"That's not gay!" – sportsphobia in the gay community
Mahmoud Hassino on coming out of the closet as a football fan
Feb. 08 – I often find myself sharing my love for football as if I were confessing a sin. Loving football (or “soccer”) is considered a “not-so-gay” quirk. My cisgender heterosexual friends, as well as LGBTIQ ones, find it weird that I enjoy watching football. I was confronted with this stereotype in Europe more than in Syria, probably because both gayness and football are quite commercialized here. Many gay men tend to self-stereotype in accordance with the characteristics assigned to them by heteronormativity, whereas football is considered to be a “macho“ sport and often connected with homophobia.
The topic of football came up last year when I expressed my frustration with Hertha Berlin’s result in the second half of the season. Hertha were third in the table for most of the first half of the 2016/17 Bundesliga, which would have qualified them to UEFA Champions League (UCL); my favorite football tournament. Unfortunately, they finished seventh and were not eligible to compete in the UCL. When I explained that what I love are the tactics, individual skills and the ability to deal with the given circumstances, I felt I was speaking Martian. Someone said, “Well, nobody’s perfect.”
On the other side of the spectrum, the political queer community expressed a different view that is very left-typical: football incites nationalism and is a commercialized capitalist game. The discussions are more focused on politics and governments’ attitudes and less concerned with the sport itself. Women's football, however, is always considered to be an accomplishment for women and the equality cause. When one tries to point out the double standard by mentioning that FIFA governs both women's and men's football, the response is always the same: “You need to fight the system from within.”
Discussions about football in LGBTIQ scenes resemble our struggles and shortcomings. As we strive to fight stereotypes and generalizations, we fall into the same trap: creating our own sets of stereotypes about ourselves and others, deciding which traits should be LGBTIQ and rejecting those who don’t comply with these “rules”. At the same time, we are less concerned with redefining equality and inclusion and are more focused on creating limited safe spaces and segregation. Cis hetero bigots would be happy to throw us a bone and watch us wasting our time chewing on it. We have accepted being the “others” and embraced the roles of victims.
We shouldn’t call another LGBTIQ person a freak just because they act outside of our set of roles and rules. Football is just an example of our self-stereotyping. Sometimes when I watch football at home, my partner says teasingly, “I’m going out to look for a gay partner.” Being admittedly somewhat a freak, I booked us two tickets for a football match in the Rosaleda Stadium in Malaga where we are travelling later this month. I hope attending his first game would broaden his annoyingly limited perspectives.
Mahmoud Hassino started Syria’s first LGBT magazine and now works for gay counseling network Schwulenberatung Berlin