During my trip to the Bay Area a few weeks ago, I was part of an experience that reinforced something that is so valuable to me: acceptance.
While I was there, I stayed with Rich and Chris, my “host dads” from earlier this year when I was playing for the San Francisco Giants’ Single-A San Jose club. Rich and Chris describe their home as a revolving door, meaning that an impromptu visit from me was no big deal. But what was a big deal was our plan to head up to San Francisco to attend the Folsom Street Fair — something I had committed to before I even bothered to Google it.
And so, before we continue, allow me to borrow from Wikipedia: “Folsom Street Fair (FSF) is an annual BDSM and leather subculture street fair, held in September, that caps San Francisco’s ‘Leather Pride Week.’ The Folsom Street Fair, sometimes simply referred to as ‘Folsom,’ takes place on Folsom Street between 8th and 13th Streets, in San Francisco’s South of Market district.”
I was nervous.
It helped, of course, that we’d be meeting up with my brother Frankie, a truly proud gay man who lives in San Francisco and happens to be a tad more worldly than I am. You may remember a post I wrote about him earlier this year, titled “Redefining Sportsmanship.”
But, yeah, I was still nervous.
In preparing for our big Folsom adventure, Chris wore lederhosen and Rich climbed into the catcher’s gear I used this past season. I didn’t pack anything to wear for myself — that is, not for Folsom — so Rich loaned me a pair of purple boy shorts with drawstrings. I hadn’t worn something that revealing since this Ninja Turtle/diaper costume from back in the day:
Having arrived in San Francisco, I was wearing a Ninja Turtles t-shirt (yes, I still wear Ninja Turtles) and black Nike shorts (over the purple boy shorts) during the walk to Folsom from where we had parked. When we got through the donation section, it was time to unveil our outfits.
Yes. It . . . was . . . time.
Problem was, I just stood there making every excuse possible to not remove the black Nike shorts. I mentioned something about chaffing thighs. I broke out the old line about bad tan lines. You get the idea.
Rich and Chris kindly pointed out that this was my choice but added that nobody would be judging me. Not here. Not at Folsom. They had said as much during the drive from San Jose to San Francisco, pointing out that the best thing about Folsom is that people can be themselves.
And I asked myself: What was I afraid of?
I was with two close friends, surrounded by thousands of people whose outfits were far more revealing than what was lurking under my black Nike shorts.
To borrow from an old front-office baseball term, my fear was given its unconditional release. I completely forgot about the purple shorts when Rich and Chris introduced me to their friend Pete and his girlfriend. Pete was wearing basically the same thing I was wearing (under the black Nike shorts), and he was owning it. His willingness to be a part of all this made it easier for me to do the same.
Frankie showed up later, and we all went to the dance floor at the end of Folsom Street where the DJ did his thing on top of a bus that had a huge sheep sculpture exterior. (They called it the BAAAHS, of course. Ha.) We had a blast, and when it ended our group started a “one more song” chant.
A ton of people with varying interests were represented at Folsom, like leather and bondage enthusiasts and LGBT activists like the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. No guilt. No scrutiny. No tsk-tsking. The Folsom Street Fair has a culture of acceptance, and I’m proud to say that the world of professional baseball — my world — is working to acquire a similar culture. But maybe without the purple boy shorts. Or maybe with them. Whatever.
I’m not sure if the purple shorts would make a difference, because when I’m on the diamond, my butt gets slapped as often as it got slapped at Folsom. And if I’m seeing the ball well, even more often.
During this past baseball season, we saw David Denson, a first baseman/outfielder in the Milwaukee Brewers’ farm system, become the first openly gay active player for a Major League Baseball-affiliated minor-league team. He was able to do so with the help of Billy Bean, Major League Baseball’s Ambassador of Inclusion.
At the end of this season, Billy Bean stated, “I am confident that we are creating a culture of acceptance across baseball. The ultimate goal is to make inclusion second nature.”
Creating a culture of acceptance is not about changing people’s beliefs. It’s about getting people to chill a little and to stop sweating the small stuff. They don’t have to agree with everything. And they don’t need to be particularly interested in, say, Gay Pride. But I don’t think it’s asking too much for them to smile as the parade goes by.
At Folsom, the side streets are joyfully filled with people expressing themselves. You don’t have to enjoy what they enjoy. Their opinions needn’t be your opinions. But it’s easy to let down your hair a little and allow their fun to be your fun.
Yes, I was worried about taking off the black Nike shorts to reveal shorts that were a little shorter, and a different color. And a little tighter. OK, a lot tighter. But I guess it’s nothing compared with what these Folsom-goers must have gone through in their own very real quest for acceptance.