(Illustration by Sara Drake)
It’s part way through the second half of the game and the rugby team I play in is winning – a rare occasion for us this year. I can tell the opposition is getting frustrated. They’re certainly not expecting a loss. In fact, I am sure they expected to walk all over us.
Once again they try but are unable to push through our line. One of their players bellows at his teammates, “Come on! We can’t let these faggots beat us!”
My blood boils. Don’t get me wrong: I can handle tough talk on the field and I don’t care about a bit of sledging. I tend to avoid it - prefer to stick to the game - but I understand others need to gee themselves up. But as soon as I hear the word ‘faggot’ I’m ready to rip someone’s head off.
I’m lucky. Before I can do anything rash and stupid the play continues. Having to make the next tackle, there is no chance for a fight - a fight I’m certain I would have lost. And in the end we win – a much greater punishment.
I play in Brisbane’s only gay-friendly rugby union team, the Brisbane Hustlers.
I have been playing sport my entire life. As a kid I was obsessed with basketball and played for ten years. My brother started first, and Dad convinced me to sign up by joining as the coach of our team at the same time. I ended up quitting at the end of high school, because as I said “basketball is full of wankers.” Looking back, I’m pretty sure what I meant is “basketball is full of homophobes.”
During university I spent most of my time in the gym. It was my turn of the phase that many gay guys go through, where one aims for the perfectly sculpted body (I have finally accepted my fate of being known as a ‘cub’—a young, hairy and solidly-built guy). After uni I was recruited by a friend to play in an Ultimate Frisbee social league – an obsession that lasted for a couple of years. The Frisbee community was the most open sporting community I had ever been involved in and I made great friends through it. Although, whilst I can’t remember any experiences of open homophobia, the heteronormativity—the assumption of straightness—was always present. As it goes in most of my life, playing Frisbee I often felt on guard, concerned that the next person that found out about my sexuality would be the one to have a problem. Moving to Queensland after spending all my life in Canberra that issue became much more prominent; playing in a men’s Frisbee team up north, I noticed more open homophobia. It’s not like I couldn’t deal with it, and I certainly didn’t feel excluded because of my sexuality – whenever I came out no one blinked. The homophobia was just incidental, not vicious. Still, I noticed it, and I found it tiring. It stopped me from really being myself in the team, and that takes way too much energy.
Then I found the Hustlers. I’d always been interested in rugby, and after reading about the Sydney Convicts—Sydney’s gay-friendly team—I thought I’d see if Brisbane had an equivalent. They did, and so I decided to go to one training session, see what it was like.
The Brisbane Hustlers reformed in 2012 after a hiatus, and after playing our first real game in the 2012 Purchas Cup—an annual gay rugby tournament—we entered a Brisbane competition and set ourselves for the season. Our team—a mixture of gays and straights—played a total of fourteen games, winning two and losing twelve, and then went on to come second behind the Sydney Convicts in the 2013 Purchas Cup.
If you were to try and find the realm where homophobia is most persistent in Western culture today, sport would have to be pretty high up in the list. In both professional and amateur leagues, homophobia remains a serious issue. In 2010, former AFL player Jason Akermanis caused a storm when he wrote an opinion piece calling on any gay AFL players to stay in the closet. The piece came after persistent rumours (ones that continue today) that gay players in the league were being gently encouraged to come out (none have yet). His argument was simple – that the code wasn’t ready for an out player. In his piece he recounted the story of an out player he knew during his early years and the apparent awkwardness his sexuality caused. Akermanis argued that an out gay player would still make others uncomfortable, and could “break the fabric of the club.”
