May 11, 2014

What's Gay About Chess?

When I was in junior high, chess was a big deal. When Bobby Fischer beat Boris Spassky to win the World Chess Championship, he became a national hero.  Lest anyone think that chess was "for sissies," magazine and newspaper articles emphasized his muscular physique and "regular guy" interests.

I remember one article with a description, in loving detail, of a lunch where Bobby Fischer orders a steak, eats a piece, and grunts "Good!", like one of those cave men in the Campbell's Manhandler commercials ("how do you handle a hungry ma..aa...aan?").

This was before he started subscribing to white supremacist literature, praising Hitler, and making shocking racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic comments.

In junior high, we played chess all the time, before class, at lunch, on the bus, in the swimming pool.

It was as homoerotic as wrestling.  You sit across from your opponent, stare at him, memorize his face, learn every detail of his physique, the heft of his chest, the curve of his biceps.

Where else can you get away with staring at a cute guy for 10-15 minutes?

One of my fondest memories of my boyfriend Dan is a game of chess.  He was a very fast player, rushing to move his piece before I had a chance to take my hand away from mine.  So sometimes our hands touched.  I still remember its warmth.

Chess tournaments were as well-attended as wrestling tournaments, and with bigger trophies.  In 1975 I met the Estonian wrestling brothers when George trounced me at a tournament at Washington Junior High.

The fad eventually faded away, like all fads do. I knew only a few people in high school who played, and none in college.

But for a few  years, chess offered a homoerotic idyll nearly as good as wrestling.

(By the way, today's reigning chess champion, Magnus Carlsen of Norway, is equally athletic, and not racist, homophobic, or anti-Semitic.)

See also: One Night in Bangkok