It's Tuesday night in West Hollywood and the boys and girls of summer have gathered at GYM Bar for the start of a new season of dodgeball. While the sport's big across the whole city, the West Hollywood league has become the gay social activity of the moment. As one newbie, explained it, "Everyone knows all the cute boys play dodgeball." That and Ke$ha played a season. As a thank you, one of the team's named themselves after one of her songs: "C U Next Tuesday."
A quick list of other team names: Balls Deep, Scoregasms, What Would Jesus Dodge, Power Bottoms. But this is summer season, which means a draft league: All new teams, all new players and that's what the dodgeballers have gathered for tonight. Packed into the bar, drinking beer out of plastic cups, they listen to league manager Jake Mason yell off names and affix them to a poster board of teams.
In the corner stands Perez Hilton, gossip-blogger, self-anointed celebrity and soon-to-be children's book author. Perez and I go way back. We were friends in college, though that friendship took a turn for the worse after I penned a 2006 Salon article entitled "Perez Hilton's Gay Witch Hunt" in which I accused him of being a "Savonarola in a pink pants suit" after he made the claim that drawing fake semen on Clay Aiken's face made him a civil rights advocate.
It sort of had a chilling effect on our friendship and for the last few years, the only way we've talked is through critical barbs in national publications. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't fun.
But Perez has changed, I'm told: Something about being affected by all the gay bullying news and promising to be a kinder and gentler Perez. At least that's what I got from skimming through the YouTube clip of him on Ellen.
And now, he's playing dodgeball. His Rainbow Brite hairstyle is now a basic walnut, his outfit so subdued I don't even recall it. He's even registered under his real name: Mario Lavandeira.
It's a bit like that moment when the Grinch goes down to Whoville and the Who's of WeHo are dubious. There's a general sense of "What is he doing here?" that's not unearned. As Perez, Mario has not been a positive force for the gay community and despite his repentance, many are wary.
For me however, seeing Mario again is a little heart-warming. I had watched in horror as my friend turned into a grotesque parody of himself and was humbled as the parody made Mario a wealthy man many times over.
The whole point of dodgeball is to accept everyone. Our team motto is "Winning's for Losers." Its appeal (beyond the cute boys) is that it's an opportunity for the kids who were always picked last for the team or were made to feel like freaks because of their bodies, abilities or orientation to experience the fun and joy of sportsmanship without judgment. If Perez Hilton were to find any group in the gay community that would accept him, it would be here, where the ethos is, "Come as you are, throw some balls and celebrate with a round of flip cup."
In West Hollywood tonight, Perez Hilton is playing dodgeball.
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Japhy Grant is a journalist who has written for Salon, True/Slant, The Advocate, OUT and The New York Observer. He is also the creator of the digital show, FOODIES and has directed music videos for bands like Grizzly Bear and online campaigns for brands like Max Azria. Read his commentaries on the LGBT community in Southern California every Tuesday on KCET's blog, SoCal Focus.