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Monday 24 Jul 2006

Putting the Wrap on Gay Games VII

So I spent my summer vacation in Chicago. And I live in Chicago. I went to the beach that I always go to. I went to bars I often visit. I went to stadiums I know by heart. I hung out with people I see all the time. And it was one of the best vacations in a long time.
I called this blog “The Gay Games Experience” and that’s probably the best way to sum it up – an experience. At times disappointing or frustrating in competition, Gay Games VII provided equal moments of fun and exhilaration that will last for years in photos and fables. But more than the glitz and the music, or the bars and the parties, or the biceps and abs (oh my!), Gay Games provided for countless people a sense of worth, of community, and of pride. When a Chicago newspaper asked on its front page, Why A Gay Games”, I believe that would be the answer.
The broad spectrum of people who took part in the Games was remarkable, a crowd so diverse that it shattered existing stereotypes. International visitors, whose lives are painfully sheltered in homelands plagued by violence against homosexuality, likely reveled in the ability to truly enjoy a feeling of openness and self-worth. Sometimes in America, it’s tough to be gay, but in other places around the world, it’s nearly impossible. For all the time we spend cursing our own government and our own surroundings, there remain times like these that remind us how truly fortunate we are to live in the United States.
Further, the spectrum of Gay Games competitors included men and women of many races, of widely varied origin, background, and status. People who are disabled, hearing impaired, and of foreign dialects. People of many shapes, sizes, and shades of makeup.
And then there is age. I thought for a moment about the meaning of these Games for an 18 year old, versus that of a 70 year old. The latter has seen symbolic moments in LGBT history, like Stonewall in ‘69. Perhaps he has lived a life primarily in the closet, referring to his partner as a close friend and spending time in his youth around dimly lit taverns with no signage on the door and hearing rumors of some freaky “gay cancer” that is going around. Walking onto Soldier Field he feels a sense of immense pride and satisfaction. These are moments he once thought could never be reality.
Meanwhile, his young contemporary came out of the closet when he was 16. He wasn’t afraid to be part of a Gay/Straight Alliance in high school and symbolic to him is the name Matthew Shepard. In certain social circles he’ll put a foot back in the closet, or then again, maybe he won’t. He will tell you about the boyfriend he met when he snuck into a popular metropolitan gay bar with a fake ID. He’s aware of HIV and how not to get it. He dances onto Soldier Field, a rainbow-colored boa wrapped around his neck and red color capping off the tips of his spiked hair. It’s the only way he knows how to approach a scene like this.
I haven’t met these people, but I envision them. I saw their faces all over Chicago last week, and despite all of their differences in race, culture, or a million other things, the Gay Games experience offered them that sense of personal worth, the overwhelming feeling of community, and an immense feeling of pride.
In retrospect, we could criticize the organizers and call them disorganizers, but it all could have been worse and, at long last, the water and ice did finally arrive. We could lament on our colorful exchanges with protesters, who were ultimately a non-issue and whose low turnout should be a strong indication that they are very, very small misguided minority. We could still be depressed over the prevailing somber mood of the Opening Ceremonies, yet Margaret saved us in the end.
But in total, only good comes from this Gay Games. And, like Pride celebrations across the world, we walk away reassured that we are not alone in the world, that the team is a really big one, and that we should revel in who we are.
And, we throw a real good party. But we already knew that, didn’t we.
 
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Sunday 23 Jul 2006

Day Eight: Closing The Games

Thursday and Friday were generally uneventful, comprised mostly of early morning trips to Navy Pier to watch indoor volleyball, and preparation for our end of Gay Games party on Friday night. Both, incidentally, were a lot of fun – especially the party. Someone deemed the gathering a success, saying that, “It’s officially a great party when there’s a line for the bathroom.”
But the spirit of the Games returned on Saturday with the closing ceremonies. After a trip to North Avenue Beach to catch a few hours of the AVP Tour Pro Beach Volleyball Chicago Open, I joined the masses headed toward Wrigley Field for the finale of Gay Games VII.
Ben and I, along with our friend Tim and Track & Field gold medalist Ramon (sorry, gold and silver), filed into Wrigley on a sunny, perfect day for baseball. But today, the scene was dominated by thousands of athletes ready to put the final touches on a memorable week.
A cautious crowd checked the event program for signs of long-winded speeches (see: Opening Ceremonies), and there were few. This event promised more energy, music, and celebration, and for the most part it delivered.
This was also a more jovial crowd than a week ago. There was a sense that this was actually a pre-party, leading up to one of the busiest nights that Boystown would ever see. With beach balls floating all around the ballpark and the stadium beginning to fill, the closing ceremonies provided some impressive moments not soon to be forgotten.

