The success stories of queer individuals who excel in arts, literature, fashion and cinema often get paramount consideration among readers. Whereas sports, an area which unwaveringly demands the body's presence in strict binary boxes of gender, has always been perceived with a little enthusiasm while coupling LGBT community and its visibility, in India. This article attempts to briefly search how sports can be an enlivening activity for various persons within the queer spectrum.
Priya*, a lesbian woman dwelling in Mumbai says, “Sports has always been my passion! It was an apt outlet for me not only as a stress buster but also in terms of successful attempt to come out. Indeed, I could spot many a woman, like me and who are active in sports." The impression of ‘sport’ as a mandatory gender performance terrain has recently faced avant-garde response, with the Kerala State Transgender athletics meet, held in Trivandrum. This event, organized by the state sports council and SGMFK, hit hard the notions centered on ‘the ability to take part’ in sports as a body performance. So was the Gender Neutral Football league in Malappuram, earlier this year. Other than the systematized form of sports, which is competitive in nature and demands vigorous virility, sports can also be a day-to-day riveting leisure time activity for queer individuals, says Andy Silveira, a scholar and Marathon runner from Hyderabad. Adding to empowerment Andy says, "Fitness toughens the body and channelizes our energies to fresher level of daily engagements. For LGBTIQ individuals, who experience apathy and ostracism, sports as a mode of exercise, is a good way to rejuvenate oneself with self-esteem."
Andy, as an openly gay person, undoubtedly discloses a pleasant path to relish the exhilarating thrill of sports besides being a catalyst to one’s physical and emotional wellness.
Sports, a perpetual contributor to the advertisement industry, keeps conveying ‘the secret of our energy,' ‘taller, stronger and sharper’ etcetera, thereby censoring the significant other who doesn’t qualify masculinity standards defined to excel, in specie outdoor games. The anxiety of being able or not to lay out applaud worthy machismos sewed with lack of visible forerunners among Indian LGBTIQ community, in the field of sports, haunts gays who wish to find career in games and athletics. Vasudhendra Shroff, a noted Kannada writer and gay personality, reminds us the ill effect of homophobia prevalent among sports groups and in adolescent same gender sports groups. “"Whenever I participated in cricket during my childhood, my friends always made fun of the way I used to throw the ball. This kept me away from all 'manly' sports. Later in life, when I had started accepting my sexuality and gained my confidence back; I realized that I am super good at sports. I started playing squash, . Even at my age, I am a restless hiker. I regret the fact that I did not enjoy my sports life during my childhood." On the flipside, amid the wide homophobic sports enclaves in suburban and rural areas, bodies of the same gender which engage in team sports are found homo-erotic, from a queer gaze. Such intriguing impressions are plenty in the poetic dictions of Jayan K. Cherian, who transferred the subtle charm of homo-sociality from his poems to his films - The Kabbadi scene in his film ‘KaBodyscapes’ being an example.
No doubt that team sports like Kabbadi are archetypes of homo-sociality, for Heterosexual men tending to be affectionate during victory or out of excitement during matches are pleasing plots for same gender desire bearing beings.
Involvement in games during adolescence is, at times, a matter of developing and maintaining hearty amity; which moulds nostalgic chronicles. This enthralling experience have been plots for some popular movies, ‘Rakshadhikari Baiju Oppu’ being the latest. The film is another visual citation, which depicts every man, involved in the sport team, by default as heterosexual and thereby obeying the social conduct ascribed for men to be men.
Whispering more about the discomfort to engage in heterosexual exclusive spaces like outdoor games popular in rural areas, Arun*, shares his experience. As a Malayali gay person, who was active in district and state football tournaments, he tells “My team mates wasn’t aware of my sexuality and hence there was no discrimination owing to homophobia. But things turned upside down when my coach, who knew me personally, passed a homophobic joke tagging me during an overnight gathering. I couldn’t sleep for many days, as the whole team recognized my secret overnight. I no longer felt part of the team and I had no choice than to halt my sporting path”. Isn’t it vital for one’s daily life to experience some sense of belonging, sharing joys together and sense social interaction being with friends’ groups? The ill-wind in Arun’s case throws light on the pivotal requisite for allies to not use sexual minority concerns as sarcastic elements. He also pitched the significance for sports domains to be inclusive and have steps to deal with homophobia, starting from school levels/ NCC and similar groups etc. In order to actualize this guidance on SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) can be made part of sports training programs, camps and physical education training. The solidarity of International Olympic Committee for the LGBT community, post Sochi Winter Olympics, is truly commendable; for IOC could come up with anti-discriminatory clause inclusive of sexual orientation. The record number (56) Out* athletes, in Rio Olympics, was indeed a recognition for queer people, who wished to outdo in sports and had endured sluggish memoirs during school stint and training periods. Let there be many an Ian Thorpe, Martina Navarathlova, Jason Collins and Robbie Roggers from Indian LGBT community too and influence their fandom, in bringing better acceptance.
1. ‘Radical’ Critics and KaBodyscapes
2. ‘LGBTQ Sport and Leisure’ by Katherine Schweighofer, Dickinson College.
3. Kerala Introduces Gender-Neutral Football League For Men, Women And Transgender People
4. Why The Record Number Of Out LGBT Athletes Competing In Rio Matters
5. Gay sportsmen and women
* Priya and Arun are anonymous names used to maintain privacy of the respondents who shared personal experiences for this article