That Oppressive Script … How Angels of Mercy Changed My Queer Boy Perspective on Sports
(Reprint from Rainbow Gold Reads Review)
Jocks have it hard.
They’ve got a lot to live up to as they pursue their passion in their chosen sport. This isn’t an easy thing to acknowledge on my part. I was one of those artistic queer kids that jocks loved to bag on. So why the change up in opinion?
Simple: I wrote Angels of Mercy.
When Angels presented itself (fully formed to the bitter end, mind you), I thought “Eh, I’ll bang this one out in a month.” I had the ending in my head already. I just had to write to that ending, right? Yeah, not so much it seems.
Here’s what I learned: you see, my main protagonist, Marco Sforza, is built upon my husband’s experiences playing football both at the high school level at Massillon, Ohio (the heart of high school American Football as we know it) and for Clemson U back in the day (admittedly a very different era than Marco’s present day story). So given the disparity in my husband’s and Marco’s timelines, I had to make some adjustments between my husband’s experiences and those that I was building for Marco. But what amazed me is that, at its core, very little has changed with regards to the institutionalization of homophobia within American football – be it, high school, college or pro.
We like to think “It gets better …” but in reality, has it? There are emerging stories about players in high school and college football that have appeared in OutSports where the players have come out to their teammates. In the cases that have been reported the response has been rather positive. Yet, we only have to bring up what happened to Michael Sam to understand that very little has changed with regard to players who hope to play openly and valued for their sportsmanship and not for who they love.
Angels taught me a lot. Not just about my characters and their road to happiness, but also because as I explored Marco’s having to follow that “jock script” all boys are indoctrinated to follow (bag the girl and draw some blood out on the field) Marco goes through some fairly difficult moments in his teenage life. In his desire to play ball and be one of the guys, he’s opened himself up to a major downfall that he can’t see coming – mostly because of the pressure to perform both on and off the field. That pressure is enormous. Yet, there’s a boy that has captured Marco’s attention in a way that no one, boy or girl, ever has. He finds himself on an emotional pendulum – swinging wildly from the life everyone else thinks he should have (girlfriends or friends with bennies, followed by marriage and rugrats), and the life he wants for himself wrapped up in a boy who requires darkness and shadows to survive another hellish day of high school.
It’s a ride my own husband had to play.
Simply put, hiding hurts everyone involved. No one ultimately benefits from that arrangement, despite how much comfort it may bring teammates in thinking that everything is cool, the dude is solid, a man’s man. Marco’s journey changed long held positions and baggage I carried from jocks that tormented me in my own past. I began to understand the pressures boys like Marco – who hide from themselves just to play the game they love to play – are under. But I didn’t want that discussion in my works to be so one-sided.
My granddaughter is queer and I spend a great deal of time with her and her friends. Queerdom is a very different monster with her crew. Just the fact that they embrace the word “queer” has changed my perspective on a word that used to torment me. So I realized that while things may not have totally changed, I also remembered the stories posted in OutSports of players who have experienced support from within their team. So while there is a clique within the team from Mercy High in my stories, I also balanced it with boys who really wouldn’t care if Marco was with a boy. I needed to show that line that things are changing. Maybe not at lightening speeds, but change is coming.
I am not kidding myself in thinking it will change in college or pro-ball in the next five, ten or fifteen years. That may be a long time in coming, but come it will.
With the release of Angels of Mercy – Diary of a Quarterback Part I: King of Imperfections and Angels of Mercy – Diary of a Quarterback Part II: Prince of Mistakes, I wanted to explore Marco’s journey. To be honest, while I started the main Angels of Mercy series from Marco’s boyfriend Elliot’s point of view, the story was really Marco’s to tell. He gets the lion’s share of the series (three books out of the six total).
I am thankful that Marco exists. He’s made me understand my husband’s past so much more. And I am far more sympathetic to athletes who take that courageous step to emerge and live a life out and proud. Their stories will always hold my interest.
I often wonder what I would say to my younger tortured teenboy self that would give my younger self context to understand what those boys go through. Don’t know if it would’ve made a difference or not, but I am glad I’ve grown enough as a writer and a queer man to give them a bit more of a pass and a modicum of understanding that many of them may not feel free enough to live openly and use oppression to express their frustration.
That’s what Angels ultimately explores. Here’s hoping that the trend toward acceptance keeps moving in a positive direction. I look forward to the day when it simply won’t matter.
Until next time …
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To start with, this isn’t some sort of pity party. What this is can best be labeled is a quiet contemplation of where I am as both a (queer) man and author.
