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Gays and Lesbians in Sport:On Cultures, Closets, and Coming Out (?) William Bridel, Ph.D. Candidate PHED167 February 25th, 2008
Overview • What are some of the difficulties experienced in sport by gay and lesbian athletes? • What is it about sport that makes it difficult to be gay/lesbian and an athlete? • Have your own experiences been impacted by traditional notions of who plays sport and how sport is played?
John Amaechi: NBA Alumnus • Former NBA player • “Came out” in 2006 • Mixed reactions to announcement – supportive to homophobic • “OK, as long as he plays like a man…”
The Social Construction of Gender • Gender attached to biological sex • Male = masculine / female = feminine • BUT… gender is socially constructed • Definitions change/differ according to socio-historico context • Dominant gender ideology (privileging of certain types of masculinities over other masculinities and femininities)
At the Intersection of Gender & Sexuality • Gender also attached to sexuality • Masculinity and femininity = heterosexuality • LGBTQ persons disrupt traditional notions of gender because of their sexual/affectional preferences • Some consider sport the last bastion of heterosexuality and traditional (archaic?) gender ideology
Sport as Masculine Preserve • Gendered notions of sexuality and gendered notions of sport • Sport is considered a space of significant gender socialization • Gender ideology dictates the ways that bodies should look and behave (and with whom) • Certain types of masculinity are always privileged over other types of masculinities and femininities
Dominant Sporting Masculinity • Hyper masculinity and sport • Aggressiveness • Strength / Power / Virility • Playing with pain • Bodies as weapons • Domination • Winning (at all costs?) • Heterosexual
Dominant Sporting Masculinity • Sport as heterosexual, masculine preserve • Performance of dominant sporting masculinity (context-specific) is most often rewarded • Assumption of heterosexuality – leads to homophobic and misogynistic discourse amongst peers and from coaches (i.e., “locker room talk”) • Alienates/marginalizes/discriminates against non-heterosexual athletes • Results in a “culture of silence”
The Culture of Silence • Generally three outcomes: • Closeted • Come out but participate in homophobic discourse • “Don’t ask, don’t tell” • If openly gay, more accepted if they perform the expected type of dominant masculinity in that sporting environment
Esera Tuaolo: NFL Linebacker • Retired from active play in 1999 • “Came out” in 2000; only the third NFL athlete to do so • Homophobia in the locker room • Fear • Stigmatization • Marginalization • One reaction: “Question my ability, but do not question my machoism…”
Lesbians in Sport • Women athletes have historically been considered (problematically) masculine in particular when participating in certain sports • Intersecting gender and sexuality: masculine woman must mean lesbian! • Female athletes typically constructed in hyperfeminized ways
The Female Apologetic • Hyperfemininity: • Extreme opposite of hypermasculinity • Grace • Beauty / Physical Appearance • Athleticism as secondary to “womanliness” • Submissive • Family-oriented
Culture of Silence (Re-visited) • Lesbian athletes are often subject to/ participants in the culture of silence within sporting spaces • “Don’t ask, don’t tell” • Sexuality is downplayed, reconstructed, and or “made-over” by media, advertisers/marketers, organizers of the sport
Andrea Zimbardi: Softball • Lesbian softball player • Kicked off her collegiate team because of sexuality • Won case against coaches / team • Resulted in anti-homophobia training for all coaches and athletic staff
Are all Sporting Spaces the Same? • Individual versus team sports • More openly gay and lesbian athletes in individuals sports than in professional team sports • The more aggressive the nature of the sport, the less likely that gay male athletes will come out while actively participating • Sponsorship, media, and fan influence at elite/professional levels are influential factors
Why is this Important? • Equality/equity in sport is not just about sex (i.e, male/female) but also about gender/ sexuality • Need to undo “common-sense” ideas of what sport is and who it is for • Marginalization, discrimination, harassment, violence: the not so utopic aspects of sport • Gay and lesbian teenagers still account for the largest number of suicides amongst that age group
The Cross Country Runner • Semi-peripheral sport • Openly gay coach (athlete himself not gay) • Homophobic reaction from other coaches, administration, other athletes • Result? • Harassment from other athletes / teams • Physical violence from another athlete from the same high school
Is it Starting to Change? • Athletes on college and high school teams are beginning to come out, with greater acceptance • More openly gay and lesbian athletes at the 2004 Summer Olympics than ever before • Creation of segregated sporting spaces: • The Gay Games and the OutGames • Local sport leagues, teams, and groups
In Sum… • Change may be more reflective of general shift in mainstream culture but sport is still behind • Problems: • Sport as masculine preserve • Traditional notions of masculinity and femininity, which rely on heterosexuality (and vice versa) as part of the “definition”; reproduces dominant gender ideology • Homophobia and Heterosexism • Culture of silence • Marginalization/Discrimination/Violence • Sport for all may indeed not really be for all in equal/equitable ways
Food for Thought… • Can you think of any ways in which your own experiences have been influenced by traditional notions of gender and/or sexuality? • Locker room / field of play talk? • Exclusion of same-sex partner from activities? • Modification of behaviours?