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Rough, Tough and Gay

Correction/Update appended Rugby is not a sport for the faint-hearted. It's known for its 80 minutes of no-nonsense, full contact matches. Off the pitch, rugby players are also known for their hard-partying ways. And drag contests usually don't figure into that picture. But the Charlotte Royals is a team that can comfortably take on all these things. It's one of two gay rugby teams in North Carolina. There's nothing gentle about rugby. Take football without the pads and the breaks and you start to get an idea of the endurance and hardiness the sport requires. And, well, some of the damage it wreaks too, Royals President Jeff Enochs points out in addressing his team. "Guys, how many of you have injuries right now? Anything hurt?" Just about everyone answered yes. "Bruises, strawberry patches, weak ankles. Yeah, everyone gets an injury definitely," Enochs says. In fact, Enochs took over the team after its founder, Jason Cash, injured his knees. They say the game's rough and tumble nature drives home the point that gay men don't neatly fit a stereotype. "You tell 'em you're gay, you play rugby. They really don't have a comment, they're like, 'wow,'" Cash says. "They expect us to be picking out china patterns doing hair, and sewing pillows that match our drapes. Just because I know what Jimmy Choo and LaCroix is doesn't make me not want to play rugby," Enochs says. "Which we can definitely do all that," Cash quickly adds. "Oh yeah. We just choose to hit people instead," Enochs says. Cash, a web developer, founded the team four years ago. He says he was going through a mid-life crisis and wanted to get into shape. But he also wanted some of the camaraderie a team sport offers and the no-nonsense game of rugby appealed to him. "The already existing team in Charlotte is basically semi-pro. They're very good at what they do and me never having played rugby before would never stand a chance of being on their team. So Charlotte needed something more amateur so that's where we come in," Cash says. Cash had heard about a growing gay rugby league in the U.S. There are now teams in 17 cities-including the Carolina Kodiaks in Raleigh and the Atlanta Bucks. So he started recruiting men to join the team. Four years later, 18 men make up the Charlotte Royals. Most of them are gay, but there are a few straight men, too. For many of them, like Enochs, this is the first team sport they've played in years. "I think if baseball in sixth grade counts, I think that's the closest I came to sports. Yeah, this is a far cry from what my friends would expect me to be doing now, a far cry," Enochs says. Each season the team usually loses more games than it wins. The Royals compete with six or seven teams a season-some of them are within the gay league and some of them outside it. On occasion a straight team will refuse to play them. Once a team even sent its women's team. But for the most part, Enochs says straight teams have welcomed them on and off the field. They go out to bars together after matches, indulge in drinking games and they're straight opponents have also taken them into some less familiar territory. JE: Guilford College the frat house. (yeah, yeah, the woman with the scarf on.) There's the craziest things I've ever seen in my life. But it was the most eventful and I welcome the next time that we can do it with them. Because it was a blast. I don't think I've ever left so drunk in my life because they kept shoving beer down your throat," Enochs says. Some of these Royals could play on a straight team, but Enochs says that gay rugby is about more than just the sport. "A lot of it has to do with the closely knit relationship that we have as a team," he says. "A lot of have been through a lot of things together. When one of us is down a lot of us rally around. You can't find that kind of camaraderie just anywhere." The Charlotte Royals take on the Nashville Grizzlies at North Belmont Park in Gastonia, this Saturday at 1 p.m. Correction/Update The Charlotte Royals play the Atlanta Bucks, not the Nashville Grizzlies, on Saturday. It's also been pointed out to us there are other amateur rugby teams in the area. They include the Charlotte Socialites, Matthews Rugby Club, and a club team at Davidson College.