Published on September 28th, 2017 | by Bill
Does Your Boyfriend Know You’re Here?
This piece originally featured in the now sold-out Issue 22 of the fanzine, and was written by roving South London Weatherspoon’s tour guide, Tim Baldwin.
The sweet scent of powdered perfume swirls around my flared nostrils. I inhale and force an awkward, apprehensive, unwittingly comedic smile. Sickly smelling and obnoxiously mocking, the odour has clung tight to my heavy overcoat since the altercation late last night, taking great delight and finding much merriment in the circumstance surrounding my unfortunate assault…
Broken teeth and bleeding gums; a gruesome reflection fighting to reveal itself through the bloody smears trailed across the face of the disapproving cabinet mirror. Swigging from the twisted, tortured tin crumpled in my stubborn grasp, I rinse my mouth with lukewarm lager and spew forth a thick clump of stringy, carbonated red matter into the unsuspecting sink. Opening my mouth in order to cram in a clump of cotton wool, I manage to exacerbate the trauma further and cause the rips in my split lip to tear deeper. Bright red beads puncture and plummet, splashing below on the vinyl bathroom flooring. Struggling to swallow, and inadvertently causing myself to heave as I stagger to the filthy corner toilet, I fight along the with the uncooperative zip of my trousers. The inevitable is about to occur, I brace myself as a flood of familiar warmth, not entirely unpleasant, darkens across my crotch before furthering its spread down my thighs. I have soiled myself. Again. A pool forms on the floor as a rainbow shimmers in the steam rising from the liquid waste. The embarrassment hardly even registers. Insanity looms large.
After a drawn out battle I manage to negotiate my sodden trousers down to my ankles and lower myself to the seat of my glorious throne. The instant my clammy buttocks mold themselves around the cold, white plastic there is a loud snapping noise as the plastic slips off the ridge of the porcelain; the jolt sends me crashing down on to one knee. The seat had broken free of its fixing weeks ago. Slumping to the ground I survey the kingdom laid out before me. A disposable razor peeks out from behind an overflowing bin, matted hair caught in the cavity between the pair of cheap blades curls awkwardly like a series of impractical tusks. Fragments of faeces litter the floor mat. The king is dead. Long live the king.
The bruised and bloodied mouth? I wish I could say with sincerity that it was result of a fiercely fought battle, a random attack at the hands of a vicious mob forcing me to retaliate heroically, the bodies of my assailants left strewn around the street like discarded carcasses. The truth is far less glamorous, but after the events of this evening I certainly won’t dare disagree with “Diana” in future that she isn’t the very epitome of all things exciting and attractive. Drag queens have a reputation for being very efficient at cutting people down to size with sarcasm and acid tongue, but Diana also likes to occasionally throw aggression and casual violence in the mix.
After deciding that she had sufficiently sliced me to ribbons verbally, in a fit of wild rage, Diana had taken great delight in introducing the pronounced heal of one of her latex boots to the flabby, forlorn features of my face. I can’t say that I remember exactly what I said to provoke her, and I’m not sure that it really matters. One thing I definitely won’t shake from my memory in a hurry, however, is the sight of her leaping from the small stage, her blurred silhouette flying through the air, leg outstretched and sequined dress sparkling as she hurtled towards my face. I can still taste the heavy plume of deep purple make up that filled the air as I struggled to spit several very recently dislodged teeth down to the sticky, blackened pub carpet.
The unfortunate fracas was entirely avoidable. I know Diana well enough to make sure that I don’t antagonise her after she has knocked back her evening’s quota, but since I first turned my back on football almost sixteen months ago I have struggled to fill the void that has been left, and occasionally I land myself in trouble. I have tried desperately to replace the buzz of match days, to replace the sense of belonging and community, but frequently I find myself frequenting premises that offer me little more besides a crowd to surround myself with, and a backdrop to legitimise my troublesome drinking habit. The drag scene doesn’t really interest me, but it does allow me feelings of liberty, and provides surroundings where I don’t feel a need to justify or validate my sexuality; a place where I can float anonymously in a sea of static grey numbness. With all eyes in the house on the exaggerated, colourful and flamboyant nature of the queens, I am able to blend into the background, just another pastel face in the crowd. Compared to the outrageous behaviour of personalities as outwardly confident and assured as Diana, I feel invisible. It brings relief.
I have struggled for months to write something that will explain the build up of emotions that led me to turn my back on the game I love. Far too many hours have been wasted away sat in my gloomy office, hunched over my desk with only a typewriter, a bottomless glass, and the invasive green light of a desk lamp to keep me company. At each session, my fingers would frantically punch away at the keys, and I would assure myself time and time again that this latest attempt would be different to the others. By the time I dragged myself to bed I would convince myself I had finally come to grips with the piece and wrestled it into submission, but each and every morning without fail, the previous night’s euphoria would inevitably morph into a bleary-eyed haziness. The cold, sober light of day would leave me feeling haunted by the incessant predictability of the scrambled bullet points staring blankly at me.