You see, life has handed me that bag of rotten, incredibly sour, lemons. Lemons that no kind of sugar (coating) can be made into anything remotely useable.
I just released not one but TWO massive books in my Angels of Mercy series. The two books took close to year and a half to germinate and blossom into what they are now.
I am incredibly proud of the work – the entire series thus far. It’s broad in scope. While it deals with an ensemble cast, it’s main protagonists are trying their damnedest to have a fucking romance in the middle of the epic shit storm I throw at them. It’s operatic in scope – I can’t help it as I come from that world. Mundane thrown into the mass hysteria of opera like tropes. To me that’s when queer fiction can be at its best.
But as I said, while the release of those two books is complete, they’re out there, LIFE kicked me square in the rubber parts (literally).
Tomorrow I am going to go through a potentially life saving operation. I’m not going to sugar coat it – I’m fucking scared beyond belief. This, despite how many tales I’ve heard from “people who went through it” or “I have a friend/family member who’s been fine for the past XX years.” It’s always double digits. Which is good. Medicine has progressed to where things are getting better. Hell, even the doctor said that, “We no longer throw the kitchen sink at a problem. It’s finely tailored so that the therapy addresses your particular problem. We’ve grown that much in the past ten years.”
But life … I dunno, man. It has a way of keeping you down when you least expect it. Mundane with operatic overtones is where I am at personally.
But again, this isn’t a pity party. This is a “Jesus, have you ever really looked at the people who dot your life and provide so much color to it? Have you? I mean, really?”
People do cross my mind. I’ve grown to admire and love several of them since I’ve started to publish my works. Running the Wrote Podcast has only increased getting to know amazing writers and artists exponentially. I’ve been all the richer for it. Don’t know that I can spend it on anything other than my heart, but it’s definitely something to be grateful for, that’s for sure.
So while this list isn’t complete, these are just the names that cross my mind as of late. People who have come to mean a tremendous amount to me.
Brad Vance – you were the very first author I plucked up the courage to email and get to know. Given the Circumstances will always be at the top of my TBR list because it is simply that great a work.
Brandon Witt – you took a chance on a fledgling podcast that probably had next to no one listening to it. You were our second guest and you were as warm and engaging as anyone we’ve ever had on the show. I cherish those conversations with you about life, artistry and “the biz” – you never fail to bring your witty comments and ponderings to the table.
Angel Martinez and J. Scott Coatsworth – You two are powerhouses in the SF/Fantasy realm for queer fic. Not to mention amazing people to know. I cherish our laughs as much as our debates on the industry and writing in general. When you’re on the podcast I know we’ve got a great ep in the can before I even press the big red button to record.
Tuffy and Angie (Angle) Stanley – Tuff, I’ve known you since my first days out in gay land – cruising the bars, the fruit loop, and just generally hanging out and shootin’ the shit (as my dad would say). You’ve both been champions of my works. I don’t see or talk to you both nearly enough, but you’re always on my mind.
Jeffrey Merrell Davis – The first gay boy I ever met and we haven’t stopped talking for the past 35 years. I love that we quote movie lines back and forth in our conversations. We pepper our x-rated version of The Sound of Music where people least expect it. I’ve loved the fact that you’ve been like a brother/sistah to me and I’ve cherished each time we’re together. Some day I’ll have to write about Josie and Willy so the world can know about those drag personas we created and embodied. “Girl, did we have some times …”
Daniel A. West – Cuz, you mean a great deal to me even though we haven’t seen one another since you were a teenager many moons ago. But you’re family. You’ve been a solid cousin and bringer of positivity in my life. I am glad I got to share my boys from Mercy High with you and that you embrace them. There is no price I can put on how much your continued love and support means to me. And Jeffery’s definitely a keeper. Love that guy!
Now for the hard(er) ones …
Tia, Carmel, Pablo and Mom – My immediate family. I’ve grown so many ways in this journey of life. Knowing my own brother, Pablo, has dealt with what I am going through and he’s been fine for close to 20 years, has given me tremendous support and encouragement. Tia, you’ve been there and been a complete supporter of me when I was coming out. You showed me what that world was like. It was an education that cannot be measured or have a price put upon it. I thank you for that. Mom, it’s your voice (and Dad’s) that I hear whenever I have a difficult choice to make in life. You’ve taught me well. Your support through my coming out to you both, to embracing my boyfriends and now husband means more than I can ever express – and words are my thing. Carmel – We grew closest during our years of having braces. It’s never let up since. I am so proud of your accomplishments in life. Every time you post a pic of your bakery work I am truly astounded and sit there in awe of your creations. “That’s my lil’ sis …” You are a powerhouse of creation. I cherish that. I am proud to be a big brother to you and Pablo.
