Tom Cameron's Outing
It was Saturday, May 9, when Tom Cameron’s world turned upside down. His world was a fairly comfortable one, living in an upscale neighborhood, attending a private school, and with a father who pulled down a pretty hefty salary. He never lacked anything money could buy. He really did not want to cause trouble. It was all caused by an unusual spell of honesty on his part, because Tom was often not totally honest, with himself, or with others. But he had been struggling with his problem for months, and decided he had to do something or he would go crazy. If he had planned what he was going to do, he would have enquired into his father’s opinions more carefully first. But, like most fifteen year olds, he plunged in without thinking it through. And so, over lunch with his father, he decided to go ahead.
They were eating an early lunch because Tom had a soccer match that afternoon. His school, Excelsior Academy, was playing Baltimore High, a team visiting from Clifton, and like Excelsior was one of the few schools that played soccer during the spring semester. Both Tom and his father were avid soccer fans. He had been playing since he was a toddler, and his father was his biggest booster. It was this which emboldened Tom to make his announcement.
“Dad, there’s something that’s been on my mind lately, and I need to tell you.”
“Sure, Son. You know I’m always here for you. I’m real proud of my star athlete,” Mr. Cameron replied.
“This is not easy, but I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. I hope you won’t be too disappointed in me,” Tom said.
“Nonsense. No way could I be disappointed in a son who was the outstanding player on the soccer field,” his father replied.
“Well, thanks, Dad. It’s ... it’s like this. I’m gay,” Tom forced out.
“You’re what?” his father asked in astonishment.
“Gay, Dad. I’m gay. I really thought about ....”
“You’re joking, right? That’s not funny, Tom,” Mr. Cameron said, his voice growing harsh.
“No, Dad, I’m not joking. I thought about it a lot for over a year. It’s true. I’m gay,” Tom insisted, even though he was having second thoughts about the wisdom of coming out to his father.
“Get the hell out of here! I won’t have a queer son! Go somewhere and get that shit out of your head, or never show your face around here again!” the elder Cameron shouted.
“Dad, I ....”
“Out! Move it! I don’t want to see you until you get straight, Boy!”
Reluctantly, and with tears streaming down his face, Tom began to move. He didn’t know what he would do. He was only 15. Where would he go? He made his way quickly to his room, and stuffed some clothing, whatever cash he had, and a few other items into his backpack, along with his soccer gear, and made his way back downstairs. Soccer! How could he get to the match without his dad? He approached the kitchen to ask about that, and heard his father continuing to rage about queers and cocksuckers. But then he heard something else, his younger brother’s voice. Tom and Ben never did get along.
“I told you, Dad. I told you he was queer,” Ben was saying.
When he heard that, he turned away. He went outside, and called a buddy on the team, asking for a ride. His buddy, Chad, lived less than a mile away, so Tom just said something came up, and his father would not be able to take him to the match.
A few minutes later, his friend’s family car pulled into the drive, and Tom ran out and got in, tossing his backpack on the floor. He greeted Chad and his mother with thanks.
“My goodness,” Chad’s mother, who was driving them to the school, exclaimed. “It must have been some kind of emergency. Your father is such an avid soccer fan, I can’t remember Charlie missing a match in years.”
“Yes, Ma’am. Something came up over lunch,” Tom noncommittally replied.
That caused Chad to make retching sounds, as though something were “coming up” in a different sense. Tom ignored him. Chad’s mother kept asking questions, living up to expectations as one of the biggest gossips in town. But Tom simply said he did not understand it all. All he knew what his father became very agitated and told Tom he could not take him to the match. That was true, as far as it went.
When they arrived and suited out for the match, things seemed to be back to normal. There was the usual banter among the guys, and gruff encouragement from the coach. Coach Hennessy evidently felt it was really important for some reason that they win this particular match. Tom had played against Baltimore last year, when he was a freshman, and they had won. They would do it again this year, he confidently predicted, to the cheers of his teammates.
After their pep talk, they all ran out onto the playing field to the cheers of the small crowd assembled to watch. Soccer was not the most popular sport, and spring soccer definitely came in way down on a lot of people’s list of priorities. They could hear the cheers of a much larger crowd on the baseball diamond on a different part of the grounds. But they were dedicated, and no one more than Tom Cameron. They would win!
During the first half, Tom played brilliantly. He put his conflict with his father aside, buried under a vague hope that it would all blow over, and played his best. He scored twice, the only scores on either side in the first half. He also was quite instrumental in preventing the other side from scoring. In some ways, it was a typical match for Tom, who was an outstanding soccer player in his age bracket, but he seemed to be in top form that afternoon.