At work I have trudged around visualising the complexity of my emotions as though they were a bowl of spaghetti drizzled in rich oil and sprinkled with pine nuts, a mixture of sloppy confusion and gritty crunch. The words I have attempted to put to paper have been an orgy of thread, narrative and texture completely devoid of any connective mechanism. The feelings behind my abstinence from football are far too greasy, the strands far too limp to get to grips with, slipping like they do through my fingers and splitting themselves all over the tired linoleum of my filthy kitchen floor. I regret whole heartedly ever attempting to write the piece, but it has developed a personality and voice of its own, planted and embedded itself inside my mind. It ridicules me for my impotence, whispers to me as I fall asleep, dominating and emasculating me, enveloping me in stifling leather. Rudderless, directionless and clueless; three words that possibly best sum up my recent status regarding this piece.
I remember vividly the chant going up. We were away at Brighton, in a Saturday afternoon league game, 1-0 up and cruising with roughly 25 minutes of the second half gone. “Does your boyfriend!? Does your boyfriend!? Does your boyfriend know you’re here!?”. I have heard the chant several times over the years, and can honestly say that the sentiment has never really bothered me at all. I usually crack a smile and think to myself “yeah he does thanks”. I’ve always accepted the chant with good humour, and even found it a little strange when friends (at opposite ends of the sexual spectrum) have reacted with righteous indignation on my part when the chant has come up in conversation. This particular occasion felt different though. The delivery wasn’t good natured, the words were being snarled with venom.
There I was surrounded by my “own” supporters, some who I know well enough to have a chat with when I bump into them in the pub pre-match, but as the words rang out I began to feel vulnerable in an environment where I should have felt completely at ease. The words themselves weren’t the issue, it was a combination of the body language and the obvious hatred in the voices of some of those around me. “Fucking faggots!” someone exclaimed. “Fucking dirty shit stabbers!” another hollered. I felt hollow, as though I had been slugged in the gut and winded. I could feel the awkward reaction of my match day companions, as well as that of others around me who were uncomfortable with the sentiments expressed.
I could sense bodies rippling with spasms of disapproval, but voices either remained silent or else mouths quivered with nervous laughter. The packed away end seemed to fall silent, but I think that was just because my mind was reeling. I felt like the house lights had been dimmed and a solitary spotlight was focusing solely on me, singling me out in a crowd of thousands and analysing my reaction, looking for signs of weakness. Glancing at my watch I saw there were still around 30 minutes left. I shuffled my way down the row, apologising to everyone I squeezed past and feeling like a complete fraud. Heading down the concrete steps at the back of the stand my knees felt weak and threatened to buckle. The furthest exit gate was open so I jogged across the concourse and slid out of the ground as a roar from our end went up. 2-0. It barely registered. I walked to the train station feeling utterly ashamed and never checked the full-time score. I haven’t attended a game since.
For a long time, I hated football. I hated that a handful of individuals in a community I love so much had left me feeling so completely marginalised and ostracized. There exists a thin line between love and hate, and once crossed it is very hard to pull back from. I spent months grieving the loss of my relationship with football. I stopped socialising with people in situations where I knew the game would invariably be a focus, a topic of conversation, or even just an inevitable reference point. My reaction at times has felt pathetic, but equally wholly necessary. I needed to step away from the game and sever links completely, at least temporarily. I’m not a “soft” man, physically or mentally. I’m a 31-year-old, hard working lad who earns his living in an unskilled manual job in a very male dominated industry. I have never had any issues relating to my sexuality, despite being open and honest about, and certainly never hiding it. I’m usually unshockable, always open minded, and I can dish stick out and take it thrown back at me tenfold. I can look after myself, I’m not particularly precious, and certainly don’t get offended on behalf of others. I like a beer (I love a beer), I’m into my clothes, cars and music and I can be as shallow, superficial and dismissive as many young men my age, but I can’t deny that the events of that day hit me hard.
“Banter” is a term that we all understand, and I’ve had it suggested to me that perhaps I could have shrugged the comments made that afternoon off and simple chalked them up as banter. The problem is that banter requires a degree of warmth in its delivery, it requires a degree of knowledge and a shared acceptance of boundaries. It is the things that we say to someone, don’t really mean, but we say anyway because we know that a large chunk of irony is always present in what we say; it is tongue in cheek. If we understand the recipient in the conversation, know the shared values present, then we can usually be safe in the knowledge that however distasteful the subject matter may be, there is humour to be found. Banter is about playfulness and teasing, It isn’t an excuse to bawl things out publicly, things that may well cause distress, and It doesn’t add validity to ignorance or plain outright anti-social behaviour. I despise the sanitation of football, I am fiercely against its commercialisation and the entertainment industry that the game has become, but that doesn’t mean that I should accept homophobic abuse as any more legitimate then I would racial slurs. The hate that is inherent in bullying and abuse doesn’t exist in banter, there can be no confusing the two. If you have to explain to someone as the result of a comment made that “it’s only a bit of banter”, then you have probably overstepped the mark, unwittingly or otherwise.
