P*fter, f*ggot, q*eer, b*nt, b*m boy, f*iry – FA players, both straight and gay, have been in the firing line of such bombardments of abuse for many years now.
In the second half of the 20th century, the lack of professional footballer players of African or Asia origin, despite their clear presence in the make-up of British society, became apparent. In somewhat a similar manner, the absence of gay players has come to the fore at the beginning of the 21st century.
“Absence” is perhaps a misleading word. There are gay players in the FA: 8 in total according to Clarke Carlisle, chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association. They are there; we all know it.
They simply are not ‘out’. The question is why?
The answer in the newspapers is the apparent homophobic abuse from fans which players have to deal with game in game out.
What if that were only part of the answer? What if an element of this lies with gay players themselves?
Living in a country like Poland, where homophobia is rife not only in sports but in other aspects of life, I have had the opportunity to meet many gay men for whom coming out of the closet is not even a remote option – not even to close friends, probably not to work colleagues and certainly not to family.
Those who can’t come out often fit a certain stereotype: they are young, already somewhat successful at this early stage of their careers, they have a lot ahead of them and they come from more conservative backgrounds. Most importantly: they are very straight-acting.
I recently met such a guy in Poland. He is so heterosexual in his appearance, demeanour and style, I was taken by surprise when he came out to me.
However, he is so far in the closet, he won’t even go to a gay bar. One reason is the fear that he may be spotted by a friend, an associate or a client; the other is the fact that he isn’t gay but a man “with homosexual tendencies.”
For him, gay men are camp, effeminate and weak. In his eyes, they represent everything a man shouldn’t be, i.e. men should be masculine, brave and strong.
In our long conversations, he portrayed to me an image of gayness which would be detrimental to him and his life, should he ever be outted.
What would work in his favour would be an image of homosexuality in which gay men are perceived as men who like men but still maintain the stereotypical masculine qualities, such as being strong, confident and brave.
Yet, ironically, those three characteristics are already present in so many gay men: those ‘effeminate’ and ‘camp’ gay guys who are strong enough, confident enough and brave enough to go out into the world and be themselves.
It is their bravery which has led to them coming out and showing the world who they truly are. If the world only knows one kind of gay man, i.e. a camp one, then no wonder there is a total absence of straight-acting gay men in professional life.
Such men need to be the change they want to see. If gay men truly come in all shapes and sizes, then they need to show it to the world. My friend in Poland, the 8 gay FA players and all other professional men need to grow a pair of balls and come out the closet once and for all.