Robbie Rogers - Coming Out to Play

I recently read Coming Out to Play, the book written by Robbie Rogers, the only openly gay professional footballer. I had been intending to read this book for a while and hadn’t got round to it but it was recently recommended to me and this gave me the push to actually read it. 

It was, without a doubt, the hardest book that I have ever read. Not because it was not interesting or because it was poorly written but because it was so emotionally difficult. I have never cried whilst reading a book but on a number of occasions I found myself struggling to hold back the tears when reading this one. This was someone else’s story and yet I was reading the history of my life story and all the emotional struggles I had been through and in a clearer way than I could ever explain my own story. It is a strange feeling having your own thoughts explained to you in a better way than you yourself can understand them.

 The similarities between my story and that of Robbie Rogers are many with a couple of notable exceptions: I am not religious, unlike Robbie who comes from a Catholic background, and I’m playing at a far, far lower level than Robbie Rogers, away from any media attention. However, we have far more similarities than we have differences. We both grew up playing a lot of football and from a young age we were exposed to that macho and often homophobic atmosphere of the football culture. We both felt the need to get off with girls so that no one would suspect anything. Neither of us enjoyed it and eventually we both decided that we wouldn’t get off with girls again because it was unfair on the poor girls that we used. Finally, we both came out at similar ages, me when I was 24 and he did it when he was 25, and in similar ways. We both initially came out to our families and friends before we even considered coming out to our football teams. He eventually decided to come out to his footballing world and I hope that one day I will have the courage to overcome my fears and come out in my football world.  

I am not really sure what I expected when I started reading his book but I did not expect it to be such an emotionally difficult book for me to read. I didn’t expect his story to mirror my own story so much and for it to help to understand my own story in much a way. I could write for hours about this book but I don’t want to bore people. Instead I think that over the next blog posts I will take the quotes from the book the meant most to me and I will comment on them. 

Inspirational Stories

It has been a while since I've written. I've got a few topics that I'd like to cover but I'm feeling tired today so just going to keep it simple. In my last post I talked about how videos of YouTube helped me when I was coming out. So I thought that it would be a good idea to put the videos that most inspired me on here. 

1. Troye Sivan

 

Troye Sivan's coming out videos are my favourite coming out videos on YouTube. He speaks so well and I think he does an excellent job of describing the process. Even in these early days of him being out he speaks about the subject and his story so comfortably. At a time when I was utterly terrified it was inspiring to see how someone could be so comfortable with their sexuality.  

These days he is still an advocate for LGBT rights. He is still inspiring me. 

2. Connor Franta

 

Similarly to Troye Sivan, Connor Franta describes excellently his coming out story. I love the contrast between his two videos. You can tell that in the first video he is scared. In the second video he is really comfortable. It just showed me no matter how scared I got whilst coming out that one day I could be comfortable like Connor Franta.

3. Matthewac1

 

This one is a bit different from the other two. Its not his story but his coming out to his mum live. It is nice to see her positive reaction to his news. This one brought a tear to my eye when I first saw it.

There are thousands of coming out videos on YouTube and I feel like I watched them all but these three were the standouts for me. I'm not 100% sure why I liked these videos so much. I think that it is because I can related so well to the people in these videos. They are all a similar age to me. Another aspect of the three videos that I like is that in all three the coming out goes well. Obviously when I was terrified of coming out myself it was positive stories like these that I needed to see. 

4. Slightly different but makes me laugh

This was a speech made by a New Zealand MP during a debate on gay marriage. He makes a lot of serious points but in a comical manner. He completely belittles some of the arguments used by people who are against gay marriage. Always worth a watch if you need cheering up.  

This is not a gay porn website

I've got so many topics that I would like to discuss and it is quite hard to decide what to write about. I think something that I should cover early is why I am bothering to write this story and why I want to share my own story. 

It is a very personal subject to discuss and the internet opens my story up to the entire world. However I feel as if I owe something to the online LGBT community. Before I first decided to come out to my close friends and family, at the start of this year, I spent hours trawling the internet for advice on the matter and to hear other people's coming out stories. I watched endless YouTube videos of people telling their coming out stories. (Ironically lots of videos say how they watched YouTube videos before they came out). These videos were inspiring and I genuinely do not think I would have been able to come out without having the confidence that these videos gave me. Interestingly a lot of the videos describe a similar story and it was indeed a similar story to the one I experienced. Everybody's coming out story is unique but there are plenty of similarities with what the majority of people experience. 

After I had initially come out I then returned to the internet to find stories about amateur footballers who had come out and what it was like playing amateur football as a gay person. I was again searching the internet for the inspiration to help me come out to my football team. However this time the search was fruitless. I couldn't find any stories that were similar to mine. Part of the problem is that if you enter "amateur gay footballer" into Google you get a mountain of gay porn pages returned. If I had searched through the pages long enough I may have been able to find something that could have helped me but it felt like a needle in a haystack.

