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Why Madonna’s Super Bowl Performance Could Initiate a Much-Needed Conversation

Feelings are pointless, don’t ever let anyone see you cry, and make sure to master the art of sports to the best of your ability. This sums up the standard American definition of what constitutes a man. For my whole life, I’ve been aware that nearly all of the facets of my personality ran counter to such a manifesto. These noticeable differences have always made me conspicuously unique, compared to the other men whose company I’ve shared at different junctures of my life thus far. Until a few years ago, this reality was not seen as positive but rather something negative and derogatory that was viewed with scorn, sincere confusion, and outright contempt from some. Currently, my life is worlds away from such a precarious and cloudy atmosphere. But this does not erase the living nightmare that so many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender teenagers – and even some adults – endure on a daily basis just for being themselves, not being conscious of the possibility that things can and will get better.

A significant degree of the problem is most likely cultural. The question must be asked: why is there only one mold that is exalted in America as the legitimate way of being a man?

When Madonna was announced as the scheduled performer for the halftime show at this year’s Super Bowl the response from most male football fans was one of annoyance and, in some cases, sheer outrage at the selection. What would warrant a reaction like this? In recent years Janet Jackson, Shania Twain, and Britney Spears have all debuted at the year’s most awaited sports arena. None of these other female artists were met with such hostility or indifference when it was made public that they would be the entertainment for the Super Bowl of each respective year.

From personal experience, it is obvious that most men appeared to think that Madonna was too old or not sexually appealing enough to garner a sufficient volume of excitement to make the performance one to remember. To some, this may be a legitimate grievance about this year’s halftime show. But another dynamic is at play. The fact is, even though former artists may indeed fall into this category, it’s harder to find any other artist that screams gay icon more than Madonna – except maybe Lady Gaga… Where Mother Monster probably would have had more relevance because of her youth, comprehensive popularity, and global appeal, Madonna may be viewed by the average, male, football fan as simply being a gay, old, pastime that has no pertinence to his life whatsoever. Why should any straight man be forced to subsist in such an overwhelmingly uncomfortable environment?

If being gay and being a real man weren’t considered mutually exclusive would this even be a problem?

The organizers of this year’s Super Bowl have made it apparent that the theme of homosexuality will subliminally pervade the course of the game. A commercial will be broadcast to specifically combat the bullying of LGBT persons in an athletic context. Heterosexual men may not consider this topic one that would impact their lives directly. But this is precisely part of the dilemma that exists within our culture as Americans. Walls have been erected where they need not exist. The seismic gap between the heterosexual and the homosexual realms of experience can and must be bridged.

From my own vantage point, I have to admit that during high school, I vividly remember zoning out completely whenever the time arrived to participate in my daily gym classes. Unless it was to ogle a guy who I found attractive, I really never paid attention or cared much about the logistical strategies of the games that were being played. I even feel a bit guilty about it in hindsight. Nearly every day, I nonchalantly flaunted the fact that these activities held no importance for me. Daily, I could predictably be found strolling along the field as my classmates actively took part in whatever game was being played, or, if forced to participate, I would do the bare minimum that was required for me to be considered a player. The apathy I had was undoubtedly formed by the fact that I did not grow up in an athletic household. Because of this, I never had the desire to pursue any meaningful directions in the realm of sports. Thus, any potential athletic ability I could have possessed had never been developed, and when forced to participate in sports activities, I simply viewed the endeavor as a chore that had to be carried out laboriously.

Because my personality never really contained the brawn that is required to be successful in sports, I simply saw the whole enterprise of athletics as something that I could never relate to. Viewing the world through different eyes, it has become clear that such an approach is profoundly simplistic. Being raised in a certain environment does not give one cause to belittle or dismiss the experiences that others may find meaningful and endearing in life. If anything, stepping outside of one’s comfort zones and learning to view the world as others do will only serve to enrich one’s own personal psyche and sense of being. All humans profit immensely by expanding our horizons beyond the limits of our own backyards.

Adopting such a perspective means that someday I should really sit down, and take the time to learn, analyze, and take part in the athletic pursuits that most men around the world find genuinely entertaining and gain true fulfillment from. Perhaps all gay men who’ve never been naturally athletic could derive something from understanding the mental calculations and determination that goes into strategically organizing the course of a given game?

It should be a given that as the legislative and social push for gay equality necessitates that those who are prejudiced or bigoted leave their immediate spheres of influence to become acquainted with new perspectives, so should LGBT persons not simply demand to be civilly accommodated, but truly explore and investigate how they can take part in and learn from the world in which they have been born.

By the same token, many heterosexual men, particularly those involved in the athletic arena, could do a lot more to better understand the emotions and activities that give meaning to the lives of gay men. Cultural barriers must be eradicated so that certain activities, settings, or even people aren’t just viewed as “gay”, but rather as unique, offering something special to society that is not encountered routinely. A wonderful way for such an enlightenment to take hold across all of American society would be if athletes who happened to be gay were given the freedom by the media and their fans to be open and unashamed about their fundamental identities. How is it that professional athletes are allowed to physically jostle, tackle, and even grab certain parts of each other’s bodies to express their enthusiasm for the game, but if it was discovered that they were attracted to persons of the same-sex and in a committed relationship with such a partner, this would completely obliterate the sense of irreproachable masculinity that is accorded to them by their fans?

