3 min

Let the Games begin

The adventures of co-ed queer sports

Credit: Xtra West files

Soon, Team Vancouver will depart for the Gay Games in Sydney. Bubba, being the sentimental type, not to mention a Team Vancouver member, wanted to commemorate these games with a few thoughts on co-ed sports. This is, as usual, a sensitive topic, after all-for so many of us the mere mention of sports bring up hellish memories from high school gym class. The problem is that in our society everyone thinks that boys are better at sports than girls. But this presumed connection between masculinity and athletic ability cuts both ways for homos. On one hand, locker rooms full of boys, boys, boys (or girls, girls, girls, as the case may be). But on the other hand. . .

Gay men experience an ambiguous relationship to supposed male athletic superiority-they’re men so they’re supposed to be good at sports but they’re fags so they’re the very insult that men use to coax aggressive play out of each other. Swishy boys got picked last for baseball, while gay men who excelled at sports were all the more frightened that their sexuality would cost them scholarships and pro-contracts.

Baby butches, precisely because they possessed a masculine knack for sports might have been top choice girls for dodgeball, but they paid later as the object of “lesbo” taunts. Lesbians who were terrible at sports may not have been “outed” for their prowess, but they ultimately came in last twice: on the playing field for being uncoordinated, and in the hetero-dating game for not being a babe. (Okay, there do turn out to be femme jocks, god bless ’em, but they were smoking dope in the back or being cheerleaders, or something. We never found them until years later.)

It’s a testament to queer fortitude that the Gay Games exist, and that athletes from elite to novice (and, in Bubba’s case, just plain terrible) play happily together. But have we really overcome our cultural baggage? What are queer co-ed teams really like? We asked you and now report our findings.

For the most part men and women have fun playing sports together. Some even see it as subversive. For example, one gay male bowler (yes, bowling is a sport-the largest number of participants in the Gay Games) said: “I guess you could say bowling has traditionally been a co-ed sport. I like to think of it as the Flintstones, only Fred goes with Barney, and Wilma with Betty.”

There are a few men who don’t want to play with women, and there are several reasons. Some feel that women bring down the level of play. One man confessed that he can’t stand to be shown up by a girl. Some feel that women play just as well but the men can’t stop seeing them as fragile. “Its just my male upbringing, I guess,” said one rugby player who admits to having taken some pretty hard hits from gals. “I just can’t hit back.”

Similarly, there are women who don’t want to play with men. Dykes from women-only teams say men are no fun. Men control the ball and they don’t pass to women very much, said many women who no longer play co-ed team sports. One woman who plays co-ed softball said that “if some of the guys on my softball team could get away with running across the diamond and making the play in front of me, I’m sure they would.” But she puts up with a few bad sports because, overall, the men are more fun and less apt to get wrapped up in team and league politics.

Another common observation is that most men are bigger than most women, and in many sports, size matters. Waterpolo, basketball and volleyball all favour tall players, while in soccer, smaller is often better. “There is really more difference by size than gender,” said one waterpolo player. “Big players have a definite advantage, but some of the very best players are small. Some of our top players have been small women.”

Some believe there is a difference in how men and women play. Two soccer players say that women and men have different forms of aggression. “Men will just go all out and knock you down, while women are more crafty, and maybe even meaner,” said one male soccer player. A female player sees this a slightly different way, “Women play a cleaner game than men. We get pretty rough, but there is less tendency to just be aggressive because you have steam to blow off.” Both agree that they have changed their game in positive ways by playing co-ed.

We also discovered that life on the road isn’t like high school. Interestingly, naptime goes back to gender lines. “Yuck!” said a lesbian player, who otherwise adores her male teammates. “I’ll share a room, but not a bed.” Several male players agreed. “It would be like sharing a bed with my sister or something.”

The next question is: What will they do with the locker rooms in Sydney? Let the Games begin. After all, what the fuck!