I decided that after my failed search I would start my own blog and share my own story. I have two aims for this blog.

  1. To provide a story that other people, in a similar situation to me, can relate to and hopefully I can help them.
  2. To hear from other people who have either been through what I am going through or are in a similar situation.

My ultimate dream is that one day I will be completely out the closet and I will be able to share my story and hopefully it will inspire some people in the same way that I was inspired when I first came out to my friends and family. 

PS I've received some comments on the blog and through Twitter. I'm very grateful for them and I'll cover some of the points that they have raised in the coming weeks.  

Going to a LGBT Bar

On Saturday night I went to a LGBT bar in the city that I live. This was a massive step for me. I had been to gay bars before but this was the first time I had been to a LGBT venue in the city that I live. Every time I had been to a LGBT venue in the past it had been when I was visiting another city. This gave me a level of anonymity when visiting such venues. No-one knew me in these cities so I didn’t have anything to hide.

It was certainly a different feeling going to such a venue in the city that I live. The main worry was that someone would see me either entering or exiting the venue. This would lead to them suspecting that my sexuality was not that of a straight person. As much as I would like to reveal my sexuality to everyone and relieve myself of the burden of this secret I am still too insecure about it. So I was taking a major gamble in going to a LGBT venue in my own city but perhaps it was a gamble that I wanted to take. Although at the time I was worried, part of me wanted to see someone I knew. I almost wanted to get ‘caught’. The prospect of telling some people is utterly terrifying but it would almost be easier if people just found out for themselves. Making that announcement is extremely stressful and awkward however if people just ‘found out’ I’m fairly certain that no one would say anything negative but would accept it in due course.

On a side note I do love going to LGBT bars. They are always full of people who are confident in being themselves. I love seeing those people so comfortable being themselves. They are truly inspirational and I hope one day I can be comfortable like them. 

Easy Words but Difficult Actions

We've seen the issue of homosexuality in football continue to appear in the media this week. It  started with FA chairman Greg Clarke's comments earlier in the week when he said that an openly gay player would receive "significant abuse". I've already shared my thoughts on Greg Clarke's comments but as the week has gone on we have heard reactions from people involved in high levels of the sport. 

Firstly we had Chris Sutton, a pundit I don't have much time for, write his piece in the Daily Mail, a newspaper that I don't have much time for, you can read the article here. However, despite my reservations about the paper and pundit in question I did think it was an interesting article. I find that Chris Sutton has a habit of saying anything that will get him more attention and I think that may be the case here but he did make some interesting thoughts. He says that "there has never been a better for a footballer to come out and say 'I am gay'". I do agree that there has never been a better time, society is becoming more tolerant of homosexuality, but I get the impression that Sutton is implying that it would be easy. I definitely do not think it would be easy for those first players. 

He also says that "it will be the best thing happens to the homophobia debate". Again I do agree with Sutton that a player coming out would be a huge and positive step forward in the issue of homosexuality in football. However, what Sutton appears to have ignored here is the difficulty that those first players would have to endure. He seems to have forgotten that it requires a brave, brave player to take that initial step that will drive the debate forward. 

However I do think that some of Sutton's comments were completely off the mark. He said that "I'm convinced 99.9% of people would share the same view, so are we now setting the levels based on how the 0.1% would react?". There is some validity in what he says but there are two points here that I feel I need to cover. Greg Clarke talked about removing the homophobic atmosphere from football. Sutton seems happy for a minority to exist and allow them to preach hate. We should strive to remove homophobia, in all forms, from football and not allow any minority to exist, no matter how small. This brings me to the second point of Sutton's that I disagree. I think the percentage of people who are homophobic within football is a lot higher than 0.1%. There will also be supporters out there who aren't necessarily homophobic but who use homophobic language without realising it. I often get the impression that straight players and fans don't fully appreciate homophobia when it exists in football. They perhaps develop a deafness to it whereas members of the LGBT community can pick up on it a lot easier. I have been in situations were I have heard homophobic comments at football that nobody else has picked on as being unacceptable.  

For example here is a video of thousands of Hearts fans singing homophobic abuse 

This was only four years ago and its hard to say that this is only 0.1% of fans. I can't remember Sutton's outcry at this singing but perhaps now that it is become a fashionable subject to talk about he has decided to join in. For those of us who are members of the LGBT community it is an ongoing battle that doesn't just appear every now and then. 

Someone who has constantly spoken about the issue of homosexuality in football, not just when it is fashionable, is Joey Barton. A hugely controversial figure and someone who is disliked by many for a number of reasons but I will give him credit for his support of the LGBT community. He spoke to Guardian journalist Owen Jones, who himself is openly gay, this week. 

