Pink in Sport
Monday, 25 November 2019
A personal story about sport and being gay from one of our sports ambassadors
My relationship with sport varied drastically as I grew up – from a very young age I was encouraged to participate in everything from Football and Swimming to Karate and Tennis. Some things I loved, others I loathed, but I persevered and through these activities I made friends, stayed fit and gained some decent trophies to stick on my bedroom shelf.
Then a period of instability in my mid-teens changed things dramatically: I had to constantly travel between England and Mexico, didn’t have a regular training schedule anymore and my diet suffered from the indulgences of Mexican cuisine. In other words, I became very unfit, lost my self-confidence and with the added weight of sexual confusion, it soon became apparent I needed to drastically change my lifestyle.
In this era of constant social media scrutiny, all teenagers face immense pressure to emulate the idealised images presented by the media and this can unfortunately lead to body dysmorphias, depression and eating disorders. LGBT+ teenagers face the additional stress of dealing with bullying in school that partially stems from a lack of LGBT+ inclusive education and partially from negative stereotypes/misconceptions regarding what it means to be LGBT+.
I was no different and whether it was in the PE changing rooms or on the playing field, whispers of ‘fag’, smirks and general ostracisation from the ‘lads’ was standard practice.
Regardless, I took it upon myself to lose weight by eating healthily and gradually getting into a regular running routine. I chose to run instead of team sports or swimming because I could do this alone without fear of judgement, could keep my t-shirt on and most importantly, could secretly blast all the Britney I wanted through my headphones.
People didn’t care if I was gay, they only cared if I wanted to run and get better at it.
I found running a total cathartic release from stress and by gradually making my routes longer, I had an easy, quantitative way of measuring my improvement. I no longer loathed looking at myself in the mirror and could confidently enter a changing room and undress without fear. This continued throughout college and then during my undergraduate studies at Sheffield University, where I joined the Athletics society and learnt the art of hill running and true long distance stamina.
I was apprehensive before joining, not out of concern of my ability but because I didn’t know how tolerant the rest of the society would be of an openly gay man. I debated hiding it completely and for the first few weeks I simply didn’t mention anything, people were friendly and we just ran.
Inevitably though, once socials started and drink was involved, games were played and questions were asked that I felt I couldn’t lie about so I was open and honest about my sexuality. Thankfully, the reaction was completely positive and in a way almost mercifully indifferent – people didn’t care if I was gay, they only cared if I wanted to run and get better at it.
After a while, alongside Athletics at Sheffield, I decided to try out for something completely new to me, Rowing. Open auditions were held and after fitness tests and practices on the lake, I made the tentative reserve squad. Again, I was apprehensive to be totally out but as this was a team environment, I thought it was an important step in forming bonds with the other guys.
There are always going to be small pockets of ignorance in society, regardless of how much education and support is given, but what’s important is that we as a majority continue to accept and celebrate differences, promote visibility and respect each other.
Unfortunately the reaction wasn’t similar to Athletics and whilst the girls were great, the guys would barely acknowledge me and when they did, the distain was palpable. Whether it was the regular 5am starts, the sense of not belonging or a combination, I ultimately didn’t last more than a few months with them.
This contrast in experiences taught me a lot. I wasn’t angry about what happened, instead I just felt motivated to work out why there was a lack of LGBT+ visibility and acceptance in rowing whilst in athletics it was celebrated or seen as a simple everyday fact of life. Was it a lack of openly-out LGBT+ athletes or an underlying ‘macho’ culture in male team sports?
Since starting my masters at Oxford Brookes, I have worked on reception at the sports centre, taken up weightlifting at the gym and also joined the Athletics society. My experience has been similar to Sheffield and everyone treats me with respect and as part of the group. Throughout the many training sessions, group runs and social events, I have never felt judged for being myself and that has massively increased my confidence in a sporting environment.
There are always going to be small pockets of ignorance in society, regardless of how much education and support is given, but what’s important is that we as a majority continue to accept and celebrate differences, promote visibility and respect each other – we don’t care how someone chooses to live their life, we just care that they want to run.