& So It Begins…

… Football season, that is. For those of you who don’t live in Wisconsin or in some other place where football is de rigeur, I’m not sure you can understand exactly how awesome a beast football fandom is. I manged to avoid it for 40 years of my life, happily. I’ve never liked the violence of football; I’ve never been comfortable in a room where people are yelling violent things at a TV screen. It’s just not my cup of tea, & never has been. That’s not to say that I don’t attend Superbowl parties – I do, and always have, because the ads and the Half-Time show are entertaining – and I’ve certainly decided to watch with friends who love the game but didn’t have anyone else to watch with. I know how the game works, for the most part, or did: I used to play football, tomboy that I was.

I’m glad that it gives some people joy & camaraderie. The Packers, for instance, are actually owned by the people of Wisconsin, which I think is a damned cool thing. There is something to be said for a sport that helps people bond. There’s a lot of to be said for the lessons of winning and losing graciously, and learning how to put ego aside for the sake of a group effort.

But I am still a Gender Studies professor, and it’s nearly impossible for me to shut my critical eye. It’s not that I don’t have guilty pleasures – porn is certainly one of them – that I have conscientious qualms about enjoying. But I can’t say I partake in anything so mainstream, so culturally-validated, so intensely insisted upon. And I certainly don’t insist that anyone else who might have objections to porn like the stuff in order to hang out with me.

People might assume – because of who I am, because of what I do – that I’m somehow immune to feeling left out. I’m not. Since I think a lot too about bullying, and about how queer kids are often made to feel like they don’t fit in, I’ve been paying close attention to the things that make me feel both lonely and isolated here. I’ve considered doing an “It Gets Better” video, but this past year was not one that made me feel like it does. No, in new, acute ways, even as an adult, even if you’re known as a bit of a firebrand, a crank, or eccentric in whatever way, standing down peer pressure is still difficult. Sometimes it taxes me in ways that sadden me; I would have expected, by now, not to feel that kind of sting. But I do. I wish I didn’t.

What I’ve been thinking about recently is how much my queerness has always been about being an outsider, an outcast if you will. The epitaph on Oscar Wilde’s headstone is taken from his Ballad of Reading Gaol, and reads:

And alien tears will fill for him
Pity’s long-broken urn,
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn.

And so I start a new football season in mourning, ironic as the case may be, for a man who really loved football, but who, in his turn, loved his outcast daughter. But when it comes down to it, I realize that I’ve put my reflexive “I prefer not to” to good use in my life, whether that’s as a political person, or as a writer, even if and when it has also caused me some pain. I would like to think that those who have been outsiders at some point in their own lives understand how hard it can be for those of us who are not fitting in for one reason or another, and I hope – I aspire – to be more like my father, whose favorite expression was “That’s why they make red cars & blue cars.” Indeed. Except in Wisconsin, where during football season, all the cars are yellow & green.

But with that, here’s hoping Packers fans get to see their team win again, and that their victories bring them all a great deal of joy. My dislike of football isn’t a judgment, or a criticism. I just… prefer not to. Feel free to join me, no matter where you live, in flexing that stubborn muscle, but please don’t tell me that you don’t like football because you’re a woman now, or because only the unwashed masses like sports. I don’t like football because it’s too violent – not because I’m female – and plenty of intelligent, conscientious & interesting people like sports.