We can see what Akermanis means. Last year St Kilda AFL player Stephen Milne was fined $3,000 for calling a Collingwood player a “fucking homo”. During the 2010 rugby season, swimmer Stephanie Rice was criticised after she tweeted “Suck on that faggots” when the Wallabies beat South Africa. Similar incidents can be seen in professional sports around the world. When NBA player Jason Collins became the first active male athlete in a major US team sport to come out of the closet, it was reported that he was so scared of how his team would react that he didn’t tell anyone before he made it public. Reports about Collin’s outing often focused on historical homophobic stereotypes – talking about straight players being “comfortable” in the locker room with a gay player, as if that was the biggest issue at play. Internationally we can see it as well. When Qatar—a place where homosexuality is illegal—was awarded hosting duties of the 2022 Football World Cup, the advice FIFA President Sepp Blatter provided to gay and lesbian people if they wanted to attend was to “refrain from sexual activity.” The International Olympic Committee has been no better, having done basically nothing in response to anti-gay laws recently introduced in Russia, which is due to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.
For women’s sports, the issue is perhaps even more complex. Despite the relatively low numbers of professional women’s sports players who are publicly out, there is an assumption that all women who are in competitive sport are gay. For example, Australian tennis star Jelena Dokic’s father made a controversial statement in 2003 in which he said that 40% of women’s tennis players were lesbians. Damir said at the time, “I wouldn’t be able to stand it if it turned out that Jelena was one of them. If she was a lesbian I’d kill myself.” In the US this has lead to a backlash. As Jessica Luther explains:
“There are often backlashes within women’s sports to the stereotypes that all female athletes are gay. Only six years ago, Rene Portland, the then-head coach of Penn State’s women’s basketball team, resigned after it came to light that she had a strict ‘no lesbians’ policy for her team. Lauren Lappin, a gold medalist softball player for the US, has talked candidly for years about her fears of coming out because of the negative stereotyping around gay people generally and her fears of feeding the idea that all women who play sports are necessarily lesbians. Often, teams or leagues retreat to what Hamilton has described as ‘an almost hypersexualized version of femininity’ in order to ‘derail homophobic assumptions’ by glomming onto sexist ones. This was evident in 2009, when the Florida State women’s basketball team created a media campaign that featured their athletes in fancy dresses, heels, and makeup (since being seen as ‘butch’ by playing sports feeds stereotypical ideas about gay women in our society). Or more recently when the Women’s Tennis Association’s “Strong is Beautiful” campaign used similar techniques to draw attention to their players.
The fate for intersex and trans* competitors is no better. In 2009 South African runner Caster Semenya was subjected to gender testing and then publicly ‘outed’ without her approval as an intersex person. A similar controversy was stirred after the London Olympics when it was revealed that four female athletes had the “genetic make-up of males.” These and other controversies demonstrate a complete inability of powers-that-be to deal with gender issues in sport.
Research has found that this behaviour trickles down into amateur sport as well. In 2010, the report Come out to Play surveyed 307 gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans* sportspeople in Victoria. The report found that 42% had experienced some form of abuse due to their sexual or gender identity. Dr Caroline Symons from Victoria University’s School of Sport and Exercise noted at the time that this didn’t just affect GLBT participants. She said, “While GLBT people are likely to experience homophobic discrimination in sport, it is important to note that you don’t have to be gay, lesbian or transgender to experience it… Straight people perceived as gay are just as open to discrimination and homophobia.”
You can see why in 2010, Dave Zirin, the sports editor at The Nation in the United States, called the men’s locker room “the final frontier of homophobia in our society.” The message to LGBTIQ people is pretty clear: “sport isn’t for you”.
The impact is clear. In the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, there were only 23 openly gay or lesbian competitors in the 11,000 attending athletes – gay and lesbian athletes made up only 0.2% of competitors. In Australia’s male football codes there has only ever been one openly out gay player (rugby league player Ian Roberts), whilst the US male professional sports codes (American Football, Basketball, Baseball and Ice Hockey) only received their first out active player this year in Jason Collins. The same can be said for most codes – men’s or women’s. Out, active, professional players are few and far between.
This points to a stark reality. Either gay and lesbian players are not joining sports teams, or when they are they are staying in the closet.
