As I’ve discussed elsewhere, the Castro—my home for 13 years, my go-to neighborhood for 20—has changed in a lot of ways recently. But despite all the signs of that (d)evolution—baby strollers clogging the sidewalks, bachelorette parties in gay bars—nothing prepared me for the current rage: crowds of gay men filling up every bar in the ’hood to cheer on the San Francisco Giants. Gathered around oversized TV screens that ordinarily run Kylie Minogue videos and reruns of The Golden Girls, my brethren are now focusing their attention on the likes of Madison Bumgarner—but for his pitching, not his curly locks or his suggestive name.
This is not an invasion. Those plasma screens haven’t been taken over by straight men overflowing from Noe Valley. No, they’re tuned to the pitcher’s mound for the benefit of gay men—the same ones whose tastes more stereotypically run toward Barbra Streisand, choral music, and fellatio.
To be fair, all of San Francisco seems flush with World Series fever, not just its gayest corner. Orange is definitely the new black around here, despite the fact that it’s the least fashionable color in the palette. Having grown up in Boston, I know the power sports have to mesmerize a community, but I’ve never seen the phenomenon on quite this display in gay mecca. I have to admit, I’m a bit at sea.
I expressed my dismay to a friend last night, who offered an intriguing theory. Perhaps, he opined, there have always been a lot of gay sports fans, but only recently have they felt safe to come out.
Safe to come out? Yes, I’m sure that’s it, I said, nearly spitting out my cosmo. Before Michael Sam and Jason Collins, the gaybros stayed in the sports closet to avoid being taunted and beaten to a pulp by the opera queens in their midst. You know what merciless bitches they can be.
No, my friend said, the problem might be more nuanced than that. The gay community is no different from any other group, he suggested: there are norms of behavior that get enforced in subtle but effective ways. In short, there’s a right way to be gay and a wrong way.
That’s how it used to be, at least. In the old days, gay was defined by high culture, camp, and sexual openness. When I came out, my first lover gave me a copy of A Boy’s Own Story, not The Natural. He introduced me to opera, not heavy metal.
Maybe it was all a defensive posture. Maybe gay culture constructed a closed world specifically in reaction to the world that had excluded all of us. When I was growing up, the first clue of gayness was enough to get you marginalized for life. So when it came time for the American pastime, the consensus was to put me in right field, where I was more likely to encounter an asteroid falling from the sky than a baseball. Never given the opportunity to learn without facing the humiliation of judging eyes and constant torment, I retreated from sports altogether and developed a sour grapes attitude that has stood the test of time. I took comfort from something Woody Allen once said: “Those who can’t do, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach gym.”
But maybe it’s different now. Maybe the boys who are now coming out at 13 and having same-sex prom dates also get varsity letters in something other than chess. Maybe the cheering 20- and 30somethings I see hanging out the window of the Edge when the game is on and the drag queens are taking a night off from the stage, really do know what the infield fly rule is. Maybe they even care. Maybe they even like the real Super Bowl as opposed to just the gay version (you know, the one named after Bette Davis’s husband Oscar).
If gayborhoods are dying, it’s not simply because they’ve been opened up to straight people, but also because they’ve opened the door to a new kind of gay person. They’re here, they’re not too queer, get used to it.
Or maybe it’s just the World Series. Just two days after this is all over, we will observe the gay national holiday. Let’s see how many Bumgarner costumes show up for Halloween. I’m betting we’ll still see more catchers than pitchers.
More’s the pity.