Where do I begin? Spending 10 days in Cleveland, OH last week for the Gay Games #GG9 was incredible, amazing, fulfilling, and totally unexpected. I guess I knew the Games were being held in Cleveland, but I didn’t give it any thought to participate. Life sort of had its way of happening and I had my way of Saying YES to Life and well, I ended up in Cleveland as an athlete in the Gay Games 9. What I didn’t know when I signed up is how much fun it would be, how many people I would meet, and how significant it would feel to participate in an international event that happens every four years. Cleveland opened it’s arms to the world, and we all answered back.
Cleveland? Really? THAT is the city that they chose to host the 2014 Gay Games? Eight years ago it was in Chicago. Four years ago the Games were held in Cologne, Germany. Cleveland, Ohio? How the hell did they beat out Boston, Washington D.C. and New York City? That I cannot tell you the answer to, but I can tell you that those other three cities are pretty progressive. Gays are totally boring in those cities. The significance of hosting an international event like the Gay Games allowed a humble Mid-West city to become exponentially more progressive and what a job they did. Everywhere we walked there were rainbow flags hanging from businesses and on lamp posts. The most iconic building of the city (above) was lit up in a rainbow of color every night as if a beacon saying, “Gays, we love you too and you are welcome in our city.” Never once did I see a protester. Never once did I feel uncomfortable holding hands. Never once did I hear a shout of negativity. I felt accepted and loved and full of joy for 10 days in Cleveland. As I said when I left on Sunday, Well done Cleveland. Well done.
Tom Waddell founded the Gay Olympics in 1982 on the principle
that competition can overcome division and prejudice.
The purpose of the Federation of Gay Games is to foster and augment the self-respect of lesbians and gay men throughout the world and to engender respect and understanding from the nongay world, primarily through an organized international participatory athletic and cultural event held every four years, and commonly known as the Gay Games.
Not only did I want to participate as a runner in the Games, but I wanted to take them in like Princess Kate and Prince William did with the London Olympics. Much like Kate, I donned my finest attire to attend the diving practice, and the swimming competition and even a basketball game and party after party after party. I wasn’t nearly as pretty, but I did my hair real nice. At the basketball game I met a reporter from Germany who sat next to me. We chatted about the significance of the Games in Cleveland. He is from Cologne, the host four years prior, and his friends told him the festivities were way more outrageous than in Cleveland. While chatting, he asked me why I felt the Games were so significant. What I told him is that Cleveland is still in the Mid-West and there is still a lot of growth that needs to happen. But unlike Boston, D.C., Chicago, or NYC, Cleveland offered an opportunity for residents of a fairly conservative area of the country to be exposed to more GAYS than they knew existed! The city was drooling with gays. Like I said, the city and businesses embraced us all. I chatted with a girl at the Starbucks who asked about the Games. She had no idea that they are held every four years in an effort to spread tolerance and the message of acceptance and inclusion. She simply thought her home city was doing something really cool. Yes, everyone is included in the Gays Games, even our straight friends. At swimming and diving I saw people who were most likely in their fifties competing. One man did a belly flop, twice, but he was accepted and a little tolerated, and he was most of all, having fun. So my conversation with the German reporter continued. I think it was only because I had my hair real nice, like Kate, remember? I finished with this. It may not be the flashiest or most outrageous of Games, but I feel like Cleveland is a success because it furthered the push for acceptance and tolerance in an area of our country that so desperately needs to get on board with all of that. Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, they are all on the wrong side of history and the exposure that the Gay Games has given the city of Cleveland, the state of Ohio and it’s residents, I hope, will begin to put the rest of the Mid-West on the right side of history.
So what was it like? Well, if I could win a gold medal for party participation, I would have. The gays know how to throw a party. I knew if the kick-off party at the art museum Friday night followed by the Opening Ceremonies(Lance Bass-bad; Pointer Sisters-fabulous)Saturday night of opening weekend were any indication, this week would be fab, fab, fab. It was exhilarating to march in the opening ceremonies that hosted more athletes than the Sochi Olympics, probably because the gays weren’t afraid for their lives to attend this event. We marched into the Q Arena to a huge party with thousands of fans. Senators welcomed us. The Mayor of Cleveland welcomed us. President Obama welcomed us. But most of all, Cleveland welcomed us. One thing we all wished was that Lance Bass had NOT welcomed us. He was kind of awful. However, the Pointer Sisters, rocked the house. “Jump for my love. Jumpin’ and feel my touch. Jump Jump For My Love.” We went to the White Party and of course, as the gays would have it, it poured rain and turned into a huge wet t-shirt orgy. Ok, that didn’t happen, but Boy George was there spinning some great tunes. House of Blues hosted a party. Hotels hosted parties. Bars hosted parties. Festival Village hosted parties. I don’t think we got to bed once before midnight. Of everything, the post-closing ceremony party might have been my favorite one. The Games were over and we all relaxed and drank and tossed flowers at each other and danced and made friends and had the time of our lives. Most of the guys I had just met that week but we simply had the best of times. So really, I guess it was a huge party with a few athletics thrown in for good measure.
