So in honor of National Coming Out Day (that’s October 11, I learned this year), I was telling y’all about our catcher in high school, who came out at the start of baseball season our junior year. He gave everyone a lot to think about, and I went to Meemaw to see what she had to say about it. We had a long talk, but I kinda ended up with more questions than I started out with.
I was still thinking about Johnny at dinner that night so I asked Dad if we could have a talk after we finished eating. He came to my room and sat down like he usually does in the recliner we moved into to my room after we got new recliners for the family room.
“What’s up?,” he asked.
I told him about Johnny and how confused I was.
“I’m glad you’re confused. It shows you’re thinking about it,” Dad said.
I was expecting for Dad – Sgt. Wesson Block and good Christian – to come out against Johnny and gay people. I was totally wrong.
“You owe your friend all the respect in the world,” he said. “He had the courage to come out in front of a roomful of jocks. That takes a lot of guts. Probably more guts that you got, buddy boy. He rose to his challenge…now you have to rise to your challenge, which is accepting him.”
“So you don’t think there’s anything wrong with being gay? I mean, the Bible…it got me and Meemaw all mixed up.” I was even thinking of calling up Reverend and asking him about how he saw things.
“It’s just how some people are. That’s how the Lord made them. I don’t think anyone knows why he made them that way – at least not yet – but the Good Lord doesn’t need to explain Himself to us.”
I was surprised that Dad was so certain when me and Meemaw had been so confused. I realized later on that he must have given the question a lot of thought. He must have had a Johnny Porter in his life, maybe even in the army.
“So what you do tomorrow is go up to your friend and tell him you support him 100%, you’re proud of him for coming out…and that you’ll beat up anyone who makes fun of him for being gay.”
“Like I used to with Turner,” I said, with a laugh.
“Not exactly. You fought those kids because they were making fun of your buddy, not because you were standing up for someone who was gay. It’ll be different when you get into a fight because someone called Johnny a ‘faggot’ and you’ll be standing for his right to be what he is.
“And, oh yeah, try not to ever use that word, young man.”
(I know Dad’s not gonna like it that I use the word so often in this post, but I couldn’t figure out any other way to write it. Please trust me when I tell y’all I don’t use it ordinarily.)
I reckoned Dad was right…and not just about not using that word. I mean, we’d say things like “you were batting like a faggot” and “throw me the ball next time, you fuckin faggot” a lot. It was just how we talked in the locker room. But I was asking myself now how that might have made Johnny feel. We didn’t mean it to be anti-gay, at least I think we didn’t. It was just one way we gave each other shit – part of team bonding. Except maybe it made Johnny feel bad…and, like I thought, afraid of telling us that he was gay.
In any case, what Dad said made sense. I even talked to Meemaw about it again on the phone that night…and she agreed about what Dad said about the Lord making gay people gay for a reason that it wasn’t our business to understand.
So I did what Dad said I should do. The next morning I caught up with Johnny in the hall between periods. Although we would have met at practice, I wanted to talk to him before we got to the locker room. I told him that it was a really brave thing for him to tell all of us he was gay…and that I was behind him 100%.
“You’re still my friend, and I don’t see why anything should change that. Oh yeah – my Dad said I should tell you that you can count on me if you need anyone beaten up for calling you a faggot or anything.”
Johnny laughed. “I’ll remember that. But school policy is that I’m supposed to tell a teacher if that happens.”
“That would be sooooo gay, man,” I said. This was before I discovered the word ‘gayass’ lol. Then I thought I said something I shouldn’t have. But it was cool: Johnny broke out laughing.
At lunch I told Gardner and Turner what Dad said. Turner was convinced: he’d been called gay often enough to understand what Johnny might be going through.
“Just don’t get in too much trouble for getting in fights to defend him,” he said. Remember that time I mentioned where the cops picked me up for getting into a fight? That was over some total asshole from another school calling Turner a faggot
Gardner was less easily convinced by Dad’s views on the subject. He was struggling hard with his religious feelings, and those feelings told him that what Johnny was doing was wrong and that he was going to go to hell for it. He was also still real bothered by the idea of having to get undressed in front of someone gay…although he wasn’t the only dude on the team who felt like that. Before changing for practice that afternoon, several guys asked to have their lockers moved to somewhere where Johnny couldn’t see them. It was a jerkoffass thing for them to do, but we were at a jerkoffass age still and this was a big shock to everyone. It would have been great if people could have joked about the changing thing…but we were too young and too unprepared for that.
It wasn’t until Hickory that I found a team that was willing to make fun of our gay catcher when it came to getting undressed. I’ll admit I never said it, but we did have a pretty out there outfielder who sometimes flashed our catcher and said something like “like what you see, big boy? – admire it all you want, but you ain’t gonna get it!”. Maybe it’s something he learned at a strip club lol.
Mostly the team was cool with Johnny being gay. It wasn’t perfect, but we got used to it, and, after a while, most of us got back to the feeling that Johnny was one of the guys again. The coach had a hard time getting us to stop using the word ‘faggot’ in the locker room, and there were a few boys who kinda were homophobic assholes. I’m glad to say that Johnny took care of the loudest of them one day, and that was the end of that. None of those guys wanted it getting out that they’d gotten their ass beaten by a faggot lol.
The biggest problems were from the guys who came from very religious homes, like Gardner and our star pitcher Daniel, whose parents were very serious Evangelical Christians. Their parents and their churches, going from what the Bible has to tell us, taught them from an early age that homosexuality was a sin, and Gardner and Daniel had a very, very hard time trying to reconcile having a gay friend with the belief that he was doing something against God’s Will and that he was going to go to hell for it. It’s a lot for a 17 year old kid to try and wrap his mind around – I had to do it myself, but I had a lot of help from Dad and Meemaw and a church that was a lot more tolerant than the ones Gardner and Daniel went to. It took that whole junior year season and then some for Daniel and Johnny to rediscover their pitcher/catcher chemistry. They did get it back, however, and it was a big part of the amazing season we had my senior year at Maryvile High.
Word got out to the other teams we played during the season, and we got shit from some of their more jerkoffass players. I heard some really stupid comments about Johnny from guys in the field with a lead off 2nd, and a couple times wanted to do some attitude adjusting. But Johnny told all of us not to make trouble with jerkoffs like that, so I kept my hand in my glove.
Maybe the best part of the story is that Johnny ended up setting a dang good example for other gay guys who played sports in our school. Ok, so no one on the football team came out…but there was a swimmer, a basketball player and a soccer player who did come out to their teammates the year after Johnny came out to us. I reckon maybe they’d have done it on their own, but the fact that Johnny came out and it wasn’t the end of the world definitely influenced them to make their own courageous decisions.
Somebody recently asked me about the word ‘jerkoff’ and why do I use it so often? It actually goes back to Johnny Porter. Once we knew we had a gay guy in the locker room, the coach set an automatic punishment of 50 push-ups for anyone who used the word ‘faggot’. It was hard getting out of the habit of saying shit like ‘could you maybe once not throw like a faggot?’, but all the push-ups were getting seriously annoying. Finally it was Dean, the 1st baseman who got Johnny to come out in the first place, who came up with the solution: every time we wanted to say ‘faggot’ we should say ‘jerkoff’ instead. We actually had a team meeting about it, and agreed to switch words (although Johnny pointed out that guys who jerked off might be insulted by the new word lol.) I know we didn’t invent ‘jerkoff’, but it saved us a lot of push-ups, and, like y’all can tell, I still use it a lot ten years later.
It’s a great word. What else are you gonna call a dude who’s almost an asshole, but not entirely one yet lol?