Updated: Sep 5
Clearing the Air
Ashton Sanders starring as Chrion in Moonlight (2016)
Whilst the world has been going crazy for football or cheering on Great Britain in the Olympics, I can’t help but feel hesitant to ride the wave of national pride. I think a huge cause of this dates back to my experiences of playing sports as a boy.
The idea that playing or liking sports reflected my masculinity always bothered me.
It was the reason I started joining all the teams because I wanted to be one of the lads. And the reason I quit; because I didn’t see myself as man enough to participate any longer.
Football is plastered on our screens along with every other sport. It is such a big part of media, the industry, and our culture. There are whole channels dedicated to it and its certainly not an understatement to say we’ve been football mad lately.
Though with recent controversies connected with racism towards players and the disrespect we’ve caused to our communities, it begs the question
Do the pros of sports outweigh the damage we cause?
England's 2020 Euro squad
More specifically though I want to look at the damage it inflicts on the male identity as there have been many events across the last decade that have questioned what it means to be a man.
Whilst the European Championships have flooded the media in the last few months, Liverpool has been hit with its own brutal stories.
Countless attacks within the city against queer men have triggered an uproar and I can’t help but notice how the dates of attacks have coincided with the beginning of the UEFA EURO 2020.
Whilst it is not my intention to villainize football, studies have shown the potential sports have to transmit ideas of masculinity whilst reinforcing ideas of violence and aggression. The forceful sports commentaries, menacing tactics on the pitch or the reactions of anger we see from players when the results don’t go their way.
This behaviour is echoed by young boys who watch their heroes on screen and believe this is what it means to be a man. Through this we are teaching that toxic behaviour is not only okay but rewardable as the culture around football has been overlooked for a long time now.
This isn’t surprising when you think that just in 2019, football generated a turnover of approximately £468 million.
Sports media contributes to society’s view of masculinity as the profession is dominated by men which is a problem when we are herding young boys into playing, watching and even betting on their sporting heroes.
And for those of us who ‘threaten’ this idea of manhood, we are attacked, verbally abused and silenced.
DR. NO, Sean Connery, 1962
Reflecting on Oxygen’ previous work we can see these ideas of manhood don’t just threaten cis men who fear the word GAY, but it is a prevalent issue within the queer community itself.
In This World We Live in (2017), self-conscious student Joey finds himself navigating his new queer identity where he succumbs to age old stereotypes such as “boys don’t cry” whilst hiding away his sexuality in the locker room.
Through this, he succumbs to drugs, self-neglect and harmful sex culture which unfortunately reflects the reality of coping mechanisms of men in the real world. This sends him down a harmful rabbit hole; one far too familiar amongst men.
Why is this and how much power does media have within this real-life tragedy?
In Oxygen’s more recent project Starlight (2020), which marks the fourth episode of Oxygen’s first season of A Series of Light (Available on Amazon Prime), protaganist Kane follows a similar problem as his shame overcomes him for catching feelings for his friend Jacob.
The episode, which is set in 1990s Liverpool, draws eerliy similar links with the current attacks. As Kane and Jacob’s friendship becomes more complicated, they break into violent conflict and toxic reactions to their desires.
This episode became a favourite of mine, not only because it is beautifully crafted by the filmmakers but because I could relate to the idea of trying to prove my masculinity.
I came from a neighbourhood where violence and homophobia became a currency for proving yourself as part of the squad. I could relate to the ideas of succumbing to peer pressure and fighting the desires that made me feel emasculated.
Ironically both aforementioned films feature football and in reflection, so do many of the negative memories wherein I tried to be a lad.
I am very interested as to how Kane’ storyline will continue into the second series and hope he will begin his climb out of the hypermasculine ideals that so many of us are trapped in.
It does make me wonder though.
Is this man according to media?
Nathaniel Farah and Jame Coutsavlis star in Starlight (2020)
Hollywood seems to perpetuate stereotypes of what it means to be a man.
Whether we look back to the courageous babe magnet of Humphrey Bogart in classic cinema or the testosterone-fuelled superhero flicks of today, which overflow with white male leads who serve the purpose of strength or comedy; often both.
We do have to give credit where credit’s due though as the Tom Hollands (Homecoming, 2017) and Timothy Chalamats (Call Me b Your Name, 2017) of Hollywood emerge and begin to rewrite what it is to be a man.
Dunkirk' (2017) star Harry Styles is causing ripples with his new fashion aesthetics that many would call feminine whilst even our most “masculine of men” are letting down their tough exterior as Chris Evans openly discusses his relationship with mental health.
It is so important to the young boys of today to have role models of all types so they don’t feel shame when they can’t live up to expectations we've built, like Kane does.
And whilst we will always have the judgements and backlash of closed-minded conservative thoughts who seek to maintain the traditional male role, we are already seeing the next generation of people finding new heroes and heartthrobs in actors such as Noah Centineo (To All the Boys I've Loved Before, 2018) who defy the typical tough tropes.
The uptrend of K-Pop stars in the last decade further proves that wearing make-up doesn’t make you any less of a man.
Interestingly, we are beginning to see Hollywood stars break down the binaries of male and female and develop layered characters which can’t be boxed into the conventional role.
I look forward to watching this expand in the future.
Harry Styles breaking down gender norms through fashion.
In the meantime, we need to support each other.
Josh Ormrod. Curtis Stewart.
Tyler Jones. Greg Hewitt.
Aodhán Benson. Duncan Browne.
These aren’t the first men to be attacked because they are queer, because they express themselves differently or because society doesn’t deem them a carbon copy of what man should be.
We still live in a western society where it is unsafe to exist as yourself.
It’s not something new.
But maybe our response should be.
CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) was set up to try to reduce the number of male suicides. It provides online support as well as a telephone helpline available from 5pm to midnight every day.
Life Signs is a self injury support organisation providing information geared towards men who self-harm.
Mankind runs a confidential helpline available to all men across the UK suffering from domestic violence or domestic abuse by their current or former wife or partner. Their helpline is open Monday to Friday 10am to 4pm.
Stop Hate UK is a leading national organisation working to challenge all forms of hate crime and discrimination. 0800 138 1625
Stonewall campaigns for the equality of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people throughout the UK.
The LGBT Foundation is a national charity which provides advice, support and information services to the LGBT community. 0345 330 30 30 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Victim Support is an independent charity which aims to help people rebuild their lives after a traumatic event. 0808 1689 111
Citizens Advice Liverpool offers advice and support to victims of LGBT+ hate crimes on behalf of Liverpool City Council and Merseyside Police. 0151 522 1400 ext 5006 or email@example.com
I would like to thank Jack Nightingale for his contribution to the piece.