Monday, January 21, 2013
Gay AFL – the horseplay that dare not speak its name
“I totally agree with homoerotic activities inside footy club locker rooms, but I think you have to be a bit classy about it,” is something ex-AFL player Jason Akermanis would never say. (The line is adopted from something TV frontman David Koch said on Friday 18 January, about breastfeeding in public.)
Not that Akermanis has a problem with non-classy locker-room “homoerotic activities”: they are “normal”, apparently. Which may confuse many people, as both Akermanis and the AFL more generally undoubtably have a problem with gay-identifying men. Even more strangely, this problem would not seem to exist on nearly the same scale within the other major (Anglo-) Australian football code/s – rugby.
The explanation to this is, I believe, class. The AFL is a one-class code, while rugby is divided into upper- and working-; viz union and league.
If you carefully read the Herald Sun article (same URL), Akermanis’ anxieties are transparent: club solidarity is a precious, fragile thing, and a visible minority – or a club within the club – endangers this. It isn’t too much of a stretch to guess that this chip on his shoulder may have more to do with class than sexuality; i.e. that Akermanis fears his class’s locker-room horseplay being hijacked by an elite minority, and so losing its working class identity, and worse.
In saying this, I take it as a given that “gay” identity is incompatible with working class identity – at least when there is a “one code” class mixture. That is, in such situations, the forces of sexual gentrification can only be resisted by sublimation/closeting on the part of those who identify as non-working class. Here, I sympathise with Akermanis – if upwardly-mobile gay culture gets a toehold in the locker-room, his class’s locker-room horseplay risks becoming an objectified minority: “a bit of rough-trade, anyone?” Those sublimating their sexuality do pay a price, of course, but at least Akermanis’ horseplay is pointedly inclusive of them – they are only an objectified minority (“gay”) if they choose to be. This may be a harsh “choice”, but it is probably not as limiting as the alternative formation: Akermanis et al being typecast as rough-trade.
David Koch’s “classy” comments about breastfeeding in public provide also some support here. There are two classes of mothers who breastfeed in public, it would seem to Koch – nice ones like his daughters, and common slappers who flaunt it. Objectified minority, anyone? Rightly, a protest by breastfeeding mothers this morning consciously slapperised the tone of the event, so denying Koch’s daughters, and the rest of their class, status as an elite – or at least as an elite within the main game.
For its part, rugby’s acceptance of out gay players, and, in rugby union at least, out gay whole teams, shows how, even in a two-class structure, the objectified minority issue doesn’t go away – it just changes from being class-based:
“We don't all have feminine characteristics; we're not all interested in going to nightclubs and taking drugs or dressing up as women and dancing. These are masculine guys who love rugby who just happen to be gay.”
Here, I find it interesting that Lancken, like Akermanis, uses a borderline public-private space (the nightclub, instead of the locker-room), to focus his anxieties – nightclubs are dubious, sexuality-mixed places, while locker-rooms, in implicit contrast, are reassuringly homogenous spaces. In the latter respect, Lancken and Akermanis are in furious agreement.
* Disclosure: Paul Watson doesn’t love rugby – or even understand its rules. He thinks he understands the rules of AFL locker-room horseplay, though: say no more.