“The Closet in The Changing Room: Coming Out in Sport”
I’m a lesbian. Why does that matter?
A close friend of mine asked recently why on Earth I was writing about being gay: wasn’t it risky? Wouldn’t it be better to stay quiet? The fact that being openly gay is seen as a risk, is exactly why I am writing this. When you’re hiding something about yourself, it’s hard to be 100 percent yourself.
To me, gay is as normal as having brown eyes, blue eyes, or grey hair. Yet I don’t always feel that I’m treated as normal. Until the day comes where being LGBTQ is as vanilla as being a brunette, I feel like I should get brutally honest, and try to normalise the playing field by pointing out that I am a gay athlete.
No. I am an athlete who happens to be gay. There, much better.
Seven years ago when I was pressured into ”coming out” in sixth form, I kept telling myself: look at how far things have come in the last ten years; maybe when I’m in a position to be a grown-up, life will be different. Sort of my own “It Gets Better” pep talk. And I wasn’t just thinking about things improving for gays and lesbians, but for everyone I share the LGBTQ umbrella with.
In the last seven years so much has already happened:
However the amount of ‘out’ people in sport has not really increased by the same amount. I would like to explore why this is. My own experience, along with what I’ve heard from friends, leads me to believe that LGBTQ people in sport share many of the same problems regardless of gender. But for me as a girl (and then a woman) always interested in sport, there was one issue in particular: people instantly assumed they knew me.
They’d look at my lackluster approach to my appearance, my preference for running around fields and generally being a huge tomboy, and say ‘I always knew’ or ‘I could have guessed’.
I’m sorry, but people seriously need to open their eyes, and not label people as one thing based on a few traits. This is so harmful:
These stereotypes don’t just hurt athletes like me. Rigid ideas about what is ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ in sport are dangerous to societal perceptions of gender. Women’s football, hockey, and rugby, for instance, are often stereotyped as gay, and that can make straight women wary of participating if they fear being unfairly labelled. The same can be attributed to those men who want to dance, cheerlead, or figure skate , without suffering from stereotypical accusations. This needs to stop.
I’m on the right in my good old Elmo cap.
So, what happened after I came out?
There were a number of problems I had after coming out that I didn’t expect. Name-calling is one thing, but there was also:
Other people I know have faced even worse problems:
It’s going to be an issue…until it isn’t an issue!
Being a lesbian does not change my ability to be an athlete or play any kind of role to determine the sport I wish to participate in. The work, time and effort I put into training does. And that’s what I want to shout from the rooftops: not that ‘I’m gay!’ but ‘I’m gay and it doesn’t matter to my performance!’ Which is not as catchy. But my sexuality doesn’t and shouldn’t factor into me being a good athlete or person, with hopes and dreams.
I’m now comfortable enough in my skin that I can happily work my ass off and not let anyone stand in the way of what I want. And I can ignore people when they say that of course I should be good at a ‘man’s’ sport as I am supposedly super-masculine.
But I had to get here mostly on my own. I wish I had someone to tell me all these things as I was coming out. I never want anyone to feel like I did.
The problem is that people still do feel this way, because of the continuing stigma against LGBTQ people in sport. Others in the community need to stand up and speak up to help clear the path for those coming behind us.
When we are visible and normalised, there will be less hate in the world. And people of all kinds will be able to come out of their closets, whether it’s the closet of sexuality or the ‘I’m a big butch man but I gotta dance’ closet.
Why role models matter to the LGBT community
There’s another reason we LGBTQ athletes need to make ourselves more visible. There are a lot of self-destructive and unhealthy behaviours in the wider community that need combating with positive, healthy role models. For example:
Some wise person said ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’ Having LGBTQ role models in sport will inspire more people to discover how training and competing can give them purpose. I know that sport has always helped give me purpose. Gravity and the barbell don’t care about who I love. They only care about how hard I fight them.
Written by Sarah Glanvill, 10 months ago
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