How I went from scared gay boy to well-rounded man

Summer reminds me of when swimming taught me to play ball with other boys.

By Mike Fleming

MY FIRST REAL-MAN EXPERIENCE of athletic glory, as well as some of my earliest fantasies, came from being on the swim team. Summer always gets me reflecting on how much it changed my little gay life.

My dad is one of those sporty “men’s men” with natural athletic ability and a head full of happy memories from basketball courts, baseball diamonds and football fields.

He never fully grasped my, um, gentler world view. I think it confounded him that I’d rather plan the next day’s school clothes and watch reruns of “Bewitched” than play outside. Just as marveled, I would sit and watch his backslapping, ball scratching and beer belting and wonder where it came from.

Think of us as Hank and Bobby Hill, only cuter.

Dad’s attempt to make me “more well rounded” by forcing Little League on me failed miserably. His insistence that we play catch and go to MLB games in summer and shoot one-on-one hoops until I got better at it just made me feel worse.

Hey now, I was good at some stuff. I could coordinate colors like nobody’s business, create elaborately themed collages, dance like a champion, roller skate backwards and write essays to beat even the snooty girl whose mom was a teacher. That bitch.

Spelling bees were preferred over dodge ball smack downs, but I would give just about anything to see the look on my dad’s face that my little brother drew so effortlessly when waterskiing or catching a football.

ALL THAT CHANGED when I started swimming and — gasp — winning. First in summer leagues, then in high school and as a registered amateur athlete, I was good, damn it.

My dad’s cheering on the sidelines was my greatest award. He positively glowed when I broke one minute in the 100-yard Breaststroke. (Yeah, a gay boy with an accomplished Breaststroke. I get it.) He actually hugged me and whooped in my ear when my team became the state Medley Relay champs.

I used the notoriety on those assholes who mocked me in my awkward days. I kept my “girlier” talents under wraps, and careful study helped me walk and talk the jock game.

I learned to get on as one of the guys. Can I get a “Hell yeah”?


Swimming counted for PE credit, so I never had to see the inside of a gymnasium again. But I didn’t have to give up locker rooms. In addition to sportsmanship, I got side benefits out of the deal: Speedos as small as we could fit. Horseplay between sets. Every body type on full exhibit.

Let’s just say that images of those guys are still with me and leave it at that.

 I know I’m not alone in this. Why else would so many profiles use the phrase ‘swimmers build”?

MY DAD WAS HERE Fourth of July weekend, and it dawned on me that we ultimately rubbed off on each other. I love the Braves. I embrae the value of teamwork. I keep my body in shape to improve all the other aspects of life.

And he picked up a few things too. Like people are people, and some of them are gay. He thinks drag queens are a wonder to behold. We talk about home ownership and hating yard work. For the Fourth, he hung out with 15 gay guys, laughed and actually had a good time at my friend’s cookout.

Of course, even after my brush with butchness, I ended up as a professional wordsmith with an eye for design. I daydream about entire episodes of “Bewitched,” and I still plan my outfits; just ask for a peek at how my boxers always match what I’m wearing.

A guy’s gotta be well rounded, after all.


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