Dialogue always ensues by way of a two-way street. Even though it may be awkward for many, choosing none other than the Queen of Pop to perform at this year’s Super Bowl could be the perfect way to begin the process of having such a meaningful discussion throughout the nation.

9 Responses

  1. This is a really well written article Phillip, and I must congratulate you. On this topic I need to relate a personal story. My best friend and anam cara was a gay priest who had absolute disdain for professional sports. I, having grown up in a household whose livelihood came from professional sports despaired of ever getting him to see there was value in athletic endeavor. He finally saw from repeated explanations about the ‘chess’ factor in professional football that there was way more to sports than he had ever seen. It wasn’t all about the, well, abuse he had taken in gym class. There could be the same pristine body execution in football or baseball he appreciated so much in dance.

    Your points here for gay people are important because the physical pursuits both gays and straights seem to enjoy are based in the same athletic/physical talents. I just wish more people of both orientations took the time to appreciate this fact. This is one reason I have always taken an acute interest in figure skating and gymnastics because both sports/artistic endeavors are just that.

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful comment Colleen! Maybe figure skating is something I should investigate? It’s certainly beautiful to watch :)

  3. Phillip, thank you for this honest, courageous, and moving testimony. It’s exceptionally well-written.

    I can relate, in that I actually became physically sick (nauseated to the point of vomiting at times) when I had to go physical education class in junior high and high school. The torments were intense on many occasions, and when they took place, the adults designated to keep order and teach us–the coaches–did nothing to stop some of the students who were bullies from hitting, kicking, and demeaning those of us who were their chosen targets.

    Thank you for caring about all of this, as someone from another generation closer to the generation of young folks struggling to deal with school bullying. You are a very positive role model for many people. I also found the Madonna discussion fascinating. I hadn’t followed it or the Super Bowl, because my negative experiences in gym class in junior high and high school have given me a lifelong aversion to sports–or, rather, the message that I’m a gay man who doesn’t belong to the club of those who center their lives around sports.

  4. This actually makes a lot of sense to me. It would make for a more cohesive society if the social barriers that you were talking about were completely eradicated. I feel that gay people have a lot to contribute to athletics and other things designated “masculine” that have been forfeited them. I could learn from them and appreciate their uniqueness and vice versa.

    • Why are these forfeited though? A man playing basketball or football is the same as a gay man playing basketball or football. This topic is being severely over dramatized, and America is the way it is now the way it has always been. It should not be changed because some men or women can’t express themselves emotionly while playing a sport. You can’t just go and change a sport because a couple gay or lesbian people feel they can’t express themselves while playing. There are other things for them to go do. Leave the sports alone they are fine the way they are.

      • I think that is a great point Kevin!

  5. I believe this article is very stereotypical on its judgement of homosexuals and heterosexuals. Not every gay guy hates sports, football, and gym class and they certainly aren’t always so open about their emotions and very candid about their sexuality. Furthermore, heterosexual males aren’t always the football jocks and the sports nuts. Before we can even break the barriers between homosexuals and heterosexuals that you are referring to, we must break the judgment and sterotypes that both sides have of their counterpart. Although I did enjoy the halftime show, Nicki Minaj killed it!!!

  6. I wrote this from a personal perspective as a way to attempt to begin a conversation. I understand if some of it may indeed sound stereotypical. Coming from my perspective it might, but I’m writing it from my own vantage point. The point of the article was to begin a conversation, and that can’t happen by denying that everyone’s perspective is somewhat different.

    Tommy and Kevin, I wasn’t suggesting that the realms of sports be changed to suit the tastes of LGBT persons but rather than the environments be more favorable so that they could feel comfortable within them.

    Now, if you’re talking about issues such as the implications that “masculine” acting gay men may have vs. “feminine” acting gay men in certain environments than that is indeed, no pun intended, a whole different ballgame.

    But once again, my attempt was simply to begin a conversation as someone who has never really felt at home in such an arena. Neither have I been welcomed into it with open arms.

    However, as I mentioned, a solution to this is simply to make a better, more sincere attempt at genuinely listening, learning, and understanding as much as we can from each other and what makes us all respectively different and unique, each in our own way.

    Even if I cannot agree with your statements I still welcome all of your feedback, be it positive or negative.

  7. I agree with Tommy, Many heterosexuals are involved in a number of activities that have nothing to do with Sports, Theater, science Olympiads, ect. Also many homosexuals play in gay and straight sports leagues. My nabor who is a homosexual participates in a gay water polo league and soccer league. I believe it has nothing to do on your sexual orientation but strictly your interests and hobbies. the stereotypes need to be broken by both sides in the end we are all children of god.

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