I’m not frightened of words, I’m rather fond of using profanities, but with the use of any words, context is vital; delivery is key. A “faggot”, amongst other things, is an archaic English unit applied to bundles of certain items including sticks. In the Middle Ages, as well as burning witches they used to burn homosexuals. Rather than waste a perfectly good stake like they used for burning witches, homosexuals were thrown on bundles of burning faggots. Think about that for a moment, let that sink in. The word that was screamed on the terrace that day in a fit of abuse is used as a reference to people burnt alive because of their sexuality.
In all my years attending games, before the fateful day discussed, homophobia had never been as Issue that I was acutely aware of within the confines of football. Having spoken to people since, I feel incredibly naïve. Perhaps I was fortunate never to have witnessed it, maybe I just didn’t want to admit that it is a problem lurking just under the surface. Football tends to mirror wider society and its values, and as with society as a whole, football today embodies a much more liberal outlook and ethos than ever before. I genuinely don’t think the majority of football supporters could care less about the sexual orientation of either those standing next to them on the terrace, or wearing their colours on the pitch.
Homosexual relationships aren’t the alien concept they once were, so why in a society where I can legally marry a partner of the same sex, does is feel like there is still a sense of pressure concerning football and its attitudes to homosexuality? Some express sentiments along the lines of “well it’s not an issue for me. I don’t care who is gay, so why make it an issue?” Personally, I feel this is an incredibly dismissive stance to take that at worst shows a complete lack of the importance of promoting social causes, and at perhaps even hints at a lack of tolerance. Campaigns such as Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces Campaign exist because there is clearly still an issue to be addressed. Football can be such a fantastic vehicle to help promote social change, and is a fantastic gauge of society’s ideals and values. Just one instance of football related homophobic chanting is one too many, that is the bottom line.
Perhaps an openly gay current player would help? They wouldn’t have to be a spokesman for their sexuality, they wouldn’t have to court the limelight and fanfare resulting from their revelation, but would it realistically ever be possible to avoid it? Would they be able to be footballers first and foremost, and a news story second? It seems very unlikely to me. What are the chances that today’s increasingly intrusive media might respect the boundaries and personal space that all of us require in order to have a healthy private life? Very slim, I would suggest. Football, for better or worse, is big global business these days. Players live under a microscope with even the most mundane points of interest dissected, manipulated and sold for profit. I can imagine the inevitable Sky Sports News hyperbole, the “breaking news” yellow ticker tape scrolling across the bottom of the screen in a desperate attempt to capitalise on the story.
What would the reaction of a player’s teammates be to them opening up about their sexuality? I suppose part of the problem is that at different levels of football come different pressures, standards and norms. A player such as Cristiano Ronaldo coming out would have completely different impact than a player playing in League 2 of English football for example. In all honesty, I can imagine that many of his corporate sponsors would be less than delighted about it, brand image is everything, and every penny of revenue is there to be maximised. A League 2 footballer would have a completely different set of pressures of course, why would a player at that level want to be the first to take the gamble? Professional football lost its moral compass a long time ago, but I still sincerely believe that it can still be a fantastic and potent tool for social change. Last month semi pro footballer Liam Davis became the first openly gay footballer to walk out on the Wembley Stadium pitch when he played for his team Cleethorpes Town in the FA Vase final. This came, however, after FA boss Greg Clarke admitted that we are still “decades away” from a top flight professional footballer coming out and identifying as gay.
Despite pressure from those around me, I have no immediate plans to return to attending football anytime soon. I have started though to take more of an interest in results, and even contemplated attending games at non-league level, especially at the various clubs whose supporters make it explicitly clear that they won’t stand for prejudice. I am yet to take the plunge, but one thing that is abundantly clear is that I can’t go on living a lifestyle where I am susceptible to beatings at the hands of angry drag acts. It does start to become demoralising.
If I could ask one thing of anyone reading this who harbours any sort of misgivings or apprehension regarding the involvement of openly gay supporters and players in football, it would be this: Contemplate the idea that homosexual relationships, much like football, can be as just much about the emotional side as the physical. Sexuality after all is an affirmation and expression of self, it is an inherent part of our personality. I have had incredibly shallow one night stands, I have had long term meaningful relationships, in this sense I am no different to most young men. Life ultimately is about moments of connection, and I firmly believe that there is someone out there for everyone. Even Diana will finally meet her match one of these days. I wonder if she might fancy taking in a game with me?
(Many thanks to everyone who helped with the writing of this piece, especially Rob Lindon who allowed me to step into his shoes and express my thoughts through his voice)