The President of the Brisbane Hustlers, Aaron Fleming, had an experience somewhat similar to mine. He started playing in the Sydney Convicts before moving to Brisbane. It was he who reformed the Hustlers in 2012.
“I originally joined the Convicts as I wanted to be around like minded people,” he said. “I didn’t feel comfortable being out in my sexuality and I didn’t feel like I could be honest with people in a rugby team. And if I couldn’t be honest with them, I didn’t have much in common with them. So I decided to join the Convicts as a way to meet like-minded people, which it achieved.”
Gay rugby has grown dramatically. The International World Cup, named the Bingham Cup (due to be held in Sydney in 2014) was first held in 2002, whilst Australia had its first gay rugby team, the Sydney Convicts, in 2004. Earlier this year Australia’s gay tournament, The Purchas Cup, was the largest in its history. Sydney’s bid for next year’s Bingham Cup attracted high-profile support, including a video message from the then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard. The growth of support, and the pressure it has placed, saw the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) become the first code to announce a comprehensive anti-homophobia policy for the sport.
Still, it’s important to point out that The Hustlers are about a lot more than a challenge to homophobia. In fact, the discussion of homophobia is in danger of painting a very narrow view of what gay rugby is, and what it means. Commentary about gay rugby focuses almost wholly on the community and the stereotypes we are challenging, and very little on the sport itself. I suspect part of this harks back to the stereotype that gay men can’t play physical sport, that we must just be in it for the fun. There is also definitely a novelty factor for people – a ‘look at this unusual thing’ view. But the first thing I noticed when I started playing rugby was how important the sport itself is to participants.
We started the season in late February/early March. I became involved with the team after I sent them an email asking if they still needed players. I was promptly invited to their first training, which was only a week away. I was lucky that I was feeling in an adventurous mood – often I would explore new ideas like this, but then be a bit too terrified to ever end up going. But this time I resolved I would go, even if it turned out to be just once. It would just be one training, and if I liked it, I could go back.
With rain pummelling Brisbane in late February and early March, all of the fields were closed, so we were forced to do our first week’s training on indoor beach volleyball courts. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would this team take the game seriously? Or were we just here to play a glorified version of touch rugby? Part of me wished for the latter. If I could enjoy the community and be part of a team, yet also be able to avoid high-level contact, that, to be honest, terrified me, then maybe all would be okay. I was quick to realise however that this wasn’t going to be the case. Our first session started with half-an-hour with a personal trainer – very early on testing the fitness of our team. I was exhausted by the end of it, but we weren’t stopping there. Next was tackling practice. Our coach, Darren, showed us the pointers of how to make a good tackle: keeping your knees bent, stepping into the opposition player, tackling with your shoulders, not your arms. And then it was up to us. I teamed up with another guy around my size - another Simon actually. We were both relatively new to the game, but that didn’t stop him. He tackled hard. For a guy who had never done any contact sport, it was a little terrifying.
Aaron Fleming explained to me that it has always been his philosophy to put the rugby first. “Some of the challenges we’ve had along the way have been weighing up being a social side compared to a competitive rugby team. And it’s always been my philosophy that there’s always been other avenues for gay men to join social groups, so the rugby needs to be competitive first.”
A man named Chris Waterson was one of the straight players in the team, and our captain throughout most of the season (the regular captain was injured). For a straight player, it was the rugby that was most important to him: “When I was first approached to play I suppose there wasn’t really any definition for me between the sexuality of the guys – it was more about whether or not they were going to take the rugby seriously, or whether this was just a community group brought together under the auspices of rugby. Given I’d played a lot of rugby I needed to make sure that my participation was around the rugby side of it rather than the community side of it,” he told me.
It took me until about the third or forth game before I started to have the same appreciation for the game.