The above sign is one I never thought I would ever follow in my life. Growing up, my brother was the athlete in the family. I tried soccer one fall and asked my coach incessantly if I could organize the oranges for halftime rather than play. The following spring I gave t-ball a shot. My parents were frighted for my life, and probably a little embarrassed, when I sat down in the outfield and picked grass with my back to the game. I wasn’t an athlete. My freshman year of high school, during PE class, my teacher, the high school swim coach, asked me to join the swim team after he watched me swim. As an overweight kid, living in the shadow of my all-star athlete brother, I didn’t even give it a thought. Well, that is wrong, I thought, “I’d love to swim, but what do I show up the first day in? A speedo? A regular swimsuit? I’m not an athlete.” I just didn’t have the confidence to pull it all together. So I did my thang in marching band and musicals and had a great experience. It wasn’t until 2011, after my first marathon, that I felt even remotely athletic. Even then I’d tell people, “I’m not an athlete. I just run.” Finally, last year after running two marathons in three weeks, and posting sub-four hour finishes in both, I felt like an athlete. When the opportunity arose to participate in the Gay Games I did not even think twice. I went for it. I ran three events, the 5K, 10K, and Half Marathon. In each event I posted new personal records, crushing all of my previous times. My best race, the 10K, I was 5th in my age bracket, just missing a medal. I kind of felt like Michelle Kwan, always the bridesmaid. Whaaa Waaaaaaaaa! But that doesn’t matter, what is important is that it might have taken a long, long time, but at 38, and Saying YES to Life, I finally call myself, an athlete.
Look at that amazing bouffont at 6 a.m. Now that is a GAY ASS ATHLETE!
My takeaways from the week:
Cleveland, you rocked. You accepted us. You loved us. You rocked with us. Thank you. Forevermore, Thank you!
I’ll remember the people I met along the way. The German reporter who sat with me and interview me at a basketball game. The speedo clad, tatted up, nipple rings, overly tanned, slightly saggy older man in the swim competition. Erik, the teacher from Montreal, I sat with on my way to the 10K start line. We chatted about teaching and kids these days, and how Cleveland rocked the Gay Games. And there were the two Germans I ran with during the half marathon, Fritz and Michael. Once I realized they were in my age bracket, I left them in my dust. Sorry guys, it was nice chatting with you. There was the girl who waited on us for brunch following my race. “Did you guys participate? Did you win?” My response, “He’s a sliver medalist in volleyball. Mine is just a participation medal.” Haha, it’s fine. She said, “Oh cool. This is all so cool,” with a huge smile on her face. Finally, all of the guys I call my new friends. You know who you are and you are pretty awesome. It was a joy to participate with you and all the shenanigans. Thanks for opening your arms so wide to me.
Our straight allies who participated in the sports or volunteered or simply cheered us on, as the MC of the Closing Ceremonies said, “Where are our straight people? We love straight people. We need you to make more of us.” Isn’t that the truth. Thank you for making us and loving us!
It was an incredible week filled with amazing feelings of joy and memories to last a lifetime. My friend Matt captured many of the finest moments in this video that played at the closing ceremonies(find him at mattquinncreative.com). If you watch closely, you might recognize one of the athletes at 1 minute 40 seconds. Matt’s video captures how it felt to participate and spend 10 days at #GG9.
Yup, I’m lucky and so are the thousands of gay men and women I spent time with and competed against in the Gay Games. Our world has changed immensely in the eight years since Chicago hosted the games. What will the world be like for us gays in 2018 when Paris hosts us? Yes, us, I say. US! We’re going!
I leave you with this charming, charming little conversation that will live on and on. “You are the SILVER medalist in volleyball,” I lovingly said to my guy. “And you honey beat the fastest woman in the 10K!”