As an incorrigible football addict in my teens more than 50 years ago, I wanted to play Aussie Rules. Disappointingly then, no avenues existed to pursue my passion, entertained by watching the ‘boys’ from the boundary instead. Fortunately, times have changed and the advent of a league of their own next year portends well for females infatuated with the game. It also heralds a unique opportunity for the AFL male hierarchy and male fans to say No to homophobia with resounding conviction. The AFL has helped combat racism over several decades and it is now paramount it embraces equality with genuine inclusion.
No AFL footballer has ever acknowledged his homosexuality despite Yarra Glen Football Club player, Jason Ball, admitting his gayness over four years ago. Indeed, a dearth of male sports’ stars have ever ‘come out’; Ian Thorpe in 2014 after his illustrious swimming career was over, British Olympian diver, Tom Daley, NBA Brooklyn Nets teamster, Jason Collins and ex-NFL St Louis Rams’ player, Michael Sam; to name a few. Surreptitiously it seems, homophobia still proscribes public declarations of being gay, a conspiracy of silence shrouding honesty out of fear of abuse and ridicule. Women playing football now demands the AFL intensify its persuasive arguments about homophobia as it did with racism. Mild mannerisms of acceptance no longer suffice.
Meeting female footballers over the past few years and anecdotal conversations about the players indicate there are many lesbians out on the field. Yet, no angst arises; certainly not in the media and not from the players themselves; their sexual diversity apparently a non-issue in the public domain. Of course, that’s the way it should be with social acceptance of their sexual diversity highlighting the ‘norm’ of their sexual behaviour. This reality should be implicit in the men’s game no differently. We must learn from the women’s game to appreciate that the sexual diversity ‘norm’ for female players should be exactly the same for men, or any LGBTI individual. Indeed, the inclusivity of the women’s game must be paraded publicly for meaningful change in social attitudes for both genders; deeming sexual diversity as irrelevant in a quest for a level playing field.
Perhaps women playing football do not discuss their sexual diversity socially because it is a no-brainer, as of what importance is the choice of a sexual partner when you’re soaring for a speccy or dashing excitedly to kick the winning goal? Or is a latent fear of malicious exposure denying them debate? Can public admission of homosexuality or lesbianism contribute to ‘normalising’ sexual diversity with greater social acceptance? Tennis legend Martina Navratilova who ‘came out’ in 1981, commented in an interview last year “with each passing celebrity coming out or athlete, it becomes less of a big deal and that’s eventually what we want it to be, for it not just to matter.” For women playing football it already seems no big deal, comfortable about their sexual diversity without a need for public affirmation. The AFL needs to recognise this as a powerful weapon to achieve the same for the men. The social double-standard of indulgent heterosexual behaviour applauding males as “studs” and attacking females as “sluts” in the 60s when I was an adolescent is extant in football with an ironic twist if it’s homosexual behaviour; a double standard in reverse.
Lesbianism has never been a crime in Victoria as homosexuality was until 1981 when it was legalised. Just recently, the Victorian Government expunged records for this crime. The law ‘apologised’, but abandoning antipathetic attitudes requires more than tacit adherence to tolerance. Creating inclusion for real equity must be addressed by more than a few Pride games and occasional marketing by the AFL. Last year, when the Demons played the Western Bulldogs at the MCG, the Channel 7 live broadcast peaked at 501,000; testimony to the popularity and underlying acceptance of these women players. In sync with the AFL, female lesbian players should assist men into a ‘comfort zone’ to express their sexual diversity without fear of recrimination or rancour.
It is well documented that LGB sports players attract homophobia and the need for AFL action should be obvious as this harassment can be, and often is, as inimical to mental well-being as racist rants and boos. A study by the Young and Well Co-operative Research Centre, Growing Up Queer, estimated 16 per cent of LGBTIQ young Australians had attempted suicide and a third had harmed themselves because of harassment, with as many as two-thirds being bullied about their sexual orientation. The report revealed widespread homophobic harassment and violence in schools, at work and importantly, at sporting events. The findings also included that 42 per cent had thought about self-harm or suicide, making them six times more likely to consider taking their own lives than heterosexual peers.
Maybe women footballers should contemplate “coming out” to champion their norm to be inculcated in the male game and across society. They can serve as sexually diverse ‘mentors’ in spheres other than football too, for young females and just as importantly for males. Learning ball skills and tactical strategies about the game from men, they can now teach men social skills and strategies to enjoy their sexual diversity on the field as well as off it, without inhibition. The AFL must enshrine sexual diversity as the status quo as it’s done with race and religion over recent decades.
I still watch and love the game, embracing diversity as a pervasive fundamental beyond football and if you think I’m a lesbian, I say “thank you” as Gloria Steinem once responded many years ago. Women who follow that football on the field can now lead men to follow them in establishing sexual diversity as a norm to be respected not feared.