We were playing up in North Brisbane. We hadn’t won a game yet, but we were improving. I’d come on in the second half and we’d managed to gain possession of the ball. We were counterattacking and had reached the opposition’s 22 metre line. We’d saved a try and were trying to turn things around. A ruck formed up in front of me and the ball made its way out the back. Our scrum half (the one who takes the ball from the back of rucks and directs play) wasn’t there yet and called for a ‘pick and drive’, where I would take the ball out from the back of the scrum and drive it forward without passing it on. I moved in, grabbed the ball, looked up and began to run.
It was here where I made my mistake – a mistake my coach used against me for the rest of the season. As I grabbed the ball and moved away from the ruck I stood up almost directly. It’s a natural reaction to want to stand up straight (in evolutionary terms, it allows for a better of view of one’s surroundings, and thus a quicker response time to danger), a natural reaction that rugby training tries to drill out of you. The first thing I saw was a mountain of a man coming straight at me. He would have been 120kgs and he was running at full speed.
Apparently the impact was just as loud from the sidelines as it was to me. Before I knew it was flat on my back, pummelled into the ground. I don’t remember how, but somehow I’d passed the ball back to my team and by the time the ruck had cleared and I had managed to get up (which took quite an effort) someone had knocked it on and we were preparing for a scrum.
I will be forever thankful for that scrum. It was a life-saver. I walked over to my position and hunched over, my guts wrenching, feeling like I was about to vomit. A couple of teammates patted me on the back and said well done. A huge part of me wanted to just walk off the field, to wave myself off and bring someone else on from the interchange bench. But I resisted (to be fair, I knew Darren would have nothing to do with such an idea). I would keep going. I made it through that first scrum, and then the next, and finished off the game.
The opposition team that day was big, and hit us hard. I have never felt so much pain from playing a game of anything. Yet at the same time it was incredible. When I got home I updated my Facebook status: “Rugby update. Today I got head-butted in the nose, stomped on the throat and hit harder than I’ve ever been. So fucking awesome!”
When I first came out as gay, one of the more common responses was along the lines of “I didn’t expect you to be gay.” Or maybe something like “I would never have guessed you were gay.” As a kid, as I am now, I didn’t fit what you could call the ‘gay stereotype’. I am not particularly camp, have always loved sport, have terrible fashion sense (apparently) and am not obsessed with Kylie Minogue, Cher or Lady Gaga (although I do enjoy listening to them every now and then). But these characterisations s followed me. The moment people found out I was gay, they would attempt to shrug the stereotype over my frame.
Stereotypes dominate the queer world. We see them everywhere, and they take on a very particular theme. You know them: that gay men are feminine – we have ‘girly jobs’ such as being hairdressers, decorators or fashion designers, we are all into fashion and design and we are as bitchy as can be. We are all Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Lesbians are ‘masculine’ - they are butch, wear comfortable shoes, are bad at fashion, play plenty of sports and are angry and gruff. They are all ‘dykes on bikes’.
The pattern here is pretty simple. The way we stereotype queer folk is to take their ‘normal’ gender away from them. Lesbian women are basically men. Gay men are clearly just women in disguise.
There is nothing wrong with people who fit queer stereotypes (even if Carson Kressley is annoying as fuck; although most probably he’s an annoying person, annoying far deeper than his performative shtick). It allows queer people to challenge gender boundaries. We can transverse the stereotypical ideas of how gender is supposed to operate. And when we’re clever about it, we can challenge these ideas in ways that tackles both assumptions about sexuality and gender at the same time.
However, stereotyping is also the perfect way for the mainly-straight world to oppress queer people. It places us into boxes, and then ridicules or objectifies those boxes. In a world where gender is so important, people who don’t fit their assigned gender deserve mockery. Lesbian women are either mocked for their masculinity or objectified as objects for straight-male pleasure. Gay men, on the other hand are just here for our entertainment – as comedic relief. You can see clear examples of all of this. Advertisers are now delving into the issue of lesbianism, but only ever do so with what can be called “the male gaze” – advertising designed for men’s eyes. Gay men in our TV shows and movies are always provided for comic relief – if a gay character is serious then the show or film is almost always placed into the niche category of ‘queer film/TV’. And this doesn’t even delve into the issues of how we stereotype trans*, bi and other sexually diverse people. In a world in which gender is so important, having your gender questioned so openly is the perfect form of oppression.
