If you frequent Dartmouth Gender Sexuality XYZ meetings, talk with an OUTreach Peer Mentor or visit the Rainbow Room in Robo, you will encounter a warm, welcoming atmosphere for LGBT students. On the other hand, homophobic slurs were written on a windows in Fahey-McLane Hall only a few months ago. On this campus, it is clear that a spectrum of opinions exists for a spectrum of sexualities, and students on campus range from openly accepting to openly opposed.
So where do sports teams play into this dynamic?
Duncan Hall ’13, who is a former member of both the Dartmouth crew and rugby teams, said that it was the “upstanding older gay men” on campus that gave him the courage to come out, and one of these examples was a member of the crew team when he arrived freshman fall. His older teammate helped him “feel confident about coming out” both on the team and at Dartmouth.
Even later, when he joined the men’s rugby team, Hall said he didn’t hear “one homophobic comment,” which he considers a “huge testament to both the rugby and crew teams at Dartmouth.”
While Hall’s experience was certainly positive, more traditional stereotypes about gay male and female athletes do exist on campus. As Jenna Hobeika ’12, a member of the women’s hockey team, pointed out, society’s idea that “sports are a masculine activity” makes it much easier for openly gay female than male athletes.
In her four years at Dartmouth, Hobeika has “never met an openly gay man on a varsity sports team,” and all students interviewed said that longstanding stereotypes about traditional male and female roles play into LGBT acceptance on sports teams.
“It’s not too far out of our social constructs to have masculine females playing sports,” Hobeika said, noting that a strong support system for LGBT females exists at Dartmouth. On the women’s hockey team, she said that “it’s actually beneficial if girls are aggressive, mean, strong and masculine.”
She pointed out, however, a tendency for others to stereotype these women, saying that misconceptions about sexual orientation have been a problem for members of her team. Corinne Kominkiewitz ’14 shared a similar opinion in her experience on the women’s throwing team.
“[People] assume that because I’m stronger than a lot of men, I’m manly, and since I’m manly,’ I must like women,” she said. These frustrations exist across a variety of sports.
Karoline Walter ’13 described the women’s rugby team as a “safe haven” for many LGBT women, who find the team a place to fit in and belong. This safe haven must be taken with a grain of salt, however, because the accepting environment can be intimidating to closeted or straight teammates, according to Walter.
“We have more of a problem with homonormativity’ than heteronormativity,” she said. “It definitely makes some people uncomfortable, our openness.”
While certain sports are stereotyped as masculine, others have the opposite problem. A student who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the subject shared her struggles with her team’s dress code, saying that requirements to wear skirts in the more “feminine” sports “creates a terrible stereotype and promotes sexism.” Further, the same student recalled an incident in which another teammate was called out for her “butch” appearance during a game.
Let’s step back 100 years. Men are strong. Women are pretty. Men like women, and women like men. Women cook dinner, men have jobs. Everyone is straight. Or so it seems. While these binaries have been broken down in many areas, they still ring true for many others, especially in the world of athletics. Clearly, different sports require different levels of strength, agility, masculinity and femininity. Perhaps it is because success is so closely tied to physical performance that assumptions about sexual orientation are, too.
There are still many teams I couldn’t reach for comment, and others who politely declined. If I want to know any more, I might have to hide out in the football locker room, but I’d really rather not.