The band BETTY rocked out a national anthem, brining the crowd to its feet. Although, the version was so noisy, most people didn’t know the song until about halfway through. Personally, I think there is really only one way to sing the anthem, and shouting into a microphone is not it. But credit them with infusing some early life into the program.

Chicago’s own ROTC (Righteously Outrageous Twirling Corps) made a well-choreographed appearance on the short centerfield stage. These guys can be seen practicing anywhere from the lakefront to streetside on Broadway, and when they perform they are fun to watch. The ROTC was at its best on Saturday.

MAYOR DALEY appeared once again, delivering positive remarks on the Gay Games experience and what it meant to the city, and introducing the Deputy Mayor of Cologne, Germany (host of the next Gay Games in 2010). One person described her speech as “long, and with with a lot of misplaced commas and periods.” Representative athletes from Germany, seated to our right, did seem very enthusiastic about their opportunity host the event four years from now.

POPPY CHAMLPLIN’s comedy was on target, with the underlying message of bringing gay men and lesbians closer together, calling for a less divisive climate within our LGBT community. Comedian ANT took some good-natured shots at the Boy Scouts during a strong set.

The DC COWBOYS entered to theme music from “Brokeback Mountain” and worked the crowd into a dancing frenzy. In a related story, it’s likely that the folks at Charlie’s will see a spike in attendance over the next week.

But CYNDI LAUPER was by far the highlight. Her slow, methodic entrance to Wrigley Field captured the crowd, which greeted her with huge applause before going silent to hear a pretty version of “True Colors.” Draped in a rainbow flag and adorned as the Statue of Liberty, this diva showed that good theatricality never goes unnoticed. Among the two ceremonies combined, she was perhaps the most memorable performer (followed closely by Margaret Cho last weekend).

The party continued outside when UBAKA HILL DRUMSONG INSTITUTE gave an impromptu concert along Sheffield Avenue, causing spectators to jump into the fray and dance along with them. The DC Cowboys gathered outside as well, posing for photos and flipping through a calendar of Water Polo studs. Umm, where do I get one of those?
A couple hours later, even the brief rainfall of a hot summer day couldn’t dampen the spirits of Halsted revelers who stood in amazingly long lines to get inside Boystown bars. Then it was time for the really big finale to start, a particularly active night around Halsted and Roscoe.
Ben and I, however, chose to return to North Avenue Beach, where our competition began and ended earlier in the week. Watching a nighttime session of AVP Volleyball on center court, we finally had just a little room to breathe and rest. And as we walked through the AVP concourse, a volleyball court was set up as an invite for fans to come and hit a few balls. We jumped on that court and goofed around for a half hour, playing ball against a bunch of others and generally having a fun time. It was our first chance to play carefree volleyball in a long time, without the pressure of training and preparation and all that. I think we smiled a lot while we played here, in total a few moments we both appreciated a lot.
Tomorrow, I’ll put the wraps on the Gay Games and this blog. See you then!
Thursday 20 Jul 2006

Day Five: The View From Here

I had been looking forward to watching some of the other competitions, and the one I heard most about was indoor volleyball. As it turns out, Navy Pier is a fantastic venue for this event, and on Wednesday I had a chance to go down there and check it out.
In a scene something like an airplane hangar, an array of volleyball courts were erected for games at various levels of play.
As I found out, the indoor volleyball event is a great example of what the global Gay Games represents. Teams from countries like Australia, Singapore, plus a great number of teams from around the USA made up this week-long competition. The finals will be held on Friday, if anyone wants to check them out.
This was also a nice opportunity to watch some friends playing in their event - something that has been hard to do because so many sports schedules overlap (understandably). Our friends from Team Cocktail struggled in their pool play but may have been the most photogenic team at Navy Pier. Their early game times (8am!) may have detracted from their Gay Games social calendar (as with many athletes), but that is sure to change as the weekend approaches. In addition, our friend Tim and his team played well in their bracket, and my friend Ly's team was playing well, too. Everyone had their competitive face on today, it was neat to see.
At Roscoes cafe last night, my teammate Ben and I enjoyed dinner and drinks (finally) among a growing contingent of new and old friends, something that is a staple of the Games so far. It has been so easy to meet new people and learn a lot about them and where they come from.
We met three guys from Down Under, all of whom were headed first to New York before moving on to the Out Games in Montreal. Two of them planned to get married in Canada, and the third was the best man. They said nothing about a maid of honor. :)
Ben's friend Ramon, fresh off a performance in track and field, came to Roscoes for a meet-and-greet. He had regained his team's lead in the relay race before tugging a hamstring as he approached the hand-off. He made it, though, and the team earned a gold medal.
At the meet-and-greet, we met some nice people from California who were wrapping up their own events and able to party a little more. Everyone was in such good spirits on the dance floor and throughout the bar. Known for its occasional attitude, Roscoes was refreshing last night, as was Cocktail - where the night wound down in the wee hours.
And not a moment too soon, as the parties are multiplying as we enter the home stretch of the Gay Games schedule. It was time for some rest and recuperation, and rallying for everything that remains.
Tuesday 18 Jul 2006

