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    Your 2023 New Year’s Resolution: Play Sports, Get Healthy, and Have Fun!

    By John Chen–

    I’ve competed in various sports throughout my life, beginning with little league baseball, then junior tennis tournaments and league, followed by high school varsity and college intramurals. For me, playing sports was more about the fun than the competition. I guess that’s why I never got good enough to play at the intercollegiate level, especially at an elite athletic school like UCLA (my alma mater).

    As a young adult, trying to find where I fit into the world, I struggled with my own identity, particularly as a double minority: a person of color and a gay one at that. When I was 10 years old, my relatives once drove the big family to see “the freaks” in San Francisco on Polk Street. They pointed, laughed, gasped, and screamed. I imprinted their reactions, but didn’t understand what was so “freakish” about the seemingly normal people going about their business.

    The intent of that day stuck with me until I realized that I am the “freak” we ridiculed. This was very hard to accept and I, in the most deliberate and calculating fashion, masqueraded my identity much like a spy in all those Hollywood blockbusters.

    Playing sports had been my refuge, and it was the best cover. I learned how to talk the talk and walk the walk. Although I am not an elite athlete, I was a pretty good recreational one. All of my closest friends were sports buddies and that was alright with me. It was good to be one of the guys.

    But something was missing. There was an emptiness within that I couldn’t explain or express, and yet I knew what it was. Should I risk “normalcy” and pursue what the heart wants?

    I woke up one morning in my mid 20s and had one of those “wow, I could’ve had a V8” moments. (Crap, I just realized you have to be of a certain age to remember that V8 phrase … sigh.) I immediately logged into AOL, yes AOL, waited through that awful attempting to connect screech and squeal, and entered one of the many Sports M4M chat rooms. There, I found several local gay sports groups and leagues, such as tennis and softball. Even though I competed in many sports, I chose volleyball, a sport I only played recreationally because the group played on Venice Beach, which had that total Southern California vibe!

    The unconditional acceptance and friendships I made from the Venice Beach volleyball group greatly helped my mental health as I adjusted to being a gay Asian male who happens to be a sports nut. Ultimately, the LGBTQ+ sports community positively improved my self-image and confidence. It also didn’t hurt that I was one of the strongest and youngest and prettiest players. At least that’s what I envisioned myself.

    Fast forward to today and looking back, I know that joining that gay volleyball group gave me a sense of identity, purpose, and pride, and empowered me to embrace who I am as well as our LGBTQ+ culture. I went from “please don’t touch me” to “hugs and kisses” mandatory. For everything the LGBTQ+ sports community gave me, I wanted to give back, which led me to coach, manage, and govern teams and leagues over a span of 20 years. And, of course, write this column for all of you readers.

    Whether you are a budding athlete, an accomplished athlete, or a self-proclaimed klutz, it is with great hope that you are inspired by my personal experience and columns here in the San Francisco Bay Times. And that you will participate in an LGBTQ+ sports event, social, group, league and/or tournament. Maybe you’ll make it your new year’s resolution for 2023 to get involved and learn a sport or two. And if you see me, please say hello! Happy holidays and have a great new year!

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

    Published on December 15, 2022