Queer theory goes potentially a long way to explaining why the locker room is the ‘final frontier’ of homophobia in our society. Sport is seen in society as a man’s game. It is the peak of masculinity. Our sportsmen (and I am using the word ‘man’ here very carefully) are treated as heroes, gods in their own right. Look at the early imagery of the Olympics – these athletes are presented as masculine gods who deserved to be worshipped. Watch the pre-game entertainment in our footy finals and the imagery is almost exactly the same.
The effect this can have is quite perverse. If your life is created around the idea of being a masculine hero, then your clear opposition are those who may exhibit a more feminine aspect. Gay men cannot exist as equals within this über-straight world. Not only do they not have a part to play in a sporting team, but their very existence calls in question the masculinity of their straight counterparts. What if they check them out in the showers, or pat them on the bum? High-level sporting culture is all-consuming. If you exist at the peak of masculinity, then you must challenge any threat of encroaching femininity.
It’s almost the opposite in women’s sport. Sure, in early 2013 NBA basketballer Jason Collins became the first openly gay sportsman in the US major league sports (basketball, baseball, ice hockey or American football). But whilst Collins was cheered for his bravery, many ignored the sportswomen who’d been leading the charge for years. In women’s basketball in the United States for example, the WNBA, women have been out for years. Sue Wicks was the first to come out publicly, eleven years ago. And since then others such as Sheryl Swoopes, Brittney Griner and Seimone Augustus have pursued successful careers in the WNBA after coming out.
Part of this is embodied in the sexism that exists within our community as a whole, and particularly within sporting cultures. Our discussion of homophobia in sport, just like our discussion of sport in general, is focused on the male. We still treat sportswomen as inferior to their male counterparts and treat women’s sport with a collective ‘meh’. But it also about the ‘lesbian stereotype’ - one directly linked to the issue of masculinity. If sport is the peak of masculinity then women who play it must be masculine as well. And if they’re masculine, they must be lesbians. That’s the assumption we have – that sportswomen are all clearly gay, so why care when they actually come out?
It is stereotypes of masculinity that make gay rugby so interesting, and potentially so important. In rugby union, just like all other sporting codes, the dominant ‘masculine model’ of sport prevails. It is believed that you have to be straight and tough to be good at the game.
Gay rugby players directly challenge this, and in a very particular way. Part of it is about us saying “we’re gay and we can beat you in rugby.” We could tell coming in to many of our games that the other teams were treating us as easy beats. (“We should be able to walk all over these poofs.”) You can hear it in their pre-game warm up: a deep sense of over-confidence. It’s a perception that actually gets played throughout the community – the idea that we’re just here to be ‘hot gay rugby players’ and we don’t really take the game seriously. Aaron Fleming explained that it’s something we have to challenge:
“I think people have that perception of us, until people come down to training or see us play on the weekend and realise how seriously we take the rugby. That’s a perception that we need to overcome. And certainly we’ve come some of the way there in this season and something we need to build on for next season.”
When the opposition and the fans realised that we were actually a pretty tough team, I think we did a pretty good job of challenging those stereotypes. I could often see the difference after a game. We would often join the opposition for beers and a barbecue after the match; pre-game disdain felt like it had turned into post-game respect.