As they broke for the half, Tom thought he saw his father in the stands. Maybe Dad thought about it, and realized that Tom was still Tom. Maybe, as he hoped, it was all blowing over. After the match, they would get together. His dad would tell him how great he played, and they would just forget about the blow-up at lunch time.
They were in the dressing room, engaging in the usual amount of nonsense, when Coach Hennessey came in. It was clear from the moment he entered that Coach was angry about something, but they were winning, so no one knew what it could be.
“Okay! Listen up!” Coach commanded.
The boys stopped horsing around and gave him their attention. They knew better than to goof off when Coach was upset.
“I just was given some very disturbing news,” Coach said. “Just before we broke, Mr. Cameron spoke to me.”
Oh, oh, Tom thought. This does not sound good.
“Mr. Cameron informed me that at lunch today, his son, Tom, declared that he was a fucking queer!” Coach shouted, pointing toward Tom.
All eyes were focused on Tom. He felt very vulnerable. The looks were not friendly, not understanding at all.
“I have always prided myself on having a real man’s team, here,” Coach continued. “One of the things we learn is what it means to be a man. To stand up for true manhood. To be morally straight. One of the things I thought we all knew was you can’t be a real man and be a cocksucking queer. What do you guys say? Can we have a queer on the team?”
It began with Lou Avery, of course. He was the biggest bully in the school. “No way, Coach! That’s disgusting! I say toss the little fairy out on his ass! I want no part of him!”
Others began to chime in. To his credit, Tom’s friend Chad protested, “But Tom is our best player. He’s the only one who scored today.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Dale Ensor, captain of the team, declared. “Better loose a match than put up with a queer teammate. How can he be one of us? He’s probably been in there scoping us out in the showers. Makes my skin crawl.”
Chad started to say something else, but was cut off by the coach.
“I think the team have spoken,” Coach Hennessey said. “Tom, you’re off the team. Now. Get the hell out of here and don’t come back.”
“But I ....”
“No buts. Now!” Coach commanded, pointing to the door. “Before something bad happens for which I will not be responsible.”
Some of the other guys, guys Tom had played with all year, looked like they were ready to make “something bad” happen.
Tom grabbed his backpack and his clothes, and started out.
“Wait!” Coach Hennessey commanded. Tom paused in the doorway, a glimmer of hope in his heart. Coach approached, and grabbed around Tom’s neck. He thought the coach was going to strangle him, but instead Coach grasped the neck of the team t shirt that all the guys wore. He gave it a great jerk, and tore it from top to bottom. Roughly, he tore the rags of the team shirt from Tom’s back. “No fag is going around wearing my team’s logo,” Coach declared. The guys cheered.
Leaving the dressing room, carrying his backpack and clothes, stripped to the waist, Tom moved in a fog. He was not sure where he was going, or what would happen next. He took a deep breath, set the backpack down, and stuffed his clothes in the front pocket. Without intending it, he found himself back on the playing field, the break just about over. The visiting team emerged from their dressing room, and ran to their benches, where they gathered around their coach. Then, it came to Tom just why beating this particular team was so important to Coach. He remembered hearing him talk last year about there being a fag, a queer on the opposing team. Considering Coach’s reaction to his father’s revelation, Tom had no doubt why it was so important that this particular team be defeated.
Suddenly in the throes of a spirit he did not recognize, a spirit of throwing all caution to the wind and taking a tremendous chance, Tom began to trot across the field towards the other team. He was quite a spectacle, crossing from one side to the other, carrying a backpack, and stripped to the waist. Somehow, he managed to be graceful at the same time. He was a prime athlete, and ran like one, even at a trot.
The Baltimore High team noticed his approach. They ended their huddle and watched Tom jog to their side of the field. Well before he was among them, despite the absence of his team shirt with its identifying number, they knew who he was. He had scored all the points in the game so far, outmanoeuvered several of them that afternoon, and sent two of them sprawling to the earth. As he approached the Baltimore team was silent, waiting to see what this was all about. To a large extent, so also were the crowds in the stands.
As he ran right into the center of the Baltimore team, Tom took a deep breath, and remembered the words of Caesar as he crossed the Rubicon: Aelia jucta est, the die is cast. He had burned his bridges like Publius Horatius at the Tiber. To a curious bunch of boys and their coach, Tom declared, “My coach and my teammates told me to get out because they found out I’m gay. Can I sit with you guys?”
“You mean you’re not playing the rest of the game?” George Rameriz asked.
Tom sighed. “Afraid not.”
The Baltimore team cheered. Coach Harry Roberts said to Tom, “You know we can’t allow you to play for us, as you’re not a student at Baltimore High School, but you’re more than welcome to sit with us.”
Carl Hillebrand, the captain of the Baltimore team, handed Tom a shirt with the Baltimore logo. “Here. Wouldn’t want you catching cold.” Even though it was a very warm May day, Tom grinned and donned the shirt.
