Wednesday, March 30, 2011

March 30

Billy Bean: Gay Baseball Player 

Forty-six year old Billy Bean was a high-scoring outfielder in a baseball career that lasted from 1987-1995. He played for the Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres. When he joined the Detroit Tigers in 1987, he tied a MLB record with four hits in his first major league game.

He acknowledged that he was gay in a front page story in the New York Times in 1999. Bean went on to write a book, “Going the Other Way: Lessons from a life in and out of Major League Baseball.” Bean is only the second former major league player to reveal his homosexuality; the late Los Angeles Dodger and Oakland Athletic Glenn Burke is the other.

When Bean left behind his life as a professional baseball player, he let go of a dream he had pursued since childhood. But his life as a closeted gay man created so much stress that he chose to give up his career. As a closeted player (not even his agent knew he was gay), he had divorced his wife and secretly moved in with his lover, Sam. When Sam died of AIDS, Bean was so frightened of his secret being revealed that he didn't attend his lover's funeral, a tragic decision that ultimately led to his coming out. He became the center of attention of a gay and lesbian community looking for ways to break down barriers of homophobia in sports. Bean, however, was blunt about how strong that barrier remains – he doesn't foresee any professional baseball player coming out while continuing to play.

He says of his book, "This is not a sad story about a victim of homophobia, or baseball mistreating me. It's about what it's like to live in the closet and try to realize a dream under those restrictions." Throughout the book Bean also reveals his love of the sport, while exploring some of the darker side of baseball, especially the humiliation of being sent to the minors. It is a tale of self denial turned around into self acceptance.

Bean now has a successful career in real estate in Miami, Florida. He is also a board member of the Gay and Lesbian Athletics Foundation.

Review by Brad Ausmus (all-star catcher, Houston Astros):

"Millions of American boys dream of playing Major League Baseball. Just when Billy Bean's dream was coming true, self-realization and tragedy came crashing down on him. Through it all, he had a remarkable will and the mental fortitude to withstand both the nightly pressures of playing in front of 35,000 fans and living a secret 'forbidden' life. In the end, this gut-wrenching story is an amazing triumph of character over consequences. Billy Bean is an inspiration."

280 pages. Da Capo Press (2003).

Monday, March 28, 2011

March 28

World's Oldest Sporting Festival

Bet you can’t name the oldest continuous sporting festival in the world.

OK, I win – unless you guessed Yaǧli Güreş, or Turkish Oil Wrestling, the national sport of Turkey. It has received a nod from Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) as one of 46 cultural practices from around the world deemed to be part of an “intangible cultural heritage of humanity.”

The Kirkpinar oil wrestling festival in Edirne, Turkey, takes place annually to celebrate a tradition created 650 years ago during the Ottoman Empire; this year’s event will take place July 4-10. Men don leather pants called a kisbet and douse each other thoroughly with olive oil to grapple competitively in a highly ritualized multi-day festival. Contestants, ages 12-40, wear ONLY a pair of calf length tooled leather pants – they wrestle shirtless with no shoes, underwear, or protective headgear. Metal brads sometimes adorn the waist of the back of the trousers, spelling out the name, wrestling club or place name of the competitor. Participants wrestle outdoors one-on-one on a surface of grass.

Wrestlers oil one another prior to matches as a demonstration of balance and mutual respect. If a younger man should defeat an older man, he kisses the latter's hand (a sign of respect for elders in Turkey). There is a 30-minute time limit to determine a winner, and afterward the opponents embrace. The winner moves on to the next level, with little time to rest. The level of respect the opponents have for each other is astonishing. Often winner and loser will walk off the field together arm in arm. If one fighter is injured and a stretcher crew is unavailable, his opponent will assist him off the field.

One way matches may be won is by achieving an effective hold of the kisbet. The wrestler aims to control his opponent by inserting his arm into his opponent’s kisbet (often up to the armpit), although he may not grab his opponent’s testicles or invade his rectum. Occasionally the kispet is yanked so far below the hips that the fighter being held cannot rise without exposing himself; having lost his pants, he also loses the match.

I’m not making this up – have a look at the photos. Then have a second, more lingering look, if you get my drift.

Resting between matches (it's important!)

Wow. One you've collected yourself, scroll on down to view today's tan lines.

OK. Something tells me your mind is still on those Turkish wrestlers. Here's a bonus video showing how the contestants help oil each other - inside and out, not to miss a spot.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

March 27

Gandhi’s gay lover: Hermann Kallenbach

Bodybuilder pal Kallenbach, on front row with hat on his knee, is seated next to Gandhi in a photo taken at a political reception in Durban, South Africa.