Still, just showing that gay men can be as masculine as their straight counterparts doesn’t achieve all that much. It will neither break down the assumptions of how men and women should ‘act‘ to fit their gender, nor in turn break down the assumptions of who can and can’t play sport – the very thing that is limiting the participation of many. Being tough on the field says ‘gay men can be masculine as well’, but doesn’t challenge the very masculine assumptions of being a man or of sport as a whole. This is where gay rugby plays an even more important role. See, rugby suits all kinds. You can be pretty much any shape or size and play an important role on the field. I was stunned to see it in my first training – we were a team of tall lanky guys all the way down to short stocky men. You can be as aggressive as you want, or a bit more passive like me. It is a game for everyone, as long as you don’t mind a bit of tackling. Gay rugby allows us not only to challenge the idea that gay men are all feminine, but also that one needs to be masculine to be good at sport or to be considered a man. Our team is a real mix, a diversity of guys I’ve never really seen gathered together before. And in such a diversity we have the ability to break down ideas that sport is all about masculinity. We tackle hard on the field, and then dress up and go dancing at night. We get into fights, and we talk about fashion and boys.
The Purchas Cup would have to be the only rugby tournament in the world where the entertainment at the end-of-competition party includes players from the tournament stripping for the other teams. Stripping has become a bit of a tradition in Australian gay rugby in general. Popularly known as ‘rugger-bugger’, Australian gay rugby teams have been entertaining crowds with strip shows for a while, often as a way to raise funds.
It’s midnight by the time the Purchas Cup show starts. We’ve been partying since mid-afternoon when the final siren in the last game went, and now men from all the teams are on stage getting their clothes off. The show tops off a great day from a great tournament. That day we played two games, beating the Melbourne Chargers to get a spot in the final against the world champions of gay rugby, the Sydney Convicts. We were determined to take the cup off Sydney and went in fighting. The game was tough, and we held up against the Convicts for the entire 50 minutes, eventually going down by only five points. The midnight performance, which is well-choreographed where rugby skills are drawn on to get the boys to the full monty, topped off the evening.
The rest of the night played out as would many end-of-competition rugby parties. On the bus ride on the way back to our hotel from the fields our coach leads a ‘kangaroo court’, where players and officials are given ‘punishments’ (shots of alcohol) for their crimes during the season. There is a punishment for the player who took the biggest hit of the year (me), the player who is the ‘gayest straight man on the team’, and one for the player who never turned up for trainings. We continue the party in hotel rooms before we head to the bar to meet up with the other teams. But as always with gay rugby, there’s a twist. The next morning, as we headed to a recovery breakfast ‘barefoot bowls’ session at the local bowling club, we get to hear of the tales of who went home with whom, which is much more interesting when players are going home with players from teams they’d just played against.
It is here where gay rugby plays its most interesting role: that we’re not just a bunch of gay dudes fitting into a straight culture. Instead, we’re a team that is developing its own culture – one that brings together aspects from all over. We have some of the hallmarks of a traditional rugby team: the toughness, the drinking, the competitive spirit. Yet, we also bring in new and different elements, the sorts of elements you may see in more in other parts of the community - queer and straight. In doing so the team is not just important for breaking down homophobia, but also for challenging the queer community as a whole.
When I told other (straight) people that I was in a gay rugby team the question I most often received was “Why a gay rugby team?” At first I took to explaining the impact homophobia can have and why I wanted to be rid of that experience whilst still playing sport. But as the season unfolded I realised there was a lot more to it than that.
In an article titled ‘Why gay rugby is the most important thing in Australia sport right now’ gay rugby player Michael Rayner wrote: “They [Australia’s gay rugby teams] have long stood for inclusiveness and a fair go for all in sport but it has sometimes been a struggle to find broader support at the grassroots level for such a movement. They exist because there is a need. But they shouldn’t have to.”
And that’s what I used to think too. Without the homophobia in other teams, I thought, I wouldn’t have needed to join the Hustlers. I could pick any team or any sport I wanted. However, now that I’m a season in, I think gay rugby is about a lot more than that. It has a much greater place in our society and sporting culture.