Now, this one’s gonna burn … but in the best way possible.
Vance Bastian and Jayne Lockwoood – Two people who have become family. Words fail me every time I try to describe what you both mean to me. Look at what we’ve created together. Just look at it! That was us, bay-bee! And we continue to do it every week! All the offline (and online) conversations, learning about each other in such profound ways, leaves me breathless and completely humbled by what you do. Vance you are, in every way imaginable, my superhero. You swoop in when I am really struggling and like the comic heroes of old, you know exactly how to lift me out of whatever I am spinning out about. You are the keel for our podcast. You are a brilliant writer and editor, not to mention gifted with such a golden voice that I sometimes want to put a pad of butter on the desk because I know you’d melt it even from where you are. Jayne, you are a true Lady in every sense of the word. We didn’t know fuck all about what we were doing three years ago when we started. But together we worked it out. You’ve taught me perseverance and the ability to make lemonade when you really don’t think you can. You both have been amongst the greatest teachers in life. You both are on my short list of peeps I can’t do without. I’d never want to know that day was like. It’s a world I wouldn’t want to live in. I revel in who you are a human beings and compassionate people who just want a better world for all.
Freddie Feeley Jr., Dr. Redfern Jon Barrett, Kate Aaron, and AJ Rose – Your incredible minds and passion to discuss world events has enriched me not only with your brilliant perspectives, but also because we’ve grown to know a bit more about each other along the way. While my current predicament has put the skids temporarily on our world talks, there is a part of me that clings desperately to continuing those conversations again.
Wendy Stone, Michael Rumsey, Matthew Gallien and Jimmy Thacker – Champions of my works and diligent beta readers. You keep me grounded and out there fighting the good fight just to get noticed in a field that is overwhelmed with daily releases. When I think I can’t go there, when I want to toss in the towel, I have you all to lift me up and keep me pressing forward. Your love of my boys from Mercy High won’t let me stop and wallow. That’s a very good thing. I count on it more than you’ll ever know. Don’t stop … I beg you.
J, Whitney and Keely (plus Katya and Zorro) – My daughter and granddaughter have taught me about family. Your immediate family. Whit, I’ve watched you grow and prosper into a brilliant and hard working woman (single mother’s need to take a course from you). And it was all on you to do that. You picked yourself up from impossible odds when you found out you were pregnant with Keely and you made something of yourself and provided for your daughter along the way. Womanhood is all the better for you playing for their team. Keely, if there is anyone I am most interested in watching blossom into womanhood, it’s you. At fourteen you possess a keen sense of self, of your sexual identity and your compassion and empathy for others who are less fortunate than you. Activists simply don’t know what’s coming down the pipe once you really get going. Your fearlessness, your sense of moral obligations and duty to help your fellow man and to “make things right” are truly astounding in one so young. You give me so much hope for our future. Your mother named you aptly – Keely Sloane – Beautiful and Graceful Warrior – I can’t think of a more prophetic name than that. J.L. – my husband of 22 years and fierce defender of what I do. YOU, more than anyone, sees me wrestle with that writing tiger in the room that constantly stalks me. You, more than anyone, pushes me to do better each time I put my fingers to the keyboard. And you gave me Katya and Zorro to give me cuddles and unconditional love when I need a booster. I know you’ll stand by me no matter what life throws my way. “We’ll deal with it, together.”
Angels of Mercy has taught me so much about life. It’s given me the means to explore what institutionalized homophobia in competitive sports is all about. Not all of it, mind you, but a good part of it because it’s built on my husband’s and my experiences discovering who we are as queer men.
I have a ton of characters sitting in the wings. I have a crap more to write. I have shit to do. That’s why this isn’t a pity party. It’s a take stock of what life has given you that allows you to put that damned bag of lemons down. That’s what this is. And these people, by no means a complete list (and please, forgive me if I’ve forgot to mention you and we’ve crossed paths. I’ve been enriched by every discussion, every Facebook posting, every story you’ve ever written or topic we’ve ever debated), but what it has done is given me a long look at the great things in my life. And for that, I am grateful.
Okay, LIFE, bring that shit tomorrow and let’s do this!
Until Next Time …
– SA Collins