In recent weeks I have seen two news items about gay sportsmen. First, that of American NBA player Jason Collins who came out last month and was largely congratulated by fans and media alike. Second, an interview on BBC Breakfast with Amal Fashanu about her campaign to fight homophobia in football. Amal’s uncle, Justin Fashanu, had been a Norwich City FC player during the 1980s – Norwich is my home city, although I must admit to knowing absolutely nothing about football. Justin had also come out during his playing career, he sadly took his own life in 1998. Former Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas also made big news when announcing he was gay at the end of his playing career in 2009.
I’ve never written about being gay, I have neither needed to or wanted to – and I won’t. It would bore the hell out of me to do so; it’s not a defining part of my character and I don’t want to appear to load it with importance it simply doesn’t warrant. I figured myself out when I was young enough to have taken it for granted without any emotional turmoil, so there’s really no story to tell.
Perhaps because of my casual acceptance of myself other people seem quite surprised when they find out I’m not straight. I’ve never felt a burning need to tell anyone. Would a straight person walk into a room of strangers and loudly announce to everyone that they’re married or insist on showing photos of their kids to everyone? Not often, thankfully. It’s needless self-disclosure that no one asked for and wasn’t warranted in the circumstances. Overly-familiar behaviour like that is a bit creepy, it makes people feel awkward. Why announce my sexual preferences to people as soon as I meet them, or indeed reveal that much about myself to acquaintances who are never going to form a significant part of my life?
So, I actually find myself rather satisfied when a straight guy tries to make conversation with me about cars, football, women or breasts. Some might say they are demonstrating their narrow-mindedness, or the fallacy of making assumptions about the people they talk to. I can’t deny that, it’s true – it is human nature. Everyone forms a first-sight opinion of others and almost unconsciously talks to them in a manner believed to be an appropriate match. So, with that in mind, there’s a part of me that feels quite flattered when a guy forms a split-second opinion of me and then engages me in ‘bloke talk’. From my perspective such conversations provide a reassurance that I don’t tick the boxes of any recognisable stereotype. I still retain hidden depths that their perception hasn’t been able to reach.
Needless showboating is why I often find men whose entire lives circle around a gay lifestyle to be rather irritating – because to an extent it embarrasses me, I’m sure that some people expect me to be equally screamingly obvious. The showboaters go exclusively to gay pubs, buy nothing but gay magazines, go on gay cruises, bake themselves golden-orange in the sun at gay-only resorts, and chat about all things gay. Yes, everyone has the absolute right to be themselves but personally I find that whole scene too shallow and pretentious for me to feel at ease. For the record, I often went to a gay club in my mid-twenties. I came to realise that I was dressing like a total wanker and ordering drinks that warranted paper umbrellas. Fed-up with it, I eventually got barred for verbally announcing my opinion of the place as I passed the bouncer on my way out. It didn’t take me long to form the opinion that I prefer socialising with people who are neither self-obsessed nor spend inexplicably long periods of time in the gents.
I don’t wish to be such a predictable, easily recognisable, vacuous stereotype – to be pigeonholed – and I dislike it when people make the assumption that all gay men can be encompassed under a luridly pink and glittery umbrella. The faltering of that misconception in the face of gay men playing professionally in traditionally masculine sporting arenas might go some way to dissolve the assumption that gay men are unable to have a serious interest or ability in a sport.
Now, if you’ll excuse me I need to go grab a cold beer and watch 200lb ice-hockey players beating the crap out of each other (no innuendo intended!)
Picture credit: BBC Three, ‘Snog, Marry, Avoid’, May 2013