Sunday, May 23, 2010

Gays; Football; Etc.

I do not like disagreeing with the smart and stylish Ms Helen Razer. I intensely dislike it; it gives me a migraine and makes me irritable. So it's fortunate that I am rarely forced to do so. But unfortunately one of those rare occasions has now cropped up.

Even more unfortunately, it's on a matter of homosexual issues, on which I am in no way an expert, and not being gay, not particularly well equipped to comment form a position of empathy. But even so.

I disagree with Helen's article which comments on Jason Akermanis's article in the Herald Sun.

The reason I disagree with it is because I really think Helen has misread it. If, as she says, all Akermanis was saying was "it wasn't a good idea for players to "come out" due to the storm of publicity such an act would brew", there'd be no problem.

If Akermanis had simply written that homophobia is a major problem in the AFL, there'd be no problem.

If Akermanis had said that any player who came out as gay would be subject to enormous pressure and vilification, there'd be no problem.

If Akermanis had said that he would advise a gay footballer to keep it secret purely because of the potential damage it would do that player, there'd be no problem.

But he didn't. He said players should stay in the closet, not just for their own sake, but so they didn't damage the "fabric of a club". So they didn't make their teammates uncomfortable in the locker room. Because once he played with a gay guy and nobody wanted to shower with him. Because, in fact, there is too much homoeroticism in football for homosexuality to be acceptable!

And there's the problem. Because if the fabric of a football club is such that it cannot handle homosexuality, the fabric of that club is not worth keeping intact. And if other players are made uncomfortable by the presence of a gay teammate, that's their problem, and they should go away and work on it as much as they need to to take their place in the 21st century as normal, fully-functioning human beings without idiotic hang-ups about gay people.

Now, I get where Helen's coming from. All those voices who pressure closeted gays to come out are misguided; nobody should "have to" come out if they don't want to. Nobody should have to define their sexuality if they don't want to. And if Gary Burns is launching a human rights complaint against Akermanis, then, well, Gary Burns is kind of a tool. And when she says:

Speaking from a personal experience, as many weighing in on this matter have, it's exhausting being defined in the terms of one's sexuality. And this is how one is explicitly defined after the disclosure, "I'm gay" or, worse, "I'm bisexual". Try it as an experiment in your workplace this afternoon. You will be treated as a hyper-sexual peril who cannot be trusted with anything including the stationery supplies. It's exhausting.


I get it, and that sucks. It's terrible.

BUT...it's really pretty easy for those of us who are perfectly able to live whatever lifestyle we want to, to form relationships with who we want to, to take whoever we want to out for dinner, to kiss whoever we want to in public, without worrying about getting vilified, abused, and ostracised by our friends and colleagues, without worrying about our career being crippled, without worrying about witnesses who might run to the paper to splash our name across the front page - in short, for those of us who have no need for a secret life - to tell others they shouldn't make such a big deal about their sexuality.

Straight people get to do all that. In most spheres of life, gay people do too. Those of us making a living commenting on these issues, like me, or Helen, or Gerard Whateley, or Michael Shmith, certainly do: should we be in a relationship with a partner of our choosing, nobody will tell us we have no right to tell anyone about it because it's all too much for our fragile industry to bear.

In football, they don't (apparently this also applies to politics - see David Campbell).

And that's they key. It's not about making a big hullabaloo about sexuality. It's not about being a "career homosexual". It's not about anyone having any kind of "duty" to come out. It's about saying, if people don't want to hide their sexuality, they shouldn't have to. If you don't want to say "I'm gay", or "I'm bisexual" at work, don't. It's idiotic to suppose you should "have to". But if someone asks you about your partner at work, you shouldn't feel that you have to lie about it either.

A footballer should be able to hold his boyfriend's hand on the Brownlow red carpet. A footballer should be able to kiss his boyfriend in public. A footballer should be able to mention his boyfriend in an interview. Or not, if he doesn't want to. But nobody has the moral right to tell him he shouldn't.

The first one who does is going to cop it, pretty harshly. It will take massive courage to do it, and I don't blame anyone who chooses not to go down that path. Nobody should ever be pressured to come out, in any walk of life. But nobody should be pressured not to, either, and THAT is where Akermanis breaks down, and where his supporters make their mistake too, in my opinion.

Because Akermanis may hope for a day when "coming out isn't a big deal", but the fact is, that day will never come unless people actually do it. Nobody will ever let you sit at the front of the bus as long as you stay in the back with your mouth shut.

I hope no gay footballer feels he "has" to come out. Or that he "has" to stay in the closet. But I hope someday soon some DO come out, because that inestimably brave act will be the first step towards ensuring future footballers don't have to be that brave, just to stop hiding.

7 comments:

Helen Razer said...