In the minute or two before play resumed, Coach Roberts motioned for Brandon Dowling to join them. Of course, his partner Chris Todd also came down from the stands. Coach told the two, “Tom evidently has been kicked off of his team because he’s gay. Talk to him, and see what you can find out. I’ve got to coach the second half.”
Neither Brandon nor Chris were on the team, but they were avid supporters who had made the trip to today’s match, and were openly gay partners, Brandon in college, and Chris still in high school. They attempted to get Tom to sit with them in the stands, but he wanted to remain on the bench with the Baltimore team, close to the play. What little they were able to gather was that he had not only been rejected by his team, but also by his father. They told Tom they would talk to him further after the game.
In the second half, without Tom, the Excelsior Academy team sucked. They did not seem to have any cohesion, any idea of why they were on the field. Encouraged by the absence of the best player from the home team, the visitors from Baltimore High began to rack up some points. Only five minutes into the second half Carl Hillebrand scored, making it a 2-1 match. Just two minutes later he scored a second time, tying the score. Finally Tom’s former teammates were shocked into paying attention to something besides Tom sitting on the opponent’s bench. Tom had been very aware of them glaring at him. He had also seen his father and his brother Ben sitting, stone faced, watching Excelsior lose their lead without him. It was a while before there was another score, but Baltimore efficiently kept their opponents from scoring as well. Then, George Ramirez found a hole, and got the ball past Excelsior’s goalkeeper, to give Baltimore High the lead at 3-2. Things remained at this point until just seconds before the whistle, when Jon Webb faked the left fullback, and scored the final goal for Baltimore, sealing their triumph. The match ended with a visitor victory, 4-2.
Grudgingly, Dale Ensor, the home captain, came over to congratulate Carl on the Baltimore victory. As he did, he said, “Be careful of Tom. He’s queer.”
Carl replied, “He told us he was gay when he came over. It’s not catching.”
Usually the losing coach would also come over to congratulate the winning coach. On this occasion, Tom had watched Coach Hennessey storm into the Excelsior locker room as soon as time ran out, and the match ended.
Tom peered into the stands, but his father and brother were nowhere to be seen.
After checking with Coach Roberts to make sure it was okay, Tom went into the visitor locker room so he could shower and change. There was a lot of badinage among the Baltimore guys, and Tom more or less fit in. It was the same sort of thing every team experienced after a match: comments on each other’s playing. some ribbing of those who had the misfortune to flub up, pats on the back of those who did well. Several of the guys spoke to Tom, who showered and was changing into his street clothes. They were obviously curious, but not hostile. That was a totally new experience for Tom. All these guys knew he had played on the opposing team. He had scored two points against them. All these guys knew he was gay. He had made the announcement when he trotted into their midst at the end of the break. Yet, there was no animosity, only curiosity.
Dressed, Tom left the locker room. For what? After finding that his father was the cause of his outing to his teammates, Tom no longer harbored hopes of it simply being an unpleasant episode at lunch. He was truly ejected from the family home. Where would he go from here? Those he thought were his friends were also his teammates, and they had rejected him as well. Then, as he emerged into the sunlight, he saw Brandon and Chris waiting for him.
“Hi, Tom,” Brandon said. “How you doing?”
“Okay so far, but after this, I don’t know,” Tom replied.
“I believe you said earlier that your family had rejected you as well as your team,” Brandon pursued the topic.
“Yeah. I came out to my dad at lunch, and he blew up. Told me to get out of the house and not show my face around there again until I changed my mind about being gay. I was hoping it would blow over, but he’s the one who told Coach Hennessey that I’m gay, and because Coach is a major homophobe, that got me tossed off the team. So now I have no one and nowhere to go” Tom said with a catch in his voice.
“Not so,” Chris objected. “You have us. We had a lot easier time with our families, but we know what it’s like. For now, why not come with us?”
Tom grinned. What was that line from The Sound of Music? When a door closes, a window opens somewhere? Something like that. He had nothing to lose. “Great! Thanks, guys. At least, I won’t be sleeping on a park bench tonight.”
“We know some lawyers. I don’t think your father can just toss you out like that. But in any case, my dad and I are pretty well off. We can afford to take in a cute stray until he’s on his feet again. Welcome to our place,” Brandon said as Tom blushed a bright red because of the ‘cute’ comment.
As they prepared to leave, Coach Roberts stopped them. “Tom, it’s too late in the school year now, but if you’re in Clifton when the fall season begins and can attend Baltimore High, there’s a place for you on our team.”
Tom looked to Brandon and Chris, who nodded approval. “Thank you, Coach Roberts. I appreciate the offer, and I think there’s a good chance of that happening. A real good chance.”
And so a new life began for Tom Cameron, one without hiding and pretending.