Hermann Kallenbach (1871–1945) was a South African architect who was best known for his close association with Mahatma Gandhi (Gandhi’s name was Mohandas – Mahatma is an honorific title). Kallenbach was a German-Jewish bodybuilder who moved to South Africa in 1896. He met Gandhi (who was then working as a lawyer in South Africa) in 1904 in a vegetarian restaurant and soon thereafter became the love of his life. In fact, Gandhi left his wife for Kallenbach in 1908.

Two years later Kallenbach, a rich man, donated to Gandhi a thousand acre farm near Johannesburg. The property was used to run Gandhi's famous "Tolstoy Farm" that housed the families of satyagrahis (those who countered evil by non-violent means). Abandoning the life of a wealthy, sport-loving bachelor, Kallenbach adopted a simple lifestyle, vegetarian diet and the equality politics of Gandhi. In Gandhi’s autobiography he frequently referred to Kallenbach as his “soulmate,” a euphemism if ever there were one. Gandhi’s personal life was rife with hypocrisy.

Gandhi wrote to Kallenbach that Kallenbach’s was the “only” portrait in his bedroom, and that he placed it prominently opposite the bed. “You have completely taken possession of my body,” Gandhi wrote in a letter. He made Kallenbach promise not to look lustfully upon any woman, and the two pledged undying love to each other “as the world has not yet seen.”    

Gandhi required members of his ashram to be celibate, even married couples. Gandhi said: 'I cannot imagine a thing as ugly as the intercourse of men and women." He bragged that he was capable of “lying naked with naked women, however beautiful they may be, without being in any manner whatsoever sexually excited.”Gandhi also endeavored to bring his "feminine" side to the surface and extolled androgeny.

Right. So that explains it.

When Gandhi returned to India in 1915, Kallenbach was unable to get permission to travel to India, since England and Germany were at war. Even so, Gandhi never gave up hoping to get him back into his arms. Decades later Gandhi continued to write impassioned letters to Kallenbach, stating that “you are always before my mind’s eye.” Kallenbach reunited with Gandhi in 1936, when at last he was allowed to travel to India. He lived with Gandhi for weeks on end, and when Kallenbach became ill, Gandhi personally nursed him back to health.

Gandhi’s pet name for Kallenbach was “lower house” (to Gandhi’s “upper house”), and he signed each letter to Kallenbach with undying love.

Sounds like a “soulmate” to me.

The above details are revealed in Joseph Lelyveld’s new book about Gandhi: “Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi And His Struggle with India.” Knopf. 425 pages.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

March 26

Tigers and Devils
by Sean Kennedy

OK, let me say right up front that I never thought I would be promoting a male-male romance novel, but this one is more than worthy of recommendation. Set in Melbourne, home of Australian Rules football, it’s about a budding relationship between a football star named Declan Tyler and a gay film festival organizer, Simon. Author Sean Kennedy can write dialogue with the best of them. The book contains some of the wittiest exchanges between characters I’ve encountered, and the plot is believable (unlike most gay romances) and engaging. There’s hot gay sex, but it’s not explicit, and certainly not the focus of this story. Noteworthy is the attention given to the development of the secondary characters. Kennedy’s incisive writing manages to be laugh-out-loud funny, honest, poignant and realistic all at the same time.

Plot summary: Simon is dragged to a party by his friends (a straight couple), where he encounters a star football player (Declan Tyler). Simon was unaware that the athlete had overheard him speaking in defense of him. Declan had suffered a horrendous year of injuries, and the public was taking him to task for it. Declan follows Simon out of the party to pursue him, steals a kiss and asks to get together for coffee, to the astonishment of both Simon and his friends. The story is about the difficulty of maintaining a relationship between a closeted sports celebrity (frequent team travel and a nosy press), with an “out” professional working in the arts. Keeping Declan's homosexuality a secret from well-meaning friends and a suspicious media drives the plot.

I don’t want to go all over the top or anything, but let it be entered into the record that I read this book twice. I was sorry when I finished, because I wanted to spend more time with the characters. It is interesting to note that, aside from Simon and Declan, there are remarkably few gay characters. While there is neither a fairytale nor tragic ending, Kennedy leaves us satisfied with the realistic conclusion (not so easy to accomplish).

Sean Kennedy was born in 1975 in Melbourne, Australia, but currently lives in Perth. His writing is published by Dreamspinner Press.

Be forewarned that the print edition uses a tiny font size, and professional editing is lacking (the misuse of “further” for “farther”, “me” for “I” and so forth). The Australian lingo takes some getting used to: “lounge” for living room, for example, and colorful but heretofore unencountered phrases such as “bog off to the pub.”

363 pages. Available in paperback and Kindle editions.

Click on the link for details of purchase options: