[Ed note: please welcome Anthony Romeo. Please read his brilliant words. Please feel free to get chippy in the comments. Please tweet at his face here.]
And you, and you, and you, you’re gonna love me. And then I’m going to rip your team apart, and you’re going to hate me. But I promise, there’s a good boy here. Well, good…ish. Ten years ago is a long time for me, and maybe it’s not for you. But when I picked up the phone ten years ago and told a friend that I was gay, it was a big deal. I mean, it was The Big Deal.
I was 17, I had just graduated high school, and the news spread through my small upstate farm town like wildfire; folks driving by my house yelled “faggot” at my 11 and 12 year old sister and brother, my parents had their windshield broken out. Dickens was a liar, because mostly, it was just the worst of times.
I had grown up watching hockey, identifying as a hockey player, a goalie. Proudly boasting my gym class floor hockey statistics was standard; and I believe that my freshman year stat of 9 shutouts remains unbroken in Pete Naples’ gym class.
I was closeted, but like many, knew that life after high school would provide the most appropriate safety net for me to make the big leap. I got to college feeling like I could make a new start, wear my own skin for the first time, be a full person. Maybe kiss a boy. Or two. Or thr…I digress.
Freshman year, October. A deflating 3-2 Overtime loss left me dragging my goalie pads back to my dorm room at Seton Hall University. I hadn’t played a great game, but I knew we could rebound the following week, for my birthday game.
White walls stained red with paint and ink, the words were everywhere. “Faggot.” “Queer.” “Homo.” Someone had branded my dorm door with their labels while I was out stopping 70 mph slapshots. If I had been a defenseman, I probably would have found someone to beat up. I’m a goalie, so instead, I just internalized everything and pouted. The University investigated the vandalism, but not the message behind it. Human dignity isn’t a property issue, and the good folks at The Hall didn’t seem to know the difference. Well, I did.
Ready for the longest story to be shortened? I started a gay-straight alliance named “T.R.U.T.H.”, the University wouldn’t let us be a group. I sued. They didn’t like that. “Romeo vs. Seton Hall” worked its way through lower court after lower court until winding up in the Supreme Court of New Jersey. It’s now taught as case law in dozens of universities and colleges across the country, including my brother’s own college class. From not understanding why people yelled at him in the driveway of a farm town to reading about your big brother in a textbook, in six years flat. Life is a series of funny little circles, huh?
Throughout the whole experience, I just wanted to be treated like a normal kid. The kid who strapped on his goalie pads every week and (mostly) stopped the puck was the same kid who kissed a boy. (And I liked it.) The same kid doing a press conference with CNN and ABC and NBC was also the kid who wanted to eat chicken nuggets and sing “Bring Him Home” when his roommate left for the night.
And now, maybe I’m not a normal guy. But something next to normal would be okay. I get to wear a lot of hats. I work in concert production. I’m a brother, a son, a goalie, a public speaker, an activist, a cat-owner, a husband, and a theatergoer. While ten years have come and gone, I am still shocked to see the ease with which people are able to transition from chrysalis to butterfly. That’s not to say that coming out is without its challenges.
But waking up in a world you know you’ve helped to create, one in which the nation’s top selling hip-hop artist releases a song in support of same-sex marriage, a world in which I can get married and all of our family attends the party, one in which the Captain of my New Jersey Devils affirms that if I can play, then I can play…it’s all a bit remarkable in its own right, if only for how unremarkable it is becoming for everyone else.
Maybe we’re building a world where stories like mine are commonplace, normal, boring even. Hell, I’m a Devils fan, don’t think for a second that I can’t equate boring with success.
So that’s me. Romeo. #30 to many. Anthony, to some, even. I’ll be laying my fair share of hate on every one of your teams in the coming weeks and months. So be sure to bookmark this article, my maiden Puck Buddys voyage. It’ll be a good reminder for each and every one of you, as you’re blotting your eyes with tissues over my latest evisceration of your team, that there’s a tiny little light under the darkness that’s coming to your doorstep.
Until next time. Your team sucks and I hate them, Romeo