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    Former Air Force Veteran and Adult Entertainer Plays Softball to Save His Life

    By John Chen–

    “I was at a point in my life where I didn’t know if the road to recovery was worth it. I just didn’t know if I wanted to continue my life like that. I was severely damaged. I had little to believe that as a gay man I had any worth and deserved to be loved.”

    Joe Caldiero sat across from me using mostly his hands to speak his emotions. His eyes conjured now vivid and oftentimes painful memories. And his scruffy voice softened and trembled as he narrated the deep scars of his past. Caldiero’s story isn’t necessarily unique. His story, however, resonates the collective voices, hardships, struggles, and emotional turmoil of the LGBTQ+ community.

    Joe Caldiero

    Caldiero recollected his childhood years: “I was a ‘military brat,’ and my dad taught me to work as hard as I can in whatever I choose to do. I also played a ton of baseball because my dad was a minor leaguer and had high hopes that I could take the next step and play in the majors. My dad and I were really close, but I really hurt him when I quit baseball because we had an argument. For years, that’s all I could remember from my days growing up on the military bases.”

    Caldiero continued, “I joined the Air Force as a means to make amends with my dad for quitting baseball and was awarded the highest honor as one of the 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year. I even got married and had two kids, but the marriage only lasted four years mainly because we fought. Career-wise, I was on the fast track to be an accomplished Airman with an unlimited future in the Air Force.”

    “But my personal life was the contrary,” Caldiero added, gathering his thoughts. He sighed deeply and proceeded: “After the divorce, I started remembering things in bits and pieces from my early teens that I apparently blocked out for many, many years. The memory that triggered a slew of damaging narrative was I had a best friend named Shane who was my world, but I didn’t know what it meant. One night, on one of our many sleepovers, his father caught us cuddling. That was the last I’ve seen him. Next day, he didn’t come to class. He didn’t show up to our varsity basketball team practice. His father had transferred him away from me.”

    After a brief moment of silence, Caldiero explained, “You know, your mind is an interesting thing. I just blocked out that Shane ever existed. Maybe my mind was trying to protect me from the hurt. Or maybe my mind didn’t allow me to be gay because I was told many times being gay was wrong. I don’t know … . But I started to remember things bit by bit, piece by piece.”

    In the Air Force, Caldiero’s work ethics rewarded him with achievement-based promotions that few could attain. However, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” spread paranoia among the millions who served in the military. One suspicion could end years of dedication, sacrifice, commitment, and most importantly, honor. Although paralyzed with fear, the intense desire to find love and happiness gave Caldiero the motivation to cautiously and anonymously explore his sexuality.

    Caldiero lamented, “No matter how careful I was, suspicions grew. I had no choice but to make a life-defining choice. Be myself and renounce everything I worked so hard to achieve or sign a legally binding document denouncing any feelings and urges I have as a basic human being. I chose the former because I couldn’t deny my true self. I’ve lost too many years already. And it came at a hefty price. Being gay meant I lose everything: respect from my peers, my career, my self-worth, and my family. I learned that I will never be good enough and I don’t deserve love. And the saddest reality, my existence was wrong. I gave up custody of my daughter because I thought I would turn her gay and I desperately didn’t want her to live a ‘wrong’ life too.”

    Although struggling mightily with his same sex attraction, Caldiero remained strong on the professional front and found great success in a new career path, hospitality, because of his work ethics. His new industry enabled Caldiero to meet LGBTQ+ people openly and introduced him to gay softball.

    Caldiero lit up when talking about playing gay softball. “I quit sports altogether because I thought gay men don’t play sports,” he said. “Gay softball showed me [differently] and provided me with a safe space where we don’t have to masquerade or hide. I felt a strong sense of brother and sisterhood, a bond much like a family. I have a family again. [Gay] softball Sundays also gave me a mental reprieve from years of psychological and emotional damage. Another significant gay softball revelation was I got to see gay men and women unafraid to express themselves, especially physically, and be whoever they want to be and love whomever they want to love. And I very much wanted that expressive freedom.”

    “So, when an adult film company approached me, I said yes because I wanted to exorcize my own mental suppression and prove my own acceptance of being gay,” he shared. “In the beginning, the attention, the glamour, the compliments, and the love were intoxicating. Then they weren’t enough. For every short-lived shallow admiration, I must further improve my physical appearance just to keep the ‘love’ coming.” Over time, Caldiero desperately needed more and more praise to replenish an insatiable destitution. “It was a vicious and endless cycle and I thought less and less of myself.”

    To an outsider, Caldiero had it all: fame, success, popularity, and countless admirers. But deep down inside, Caldiero felt little self-worth and a sense of helplessness. “I thought I was damaged beyond repair,” he said. “I pushed whoever tried to love me away because how could anyone want to love me? Why do I deserve to be loved?”

    “But every day I looked forward to softball Sunday,” he added. “I couldn’t wait to play, to see my family, and to let out some pent-up despair. The last time I spoke to my dad, he told me that he loved me and was proud of me. His approval meant everything. The next day, he suffered a fatal heart attack. His death broke me. I went to softball that Sunday and pitched the game of my life. I did it for him and for me. At that point in my life, I needed gay softball more than ever.”

    He concluded: “Through my most challenging narratives, softball gave me something to look forward to so that I wouldn’t give in or worse yet, give up. Softball kept me alive so that I could meet the love of my life, who patiently and unconditionally taught me and showed me that I can love and receive real love. Softball bought me time to understand that I may be broken, but time can help heal the irreconcilable. And gay softball kept me afloat so that I can finally recognize I have worth, I am not wrong, and I will be alright.”

    John Chen, a UCLA alumnus and an avid sports fan, has competed as well as coached tennis, volleyball, softball, and football teams.

    Published on May 18, 2023