Well. Ben. You could have called and made your displeasure known to me directly. But then you may not have had a blog post today.
I truly don’t mind if you disagree; publicly or otherwise. Particularly when you’re so pig-rimmingly wrong.
Thank you, on the behalf of queers everywhere, for your fight against homophobia, I suppose. But, in so doing, be careful to cherry pick your quotes a little less clumsily.
You say,
“(Akermanis said) players should stay in the closet, not just for their own sake, but so they didn't damage the "fabric of a club". So they didn't make their teammates uncomfortable in the locker room. Because once he played with a gay guy and nobody wanted to shower with him. Because, in fact, there is too much homoeroticism in football for homosexuality to be acceptable!”
Aker says,
“Imagine the publicity associated with a current player admitting he's gay. It would be international news and could break the fabric of a club.”
The OP unambiguously states that it is the media storm that would tear apart a team. He does not, at any point, say that it is the threat of sodomy.
He does evoke a shower scene. He does not explicitly say that the homosexual terror therein would tear apart a club. He does mention he was “uncomfortable” but not to the point where his, or anybody else’s, fabric would rip.
He does say that homoerotic activities are normal and seems to be implying that these should not be codified.
And this, you radiant sunflower, was my entire point. That homosexuality should not be codified. That the entire gay rights thing has now run out of steam in showers and elsewhere. To wit,
“We tend to forget that "Homosexuality" has only been codified for about as long as the AFL. In the late 19th century, it was recognised then criminalised then medicalised. When we say "I'm gay" we are uttering a history of modern felony and disease. When we say, "It's really none of your business" we are certainly not changing the world. But nor are we duplicating the Victorian edicts that led sexuality from a vague spectrum into clear-cut club colours.”
Rather obviously, I was using Akermanis’ essentially harmless and overly sensationalised text to make two points
(1) Homosexuality and heterosexuality alike are limiting and poisonous definitions. We should be free to move about the spectrum.
(2) The progressive mock-horror at Akermanis’ purported homophobia makes me sick.
It makes me sick because I am not, as per your suggestion, free to pursue my “lifestyle” sans reproach. And, really, my “lifestyle” is only of interest to the left when it can be used as a means to demonstrate how Fucking Progressive they are in their acceptance of it.
Where the fuck were all of you when we were fighting for the HREOC recommendations to be pushed through federal law? Where the fuck is your explicit stake rather generally in the issue of sexuality? Why is interest in sexuality as a cultural and political issue only aroused (sorry) when some footballer dares to utter what most people who identify as straight are thinking anyhow? And did anyone bother to ask ME about “gay marriage”? I think it’s a shit idea. Stop going to rallies on my behalf. I want no part of it.
In the end, what Akermanis said wasn’t that bad. What is bad, Bne, and you know you are someone for whom I have the deepest respect, is this sort of knee jerk, part time pro-Homo todgery that achieves nothing other than the end of debate. Akermanis is no high end queer theorist. He did, however, pose some interesting questions abut sexuality that deserve a better answer that, “You’re a stupid homophobe.”

Ben Pobjie said...

Thanks Helen. You know, I don't think "you're a stupid homophobe" is all I've written here.

Helen Razer said...

BP - I was referring more broadly to the reactions to Akermanis' op ed. Which are, pretty much (a) he's a dickhead and (b) I love The Gays. Let's have more of them identify themselves unambiguously, please, so we can congratulate ourselves on our tolerant culture.
You're comments don't typify these entirely. Nonetheless. I did think disagreeing with me was odd. And not just because I'm Always Right but because, surely, there are better arguments to mount (sorry) than one with queer identity. As I said in the piece and re-posted here, "Homosexual" and all that this implies (and it does imply "coming out" and a static declaration of sexuality) is a flawed and damaging identity category. As I see it. Queer is the next step.
I think I may have grown tired of this argument. My last word on the matter here

Ben Pobjie said...

"I was referring more broadly to the reactions to Akermanis' op ed. Which are, pretty much (a) he's a dickhead and (b) I love The Gays. Let's have more of them identify themselves unambiguously, please, so we can congratulate ourselves on our tolerant culture."

It is true that few commentators have recognised that Aker's piece was a bit more nuanced than is being generally propagated.

And like you, I actually have a soft spot for Aker, and I suspect that if he is homophobic, he's probably a lot less so than many others in his profession.


"Nonetheless. I did think disagreeing with me was odd. And not just because I'm Always Right but because, surely, there are better arguments to mount (sorry) than one with queer identity."

Um. Probably. But to be honest I didn't even know that was what I was doing, so, er, I'm not sure what to say.

"I think I may have grown tired of this argument"

You are not alone.

Carl said...

Good sort of reason on being disagree on the Helen's article, and also the post is quite interesting.

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