivety. But this was my first real venture into organized sports and, despite my poor athletic ability, I loved it.
As a kid I tried just about every team sport with pretty much the same outcome: I was so-so but really lacked the athletic grace and speed of many of the other kids. The boys who excelled at athletics were the ones picked well before me for those dreaded playground games. I was a “late bloomer” and became a letterman in high school—alas, it was in band.
In college, I took up recreational swimming, played various intramural activities with my fraternity brothers (don’t be dirty), and balanced that out by pursuing college theater. I also discovered my inner jock, realizing that I was an active person despite being a chunky monkey in my youth.
And then after undergrad I figured out I not only really liked athletics but athletes as well—specifically the male kind. But after undergrad, sports didn’t play a part in my life. Sure, as a new gayling, the gym become a very important part of my homo-ness. But team sports? Nope. I was too busy trying to establish a career, then attend grad school, then more work, etc. etc.
Flash forward to 2003. I had recently taken a leave of absence from working a “real” job so I could finish my doctoral degree; and I was pretty alone. By day I’d sit home and try and write, but as an extrovert and someone who gets their energy by being with others, I was a bit lost. That vital part of “work culture”—where you have inside work jokes that mean nothing to your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse/significant other, that special bond with your “work wife” or “work husband,” the dramas inherent to any work organization: all that was gone. I had my research, my computer, and in the evenings my partner.
It was this time that I discovered gay softball. Friends of mine were on a team and, over drinks one sunny Sunday afternoon, they sat in the Parliament House courtyard in their jerseys talking about the most recent game, the plays, the flubs both teams had, and overall the collective fun day. I wanted to be a part of that and shortly thereafter I joined their team.
For me it filled this void I had working from home alone. I had “co-workers” again, but this time it wasn’t for pay and it wasn’t every day, but it was a group with which I was now a part.
Eleven years later I’m very fortunate that the core team I joined is still together. We’ve gone through a variety of team sponsors (we’re on Version 6.0 as the “Drunkin’ Pelicans”), and we’ve had people come and go, but the fundamental group of us who have—season after season—played, cheered, celebrated, commiserated, and enjoyed “apple juice” together remains intact.
But these folks are more than softball teammates. They are a huge part of my Orlando community. We now enjoy one another’s company outside of softball, during birthdays, holidays, etc. Their partners come to the games to root us on, family members come cheer for us and we’ve watched daughters and sons and nieces and nephews grow up from season to season.
This is more than a “let’s drink beer on a Sunday” group—this has become a close group of friends who have shared who they are and where they come from with one another. My particular team is a diverse group of lesbians, gays and straights working together each week and learning from one another on and off the field.
And I’m not alone at this. I see whole softball teams going to teammate’s (gay and straight) weddings, taking vacations together, attending events en mass. When a fellow league player died unexpectedly a few years ago, I swear the vast majority of the teams were represented at his funeral, all standing at the back sharing stories about him.
I’m not sure this level of camaraderie necessarily holds true for our straight league counterparts. I think there’s something special about a gay and lesbian sports league. For the most part we’ve all experienced that “outsider” feeling (like little chubby girly Steve waiting to be picked on the playground) and carry that feeling into adulthood.
But in our softball league we’re all being picked. The little chubby kid in each of us is now able to be that jock (regardless of athletic prowess) and play the game alongside others without judgment or bias. In my experience, it doesn’t matter if you’re an MVG (“Most Valuable Gay”) shortstop or can barely hit the ball, we’re out there to be part of a team, meet people and have fun. If we can do that while winning the game, great.
But for me at least, the little chubby fat girl inside me has been picked to be on a team and has a place to play on Sundays, and that feels mighty good.