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Queering the Baseball Playoffs

October 22nd, 2010 1 comment

It was too fabulous to be true, but there it was:

I’m sitting in a devoutly straight bar watching the Phillies-Giants game last night with a bunch of (gay) swim teammates after practice, only one of whom (with outrageous glasses, strategically dyed hair, and (unseen) toenail polish) visibly defied the establishment’s apparent conventions.

It’s a great game, and, by the seventh inning, a cautious but raucous optimism, born of equal parts fact (a 3-2 Phillies lead) and alcohol consumption, was ambient. Then came this scene, converting the (post 9/11) traditional “God Bless America” 7th-inning stretch song into an incredible, gawk-inducing spectacle:

Tammy Nelson from the San Francisco musical 'Beach Blanket Babylon' sings 'God Bless America' during the seventh inning stretch of Game 5 of the Major League Baseball NLCS playoff series between the San Francisco Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies in San Francisco, October 21, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Blake (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL ENTERTAINMENT)

That’s one Tammy Nelson, resplendent in a headdress from a reputably ageless musical revue called “Beach Blanket Babylon,” which has been playing in North San Francisco for some thirty-seven years. I’ll confess ignorance here: Neither I nor anyone else at our table had any idea who this (or the show) was, and we all thought that maybe, just maybe, the singer was in drag. Not so, as it turned out, but this is an eleven on the 1-10 Queer Image scale.

So what was the reaction from the crowd? Let’s face it, the image of someone in this kind of get-up singing this (usually dreary) iconic song is startling, no matter one’s sexual orientation. There was some laughter and a few disbelieving statements (“What the hell….?”), made even more understandable given that all we had as reference points were the visuals (the sound was either off, or simply no match for the decibel level generated by the besotted patrons). At least we had something interesting to look at. Oh, here’s a close-up of the hat itself:
Tammy Nelson from the San Francisco musical 'Beach Blanket Babylon' sings 'God Bless America' during the seventh inning stretch of Game 5 of the Major League Baseball NLCS playoff series between the San Francisco Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies in San Francisco, October 21, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Blake (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL ENTERTAINMENT IMAGES OF THE DAY)

So straight, yes: but maybe not as heteronormative/homophobic as one might have expected from an inebriated sports crowd. An obviously gay man in a strange land, an over-the-top (and I’m not just talking about the hat) queer image — and little discernible negative reaction. (For an opposing view, see this blog, where the writer testily says: “It’s God Bless America.” Take off the goddamned hat.” No, the hat is the point; a kind of celebration of a slice of America…even if not the exact slice that the author favors.)

A sign of progress? Yes, but I’m still glad that ace Roy Halladay won the game. Testing the waters in an angrier crowd might be a more dangerous experiment.

By the way: Go Phillies!