 I thought that Joey Barton spoke very well and made some excellent points. He says that players avoid talking about the subject because they fear that they get accused of being gay. Barton says this has happened to him before. I don't think this attitude is restricted only to players I believe it also exists among fans. A fan would have no issue standing up and challenging someone who made a racist comment. However it is hard to imagine a fan standing up amongst a group to challenge a homophobic comment. Certainly from my experiences I have never seen someone challenge a homophobic comment and I've heard many during my time involved in playing and supporting football. I get the impression that if a fan did challenge such a comment that they would be accused to being gay. This reason has previously prevented me from challenging such behaviour. I think that in time attitudes would change once there are more openly gay players. 

We do still have a long way to go however the longer the subject remains in the media spotlight the more fans are exposed to the fact that homophobia is unacceptable. 

"Significant Abuse"

The issue of homosexuality in football has popped into the media spotlight again in the last coupe of days. As I said in my introduction the blog will be a mixture between my personal story and football's relationship with homosexuality in general. In this post we look a footballer's wider relationship.

There are a couple of incidents that have caused the spotlight to move in that direction in the last couple of days. 

Firstly we had reports of homophobic chanting at a game between Leyton Orient and Luton Town. You can read the story by clicking here. Obviously it is not good to hear about such stories and it does serve to highlight that football does still have a problem with homophobia. However the good side to this story is that it is receiving public attention and is being condemned. It has taken a long time but it is encouraging to see this hate crime being treated for what it is. I remember not too long ago, within the last decade, when homophobic chants would ring out around entire stadiums and nobody would say anything because it was just "banter". Hopefully by bringing this behaviour to the attention of the public fans will realise that this sort of behaviour is completely unacceptable. I'm sure the people who were singing are not homophobic but are used to being part of a football culture where homophobia is acceptable. The quicker this behaviour is challenged and these attitudes are changed the better. 

Secondly we have seen the subject in the media because it came up when FA chairman Greg Clarke was answering questions from a Commons Select Committee. You can read about the story and he some of what he had to say by clicking here. There are bits of what he says that I completely agree with. Yes the FA need to do their bit and "stamp out abuse". This was covered a little earlier with relation to the homophobic chanting but it is crucial that the FA, and all other associations, create a safe and hate-free atmosphere for any potential gay players, fans or officials. 

I also agree with him when he says "I would be amazed if we haven't got gay players in the Premier League". I too would be amazed if there were not any gay players in the Premier League. Statistically everything points to there being some gay players in the league and it is a sad reflection that none of them feel ready to come out. 

However where I disagree with Clarke is when he says that a player would receive "significant abuse" if he revealed he was gay. I actually don't think that an out player would be a victim of abuse. There would be a tiny minority who would give abuse, but it is this same tiny minority who preach hate in all forms, not just homophobia, and I'm afraid that there will always be people like that in our society. I think the hate from this tiny minority would be completely drowned out by the massive amount of support a player would receive from the media, fans,  players and officials. I think a far bigger issue for the first player to come out will be trying to deal with the intense spotlight that would be shone on him. This would be a huge story for the media and, unfortunately, I can't see this player being able to avoid huge amounts of attention. Personally, I don't really see why it would need to be such a big issue but as we've seen with other former players like Hitzlsperger who have come out publicly it is a big deal to the media.

It does require some brave and pioneering players to come out and deal with this media attention for it to become a normal part of football. Once it becomes normal in football the media will lose interest and it will be easier for more and more players to come out. I think once we see those first players come out we will see more follow soon after. 

 If you agree or disagree with anything that I've said please leave a comment it will be interesting to see what other people's opinions are on the subjects touched today. 

Introduction

The most obvious place to start with this blog seems to be to introduce myself, who I am, my story and the purpose of this blog.

I am a 25 year old homosexual male. For the vast majority of my life I stayed hidden in the closet terrified of having to come out and how I would be judged once I came out. However, on 30th January this year (2016) I decided that I would reveal my sexuality to my closest friends. After telling those initial close friends I started working through other friends and telling them. Soon after I told my friends I told my family. Despite the fears that engulfed me through my life about telling people I have received nothing but positive reactions.

However the purpose of this blog is not to re-tell my coming out story, although this story may be touched upon in due course. The purpose of this blog is to explore football’s relationship with homosexuality both my personal experience and the wider world of football. I am a passion supporter of a team and I play amateur football on a weekly basis. Despite the fact that I conquered my fear of telling my friends and family, and received a positive reaction, I still have not been able to come out the closet in my football team and I feel as if doing this is a long way off.

It is hard to pinpoint a particular reason why I have not felt able to tell people in my football team about my sexuality and, to be honest, there are probably a multitude of reasons. Hopefully by writing this blog I can explore these reasons and how homosexuality fits into football in general.