BEYOND THE BALLS. HOMOEROTICISM IN SPORT; A CASE FOR AND AGAINST
WORDS BY MATT FORD
Let’s make one thing clear: Homoeroticism has always been a part of sports. Always has been, always will be. If you don’t believe me, do a little research on the all-nude ancient Greek Olympics (Read Homoeroticism in Greek Art and the Philosophy of Love). Or perhaps we could dive into the phenomenon that is baseball pants. And don’t get me started on Turkish oil wrestling. (I should put a disclaimer here that a friend of mine from Turkey says they don’t find it homoerotic whatsoever. I don’t think that’s the case for everyone else.) Which leads me to ask… how was homoeroticism conceptualised and why is it so often referenced within the context of sport?
It’s 2018 and inclusivity, body positivity and sexual fluidity are the themes on everyone’s lips and t-shirts— this has me asking: Is homoeroticism an innocent escapist fantasy for a traditionally sexually repressed social group, or a concept undermining the complexity of gay men to reductive sexual identities? Let me break it down for you in my best pro-con format, which I incidentally also used to decide whether it was worth paying to watch UFC fighters in speedos.
“Is homoeroticism an innocent escapist fantasy for a traditionally sexually repressed social group, or a concept undermining the complexity of gay men to reductive sexual identities?”
The Case For: The Olympic Games in Ancient Greece, the ancestor of professional sports, at its inception was exclusively for men and the contestants competed naked. But that was then Matt, and this is now, you may be saying to your screen. What about homoeroticism in modern day sports? I’m glad you asked that convenient question that I wrote for you, reader. And the answer is that we’re living in a world where those who have always been at the fringes of society are being recognized in the mainstream and have platforms to be heard on an unprecedented level, and that brings corporate wokeness with it. In simpler terms: audiences want queer content, and who is more beloved than a queer Olympian? The Gus Kenworthys and Adam Rippons are marketing gold in a world where more and more athletic role models are coming out.
And the homoeroticism, both intentional and unintentional, that comes along with these queer icons allows for a safer space for future queer athletes to be themselves. Homophobic people would call it “normalization,” but I have news for them: we’ve always been here. We were simply frightened into suppression. So go ahead and smooch your boyfriend on live TV, Gus Kenworthy. Maybe a 12-year-old queer boy will see that and continue onto the Olympics (or become a disgruntled 26-year-old writer living in New York City).
“But given that sexuality is such a significant factor of identity — particularly in a toxic masculine society where to be considered queer is so often considered synonymous with “less than” — then the benefit of visibility outweighs the potential cost of objectification or narrowing of perceived identity.”
The Case Against: Jacked NFL players in crop tops huddling together is why I pay for premium sports channels and am also single. Can you argue that homoeroticism in sports is reducing marginalized members of society to a sexual identity? Of course. Nobody wants to be reduced to a single adjective or stereotype, and conservative folks with homophobic inclinations could certainly try to use the allusions to same-sex sexy times to do just that.
But given that sexuality is such a significant factor of identity — particularly in a toxic masculine society where to be considered queer is so often considered synonymous with “less than” — then the benefit of visibility outweighs the potential cost of objectification or narrowing of perceived identity. Why not allow also into sports what things like But I’m A Cheerleader and RuPaul’s Drag Race did to further the culture, and maybe open up a few minds along the way?
Oops. Once again, much like on my decision on premium sports channels, I allowed my con to become a bit of a pro. However, I think it’s clear from weighing the arguments — especially given the history of organized sports — that homoeroticism is here to stay, and stay it should. If this article wasn’t enough to convince of such, I’ll re-emphasize once again: Baseball pants.