The Sporting Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name

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pic: Michael Hensman

I wrote this piece back in 2003 in the wake of some sex scandals in the AFL and NRL, involving groups of players ‘sharing’, or, more brutally, ‘spit roasting’, women.

Since then sport has slowly, painfully, begun to address sexism and homophobia in sport without, I would argue, addressing the core issue: the endemic homosexuality of male team sport.

The culture of pack rapes in sport needs to be addressed, but I fear the wellspring of this activity is not even being noticed, much less addressed. The debate so far has been conducted on terms that make it clear many of the participants are either ignorant of the true drivers of this behaviour, or unwilling to face the facts. 

Men have sex with men when they get the chance 

If you sequester a group of fit young men in close intimacy – as, for example, in prison, in army camp, in seminaries – then a strongly homoerotic situation results, with many men who would not otherwise express the normally supressed but wholly natural homosexual component of their nature enjoying same sex activities. This is so well known as to be a cliche.

Trainers exploit the vulnerability of men in groups 

Team training is designed to deliberately exploit this fact. Here we have extremely fit young men, with high sex drives, in a closely interdependent team, facing an external threat – the opposing army or team. These young men sleep, eat, shower and train together, frequently naked or near-naked, and in close physical contact.

Their physical and emotional dependence on each other is promoted and encouraged: you “do it for your mates.” By an act of misdirection, the reason for which we’ll get to later, it is called “male bonding”, but it’s real name is love. 

Don’t mention the homoeroticism 

Small wonder, then, that a powerfully homoerotic atmosphere– though God forbid we should call it by it’s true name – results. But the trainers also simultaneously maintain a strenuously anti-gay culture. The desired result is thus achieved: a high level of confusion, frustration and consequent aggression, which is then available to be channeled against opponents on the field of play.

This is why sports teams so often taunt their opponents with homophobic epithets, calling them pouftas, girls etc. They are saying that their opponents are weak because they succumbed to and acted upon the homoerotic milieu in which we all live – we, however, being stronger, did not.

This is why team members used to be encouraged to refrain from sex with their female partners before a match, lest the aggression be dissipated and the team bond weakened.

This is why the sports hierarchies fought so long to keep gays out: if you admit and allow homosexuality in the training rooms, this strategy is weakened. An outlet for the sexual tension that has been deliberately created will then be available within the team. 

The same logic was behind the ban of women being allowed in training rooms. These trainers know they are playing with fire – they feared the presence of a match would set off an explosion and “reduce operational effectiveness.”

Clearly, this is a dangerous pressure-cooker strategy – it might lead to footballers forcing sex on each other, in accordance with the pecking order, as happens in prison. This is turn might lead to factions and jealousies within the team. 

Men can have sex with men and still think it’s striaght – just stick a woman in the middle 

This is where group sex comes in, and why it is an integral part of sports culture. It’s a safety valve, where the men can have sex with each other, without appearing to, by forcing it on someone else. 

The interpellation of a female body between the genitals of two rutting footballers allows them to believe they are having sex with her, whilst they are actually having sex with each other. When two men simultaneously enter a woman, her presence is not as a person herself, or even a sexual object. She is a human distraction, superficially heterosexualising the situation. Other members of the team, aroused by the sight of their desired mates engaged in sex, join the action, or masturbate while awaiting their turn to engage the only permitted orifices present.

It is only by exposing this abusive mechanism that we can begin to change it. The homoeroticism of sport must be encouraged and celebrated rather than being repressed. Less destructive and dangerous mechanisms must be employed in the training process. Only then will the culture of pack rape begin to disappear – and both gays and women will be the beneficiaries.

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)