For decades there has been a debate in the queer community about whether we should fight for acceptance into society, or whether the society is inherently unjust and therefore we should aim to build a new one. As Dennis Altman asked in his recent book The End of the Homosexual?, “Young queers today are caught in the same dilemma that confronted the founders of the gay and lesbian movements: do we want to demonstrate that we are just like everyone else, or do we want to build alternatives to the dominant sexual and emotional patterns?” If you look at the mainstream gay and lesbian political movement, assimilation is winning the debate. We’ve focused our energies on issues such as same-sex marriage, with the aim of permeating mainstream institutions rather than challenging them. Talk of queers moving into the suburbs and away from the ‘gay ghettos’ in the city paints a picture of integration rather than differentiation.
But this brings up a rather interesting debate for queer people. As queer politics has progressed, gays, lesbians bi, trans, intersex, and other gender and sexually diverse people—have used the opportunity to shape our own unique identities. The queer community coalesces around openly queer spaces – such as Oxford Street in Sydney or Fortitude Valley in Brisbane. We open queer venues: saunas, nightclubs and beats. We develop our own subcultures, like the bear community or the s&m world. Being queer is not an identity that can be defined – each person in the queer world lives and acts differently. But the queer community can coalesce around one clear idea – the exploration of sexual and gender identities that go well beyond the traditional understandings of how human beings work. The queer community is one that coalesces around differentiation.
Assimilation fundamentally questions the value of this coalescence. In the Sydney Star Observer Jesse Matheson wrote, looking to the future, of “a generation of kids growing up who don’t even care about the concept of sexuality. They aren’t ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ or ‘lesbian’ or anything, they just are.” It’s the same idea I had when I joined the rugby team – that one day sport wont care about the concept of sexuality, that sportspeople wont be gay, straight or lesbian, they will just ‘be’. And when they that happens I will be able to join in again.
Emerging from the experience of the Purchas Cup, however, from a weekend of playing gay rugby with people from all around the country, and my tune is changed. I’ve realised that my sexuality is actually an important part of my identity – it’s an important part of me. Dennis Altman, again, explains it like this: “None of us can be identified solely by reference to one part of our identity, but at the same time we cannot pretend that something as central as our desires, identities and behaviours is irrelevant to who we are and how we act in the broader world.”
Sure, if we were able to break down some of our assumptions around sexuality and open into a more fluid world in which heterosexuality is no longer thought of as ‘normal’, then the labels we’ve placed onto ourselves may become useless. But in aiming for this goal through demonstrating that we are ‘just like everyone else’, what we are doing is integrating queer people into the ‘straight world’. This is not a way to affirm the strength of our desires, identities and behaviours, but rather a way to silence them.
In the face of this, gay rugby is about a lot more than just rugby. It’s there to challenge the perceptions of how sport works, and importantly how we define queerness and heterosexuality in the sporting world, and as such in the broader community.
Sport for me has always been a thing of relaxation: I join for the community and an opportunity to get away from work. But the Hustlers provide something extra. Gay rugby transcends so many of the stereotypes we have about gay men and about sport, making the team politically as well as physically challenging. Add in the extra perk of being seen as a ‘hot gay rugby player’ and developing what my boyfriend calls my ‘rugby thighs’ and the Hustlers seem to have everything I wanted.
Chris Waterson, the straight player I introduced earlier, told me that he was most impressed with the intensity with which people took to the game. “We were asked at the start of the season what our individual goals were and I remember mine was to make each and every player in the team as passionate about rugby as I am.” he said.
Most of us came for the community but are now staying for the rugby. And despite all the expectations placed on us to be subversive and different—expectations I’m happy for us to uphold—the rugby will stay the priority. If anyone doubts that, I challenge them to face us on the other side of the field.
Simon Copland is a freelance writer and climate campaigner. He plays rugby union and is a David Bowie fanatic. On Twitter he’s @SimonCopland.
Sara Drake is an over-emotional detective who is to close to the case and about to be sent home.
This piece is from our most recent print issue, TLB20. You can grab a copy for yourself!