Life as a Pawn

What life is like as a gay man when you live on a chess board

Chris Owens
Human Parts
Published in
4 min readSep 11, 2023

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I learned to play chess in my high school gym class. You probably did tumbling, rope climbing, running, and all manner of sportsball. I learned chess, bowling (and keeping score on paper), canoeing, and archery. It was part of a new adaptive physical education class for those who could not complete any part of the general physical education curriculum due to an injury or limitation. The reduced range of motion in my left leg, a gift from having broken my knee in the 6th grade, landed me in a gym class with eight pregnant girls and a friend of mine with a spastic colon.

Chess is a strategy game consisting of a king, a queen, two bishops, two knights, two rooks, and eight pawns. Each piece has value based on its direction and range of movement. The pawn, though, ranks the lowest of all of the chess pieces. After the first turn, interestingly, the pawn has the same abilities as the king, able to move just one space. And the pawn, since there are eight of them, is the most disposable piece on the board. They are often sacrificed in order to protect the other pieces — the rook, bishop, knight, and queen — who can do more for the king.

Politics is often compared to chess, both requiring strategy, foresight — and the willingness to sacrifice pawns in order to win.

If you’ve lived your life in the majority, you might never think about what life as a pawn might be like. As a valued piece on society’s chess board, you’ve ranked above the pawns and have not been subject to debate. But for women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, we know all too well what being used as a political pawn feels like.

As a gay man of the X generation, I have been a political pawn for as long as I can remember. My first recollection of being a pawn was when the AIDS crisis happened in the 1980s. When my oldest brother, who was also gay, died of AIDS in 1987, I remember hearing that he, and others like us, essentially got what they had coming to them. “God’s way of culling the herd,” they said. He and I shared more than a last name, though. Do I deserve to get AIDS, too?

The next chess game we were sacrificed in was the passing of the “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell”…

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Chris Owens
Human Parts

Chris is a signed language interpreter, product manager, musician, and writer living in Columbus, Ohio with his partner Dan and their collie, Cooper.