Discover more from Alice’s Soapbox
Our community is already pretty colourful, depending on where you look.
Alice greets a fan after a match for the Wellington Pride (yes, that’s really our name).
Snap from the lovely Reef Reid.
This week saw New Zealand Rugby sign up to the Pride Pledge and with it, a wave of positive media coverage stating the importance of making our national game, a game for all. Wonderful, as a queer woman myself, I couldn’t be more on board with this kaupapa.
However, the coverage still centred cis men as rugby’s default participant. Declaring that the rainbow will be ticked when we have our first out All Black. On the hunt for this unicorn, we are ignoring the people standing right in front of us and with this oversight, those best placed to help inform the creation of a safe space.
Women’s rugby can provide an example to the game at large. At the Olympics last year, there were no less than four out and proud members of the Black Ferns 7s team. We have had similar numbers regularly pull on the jersey for the Black Ferns 15s. The fact that there are so many more openly queer wāhine athletes asks the question why? What is it about women’s sides that makes these teammates more comfortable to be themselves?
The reality is of course is that being a queer woman in rugby isn’t universally awesome. It was mentioned recently in the Black Ferns culture review that there is “limited comfort and education around supporting rainbow players”. My partner had to make a complaint about a coach who made a series of creepy jokes along the lines of “I could make you straight”. People still lazily use the word “gay” at trainings when they mean something is dumb. And if you head down the clubrooms with your partner, chances are someone will say something at best tacky and at worst predatory.
Nevertheless, she persisted. Queer women are still turning up each season, acting as a foundational part of many teams. There are a multitude of reasons why, the majority I believe stemming from the sisterhood that forms from being a black sheep within the rugby whānau. We do not know how it feels to be our club's golden boy, so we don't have a point of reference to compare our own experiences or a fear around losing that position should we be ourselves.
By lacing up, we are already doing something out of step with the expectations of our gender. You’ve signed up to tackle stereotypes of what women are capable of so you may be more inclined to fend off homophobia as well. Or perhaps is it a reflection of our whakapapa, that unlike the men’s game, included out queer women from day dot.
There is the confusion for many it seems between gender stereotypes and sexuality. For cis women this manifests as many people assuming you are queer simply by picking up a ball, why else would you want to participate in such a “manly” sport like rugby? Rugby is genderless and without a sexual identity but it is hard for some to detangle this mythology from the male psyche. Rugby for many cis men is an important way for them to express traditional masculinity and thus confirm their heterosexuality.
The more we can do to unweave these narratives, the better. For men and women to free themselves from stereotypes and associated pressure of these gender roles. To simply be themselves and as the expression goes - play the ball, not the man.
All of these examples have been binary in their description of gender but not all those that play our game are. There's still much for rugby and sport at large to reckon with around trans and non-binary participation. I am heartened that a move to inclusion now could signal more to follow in our game.
So I welcome the Pride Pledge and the education it will bring to those in our game. No doubt it will help many to reconsider their mind's default is of the type of person that plays rugby. My hope that we use current members of the community to help give colour to that rainbow image. We are already here and already queer, rugby just has to get used to it.