If you saw a film in which two men were in a state of undress, talking to one another while they get changed, this is automatically homoerotic. You place two men naked together and of course it is open to different readings by whomever is viewing it, but it is undeniable that locker-rooms are the places where our earliest teenage fantasies and realisations of sexuality were played out. This was the place where you were given almost unrestricted access to look, explore and understand your sexual attraction to the same sex, so obviously the two are connected. But on the flipside, so too are locker-rooms the scene of many humiliations. Heaven forbid you were caught looking too long, or even worse, got an erection. These rooms were the combination of the best and the worst things that could happen; expanses of exposed flesh, but dire consequences could ensue if you took it all in.
Unfortunately for me, I always associated sport with masculinity. I’m not talking about the kind of “masculinity” that, when exhibited, makes you feel a little bit jittery because it’s DAMN hot, but the type that makes you feel a little bit sad. Like the type of masculinity when men can’t exhibit their emotions for fear of seeming like a pussy, or when the idea of wearing pink scares them shitless. Competitive sport, especially football, has become such a masculine pastime that when a male (not necessarily gay) with more feminine qualities is exposed to it, it becomes completely inaccessible and a symbol of oppression and misery.
In a society that condemns violence of any form, sport has become the outlet for that primal masculine hunter-gatherer instinct. Throughout human history, men have fought in wars and been passionate and expressed their anger and rage; this cannot happen anymore, so aggression finds itself another outlet. Give people the opportunity to be competitive and, it doesn’t matter what it is (football, rugby, choir), they will channel these instincts towards them. The more masculine someone is, the more competitive they tend to be. So when you have someone who may not be as masculine as their peers, who can blame them for shying away from something that’s very nature is centred on competition?
Now this isn’t to say that gay men don’t like sport. Masculinity and femininity are not mutually exclusive and there are plenty of very masculine gay men out there. Gay sports teams are scattered up and down the country, while gaybars still show important football, rugby and tennis matches, but for many the boundaries they created for themselves in their youths still apply as adults. Which is often ridiculous, considering how much extra exercise a gay man participates in (on average) over straight men of the same age. The majority of this exercise is solo, however. Gay men go to the gym, but it’s usually alone. They go for runs, but this is usually alone. They may have companions to assist or encourage them, but as soon as you introduce the idea of a team sport, that competitiveness arises that’s linked to the locker-room humiliations, the bullying from their straight male counterparts and that feeling of inadequacy from childhood, which is enough to make the whole sport far less attractive.
The failure for me, I think, was my school’s inability to disassociate sport from exercise. Because of their natural link, the trauma of participating in sport made me refuse to do any exercise full-stop. When I was caught truanting, the school attempted to get to the root of why I didn’t participate. I told them it was due to homophobic bullying during the lessons and their solution was to let me participate in the girls’ lessons instead. While I enjoyed it at the time (most of my friends were girls) I recognise now that their solution was inept on many levels; instead of helping to curb the bullying it just gave it more fuel, instead of tackling the problem with the perpetrators it just attempted to manage their impetus instead of challenging its very existence. While there is nothing wrong with naturally competitive people participating and competing in sport, I truly believe the other half of society deserved better than to have been subjected to feeling inferior by the half who do.
I find it funny that as people get older, more and more straight people become resigned to watching sport rather than competing. That competitiveness starts to be played out on the terraces or in living rooms as they pile their faith on a team with whom they have no natural affiliation at all. For me, the idea of televised sport is pretty absurd; team sport is a form of exercise used to create a collective efficiency to overcome another team… So if you’re not involved, why do people become so invested?
Over the years my opinions and feelings toward sport has see-sawed, from full support to complete abhorrence and back again. I’m physically fit; I’m in the best shape of my life and it has absolutely nothing to do with sport. However, a lot can be said for giving people a natural outlet for fitness that they can participate in and enjoy. I just wish that our formative years were not so influenced by PE teachers who had once been those natural sportsmen of the class themselves. Their natural focus will always be towards those invested and enthusiastic toward their sports, but as schools will always link competition and exercise together, opportunities should be there for everyone to explore this. And as a gay man, I want all young gay people to not be as terrified of exercise as I was.