So, it seems the “gay footballer” twitter account was a hoax, as many feared. Most will just think “oh well” and move on, but for gay fans, it’s far more than that.
Many replies to this account’s tweets were asking “why bother coming out?” alongside some far less polite comments. “…Why bother announcing it, nobody announces they’re straight…”
Such ignorance is disappointing, but unfortunately not surprising. Football has long been steeped in homophobia, with slurs being thrown around without second thought. Faggot, Bender, Poofter, Gay boy; the list goes on. (If that sentence makes you feel uncomfortable, take a second to think about how that feels to us, hearing these words every single day).
I wrote about my experiences growing up in a previous post, and the struggles I and many other gay people face are real, and by no means exaggerated. I can hand on heart genuinely and honestly say I have either been called or seen/heard someone called one of those things at least once a day for years. Now imagine every time you hear it, you feel a sharp pain in your chest remembering that’s YOU, you’re that “faggot, poofter” etc that’s being thrown around by people without thought. Add to that toxic mix a self hatred created by societies natural heterosexual stance, causing you to realise in every situation, whether that be “the lads” talking about women, or adverts on TV, that you’re different.
This is no different in football, hence why coming out is so difficult. There are gay footballers out there who feel unable to come out due to the backwards and disgusting views of the minority, and probably more so, the “banter” from your everyday fan, who thinks nothing of it, but whose words impact gay people far more than they know.
This brings us, finally, to the main point. This hoax (as it appears to be) is incredibly damaging. It’s damaging to actual gay footballers, who will see the reaction to this account and fear for the reaction to their genuine coming out; it’s damaging to gay fans, who see fellow fans abusing harassing and name calling, as well as someone pretending to be gay for followers, using something that we are abused for regularly as a way of gaining publicity… it hurts.
That’s not the worst of it though. The worst part is the hope. The hope is what hurts. Although it’s been clear all along that there was something “off” about the whole thing, a part of us still hoped that it could be real: the stigma could finally be broken. For us, it’s more than a bloke saying he fancies men, it’s more than a press conference, it’s more than a story.
It would show us that we’re normal, and (hopefully) prove that fellow fans genuinely don’t care about our sexuality. It would therefore enable us to open up more to fellow fans, be ourselves, and even take partners to games without being afraid of reactions. That would genuinely be life changing.
That may sound extreme, but imagine not being able to be yourself, that worry constantly nagging away at you. Imagine not being able to take your family to games for fear of being attacked… Now imagine that stops. Someone takes that step that makes a huge difference to people’s perceptions, or even just your view, correct or not, of people’s perceptions. That’s a big deal, that a lot of people will never be able to empathise with.
So, in sum, someone pretending to be a gay footballer hurts far more than you might realise. The ending of stigma, and the domino effect it would likely cause, would be genuinely life changing for gay football fans. Football is considered one of the last bastions of homophobia, and footballers coming out would likely end that for good. To give false hope to gay fans and players alike, purely for attention, is shocking and disgusting. I hope whoever is behind the hoax, and any other related hoaxes, reads this, and feels intense guilt at the hurt they have caused.