When I was growing up, I wasn’t a huge fan of sports. I was tall but skinny, and not very coordinated. Phys.Ed classes at school usually involved being picked last for teams and endless bullying for being gay.
Unsurprisingly, this is a relatively common experience for queer guys – sports clubs can be fairly unforgiving environments, and somehow seem to expose and amplify any confidence or identity issues that we may be grappling with.
While queer guys knock it out of the park in terms of looking after their body and going to the gym – we’re about twice as likely to go to the gym than straight men – the participation level of queer guys in sport is significantly lower than that of our straight counterparts.
Does that matter? As long as we’re looking good who cares if we’re not playing sport?
I discussed this with Dr Qazi Ramen, assistant professor in cognitive biology at London’s Queen Mary University. According to Ramen, just focusing on the physical health benefits of sport is missing the bigger picture – that mental health is actually the big danger zone for queer guys.
“Let’s look at some facts…” says Ramen. “Scientific research is showing us that gay men are something like two to three times more likely to suffer from the entire range of psychiatric problems – including depression, anxiety, panic, substance abuse, and suicide.”
But can playing sport have a positive impact on our mental health? I spoke to some of the sporty guys that I know to get their perspective. They came up with three compelling reasons why gay sport is the way forward.
The physical benefits of playing sport and exercising are well documented and fairly self-evident. Giving your body a good workout occasionally is not only good for your physical health, but the adrenaline and endorphins released as part of physical exercise have also been shown to have a positive impact on mental health as well.
Claus Kruse, who’s now an accomplished swimmer, took up sport to get his fitness and self-esteem back on track.
“I wanted to get off my fat ass – I was becoming addicted to bad TV and was feeling lonely…” explains Kruse. “I joined a gay sports club as I didn’t want to have to deal with some of the personal questions about your sexuality that you seem to get with straight clubs.”
Rory Desch, a footballer, stumbled across his club by accident.
“At the time I was fitness mad, but it was mainly centred around the gym…” says Desch. “I wanted to do something that would be outdoors. I saw an ad for a gay football club that trained near where I lived and decided to give it a try. The team were surprisingly welcoming – mixed abilities but the stronger players were very supportive and helpful, giving me much needed direction.”
David Forrest, a diver, reports that he joined a gay club primarily to keep fit.
“I’d always been part of straight clubs previously, and I wanted to try something different…” says Forrest. “The gay club was a lot more fun, I instantly felt more comfortable.”
2. Meet People
The benefits of joining a sports club extend beyond the physical. Clubs and teams can help to provide valuable social interaction, opening up new networks and contacts with people from different walks of life but with common interests.
Niall Caverly, a rugby player, joined a gay sports club on moving to London.
“I’d never played rugby when growing up…” explains Caverly. “Out of fear of being the gay kid on the team, I’d mostly stuck with individual sports. But, having moved to a new city, I didn’t really know many people – joining a sports club seemed like a good option. The Kings Cross Steelers take beginner rugby players, so it was a great way to learn and be open and feel included.”
Claus Kruse has definitely seen the social benefits of joining a sports club.
“I’ve met a whole new crowd of guys and girls…” confirms Kruse. “It also helped me realise that the hunky guy on the swim team that I never had the guts to talk to on a night out has exactly the same insecurities as me.”
David Maher, a runner, was also looking to join a sports group for the social perspective.
“I felt that I’d be able to find like-minded people in a gay club…” says Maher. “I hadn’t really had any exposure to team or club sports before and I thought that I’d feel more comfortable participating in a gay club.”
Rory Desch deliberately joined a gay sports club to meet more gay guys.
“Having previously struggled to make many gay friends, I thought it would be an opportunity to meet other gay men and interact socially with them – if only when training or playing games…” explains Desch. “I also thought that they might be more sympathetic to my lack of football skills – and they were – helping me to improve. All of a sudden I had this extended network of friends and acquaintances. I hadn’t appreciated the social opportunities I could experience by being a member of a team – after-game socials, nights out, and tournaments both home and abroad. For the first time in my gay life, I felt that I fitted in.”
There is a common misconception that gay sports clubs aren’t really about sport at all but are just an excuse for everyone to have sex with each other. While this is probably not true, opportunities to meet guys for sex are likely to increase if you’re out and about, being active and meeting new people – this builds your confidence and helps motivates you to stay active and focused.
Pascal Anson, a swimmer, says that he joined a gay sports club for the sex, but instead he got “sport, sex, and drama!” Anson has gone on to travel the world to compete in gay swimming tournaments, and has also established a gay swimming club in Brighton.
For Louis Chaidron, a water polo player, a boost to his sex life was a welcome benefit from playing sport.
“Your sex appeal just explodes when you say you’re in a water polo team…” confirms Chaidron. “That’s not the only reason that I play water polo, but it’s definitely one of the positive aspects of the sport!”
“Having ‘rugby player’ written on your online profile is a great way to break the ice…” adds Niall Caverly. “Often people will ask you about the club even just out of curiosity rather than hitting on you, or just as a way to start chatting.”