It takes a lot of courage to announce you’re gay right before going into a business that’s ripe with homophobia. Here’s an excerpt from “Given the Circumstances” when Roger comes out to his dad and they discuss what it means to his potential NFL career. MINOR SPOILER ALERT to set the scene – this is just after Roger’s high school team has played their first game since the death of Roger’s friend and first crush, the previous quarterback:
After the team’s celebratory pizza and soda, Jacob took Roger home. As they walked in the door, Jacob asked his son into the study.
He poured him a very small glass of the Laphroaig, enough for the ritual of his son’s first drink with his dad.
They clinked glasses, two gentlemen in their wing chairs. “Congratulations, son.”
“Thanks, Dad.” Roger wasn’t and wouldn’t be a drinker, and hated the taste of the whiskey, but fulfilled the ritual by taking a sip.
“I know this was hard for you.” Jacob paused. “I know you loved that boy.”
Roger was silent. He decided to finish the drink so that the face he made would conceal his feelings.
“I’m sorry I didn’t see it before. And,” he swallowed, his voice breaking, “I’m sorry you didn’t think you could come to me with this.”
“Oh, Dad,” Roger said, shot through with regret. “Oh, shit, I’m sorry.” He got up and hugged his father, who returned it with fervor. “I didn’t want…I didn’t want to burden you.” He paused, never one to hide from the truth of the matter. “I didn’t want it to be true. If it just went away, I didn’t have to say anything.”
“Well, ‘burdening’ me is what fatherhood is all about. And the only burden I’m carrying is seeing you in pain.”
Roger nodded. He was too old to hug his dad for long, and returned to his chair. “I’m gay.” Saying it out loud was a relief. It was over! The hiding, the worrying, at least here, at home.
“Well, you’re not the only one in the world.”
Roger laughed. “It feels like it right now.” He sobered. “I’m the only one who plays football, though.”
Jacob snorted. “I doubt that. All those men grabbing ass, snapping each other with towels, showering together, wrestling each other to the ground? You gonna tell me there’s nothing gay about that?”
“Ha. Yeah, but that’s why they’re so freaked out about the gayness, right? Because it’s all so…”
“Full of repressed homoeroticism.”
“Yeah, that. So homoerotic that if any of them broke the rules and really were homo, it would spoil the fun.”
“I’ve been doing some reading. I feel embarrassed, as a historian, that I’ve ignored a big slice of history this long. But when I read about gay culture, about what it’s been like for people to be in the closet, well, you already know, it’s corrosive to your soul, keeping a piece of yourself that big to yourself.”
Roger nodded. “Yeah. But…I want to play football. I mean, for a living. I’m good at it, you know? Really good.” It hit him only as he said it out loud that it was all true.
“Yeah, you are. And you can. But, you know, you’ll have to stay in the closet. I wish I could tell you that you’ll be the, I don’t know, gay Jackie Robinson, someone so talented they just can’t ignore you no matter how prejudiced they are. And maybe ten, twenty years from now, that’ll be possible. But now? It’s not happening.”
Roger thought about it for a moment. “But football is about sacrifice. I’ve given up half my social life for it, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke pot, I don’t eat fast food, well, other than In-N-Out! And, God, it’s weird to say it to my Dad, but…I don’t have a sex life anyway.” He blushed. “I’m a virgin, gay and straight.”
Jacob smiled. “Your mother and I were virgins. Not out of prudery or religion, we just…were. We were…waiting. For someone to come along. The someone.”
“I know. And that’s what I want. I want it to be…magic.”
“I wish you’d known your mother.”
“I found your old videotapes,” Roger admitted. “You guys’ wedding, your vacation movies. I watch them sometimes, when you’re not home.” Roger thought of his mother now, her Julia Roberts-like cackling laugh, her Cher impersonation, the crazy grin on her face, the sardonic sense of humor that Roger had inherited. And the look on his Dad’s face, when he didn’t know the camera was on it, a look of helplessness, like he’d been hit by a truck every time he looked at her, the unbelievable unbearable love he had for her.
Jacob sighed. “I should have showed you those, long ago. I just…it still hurts, even now.”
“I bet. I could see it, what you guys had. I want that. Nothing less. And if I have to wait till I’m 30 and my NFL career is over, well, that’s not so bad.”
“What are you going to do in college? When everyone else is…active?”
Roger grinned. “I’ll just have to date a nice lesbian.”