Day Four: The Elimination Round

So this morning we found ourselves as the #6 seed in the elimination bracket, with a first round match against the #3 seed. A win would place us in line for at least a bronze medal, and a loss would send us home. As it turns out, I'm writing this from home.
Though not nearly the conditions we faced yesterday, a stiff wind still plagued our usually fine ball control game, and the were ousted in 2 quick sets.
The down side, I guess, is a lot of training for a disappointing finish. At the same time, some other friends in the beach tournament were eliminated, and our Team Cocktail friends are struggling, and I wish we all could have something more to celebrate as the week moves on.
That said, on the good side, we remain excited to be a part of this event, which is only half over. This is our chance now to go out and see other athletes, other sports, and enjoy the remainder of the Gay Games schedule of events. Tomorrow I'll be checking out the indoor volleyball at Navy Pier, as well as the Gay Games Expo at the Hilton.
As I mentioned, this is pretty much the final day of our long-term training for this event, and tonight we finally have the option of choosing ice cream, Corona, or french fries... or all three, or any combination of similar items. It's a moment we have looked forward to just slightly less than the Games itself! But overall, the training left us better off. Despite the difficult weather conditions, neither of us left the beach tired. We woke this morning feeling fresh and full of energy. We compared the added space around our waistlines (always a treat!). So we have gained much from this experience as well.
Tomorrow I'll write about my experience outside of our own event, and see what's going on around the city on the GG schedule. Later in the week we'll take a swing at those goonie protesters from last weekend, and apparently, in Crystal Lake as well.

AND, I am reminded of two things that I have omitted. First, kudos to the streaker who darted across Soldier Field during Saturday's ceremonies. It was among the most creative expressions of art all night. Also, yes that was Ben and I on the WGN News last night talking about the heat. I was the one who should have used more than SPF15.

Monday 17 Jul 2006

Day Three: Competition Begins

Sunday was quiet and uneventful in preparation for the beginning of competition on Monday. With our first game scheduled for 8am, we pretty much woke up and darted straight to the beach.
The weather report was accurate. It was hot and muggy, with the potential for downright oppressive.
Day One consisted of round-robin pool play with five teams in our pool. By the end of the day, our W/L record would determine where we place in the single-elimination tournament to be held on Tuesday and Wednesday.
It was refreshing to see most everyone in a jovial mood, happy to meet up with friends and get the party started. After all the anticipation, it was a relief to just get on the court and play.
Throughout the afternoon, piles of Gatorade arrived, tents were erected to provide patches of shade, and players battled the conditions mostly with regularly scheduled dips in Lake Michigan.
It was particularly fun to see news crews and photographers all over the beach. It's not surprising, I guess, that shirtless, sweaty guys would represent the Gay Games on the evening news, right?
Our performance was not our best, ultimately posting a 3-5 total record in pool play. A gusting wind hurt our ball handling and we found it difficult to build and maintain momentum. But we performed just well enough to earn a decent position in the tournament bracket.
We're due back at the beach early Tuesday morning, but tonight we're heading out for a little while. We are enjoying the competition, but we are growing eager for it to end as well. Ben and I agreed that it will be nice to focus on other things for a while, having prepared for Gay Games for months and months. For this week, at least, it will be fun to sample everything that the Games have to offer around the city - other sports, the GG Expo, the bar scene (what's with the line at Sidetrack? Holy sh..), the international boys. Yes, I hope we will be busy the rest of the week, too.
For now, we'll find out where we rank when the dust (and sand) clears.

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