Friday, October 21, 2011

Michigan gymnasts out and about

There is an excellent first person account in Out Sports (actually it's a double first person account) from two former University of Michigan gymnasts-- one who came out as gay during his collegiate athletic career and one who remained closeted and came out only at the very end of college.

Evan Heiter, who had come out during his college days, wrote the following:

In gymnastics, there's not denying the presence of gay-athletes is felt stronger than in other sports. However, what most don't realized is that this creates a fiery passion for some heterosexual gymnasts to defend themselves and cut others down.

As a gymnastics fan, one of the questions I often heard when I admitted my love for the sport was, "Aren't a lot of those guys gay?"

"Not to my knowledge," I responded when I was younger, while acknowledging that I simply didn't know much about the sexual orientation of male gymnasts (not that it ever really mattered to me anyway). To them, I would cite the names of male gymnasts who were married with kids, without realizing that this did not necessarily prove heterosexuality. But to be fair to my younger self, I simply wasn't aware of a lot of gymnasts who were out at the time.

Evan's statement in Out Sports reminded me of this question I used to get asked a lot. I guess (and this is pure speculation so please don't kill me) that perhaps many male gymnasts are questioned about their sexuality because so many people associate the sport with females. At least in the United States, the best (and in many cases, only) known gymnasts are all female-- Mary Lou, Shawn, Nastia, the entire Magnificent Seven. A lot of folks don't even know which events are done by women and which by men. (I also get asked a lot if I did rings, to which I respond-- Thank God no! Bars were taxing enough on my minimal upper body strength.)

The fact that there sport is often associated with women may make, as Evan's statement seems to indicate, male gymnasts even more defensive of their heterosexuality and insistent on the hetero-normativity (that should be a word, like nativity) of athletes in the sport. This, in turn, may make it more difficult for male gymnasts to come out of the closet, which is very unfortunate.

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