There's always been something pleasantly homoerotic about team sports. Maybe it's a bunch of men in matching outfits running after balls, or just the cavalier attitude towards butt-slapping; then, of course, there's the locker room where those slapped butts are allowed to run free and naked, as in the wild. So maybe that explains why there's so much unpleasant homophobia in team sports as well--for a gay man to enter that bastion of heterosexual masculinity is tantamount to heresy.
Though times are a-changin', there's also a ways to go--see also: the triumphant cum depressing tale of Michael Sam. But the Warwick Rowing Club, for the past few years, has been doing its part to combat homophobia in sports by letting their butts run free and naked in a series of popular calendars that benefit their own charity, Sport Allies.
Amid calls of gay-baiting, the Rowers gladly strip down, horse around and embrace each other fraternally, even innocently. After all, these are 19 and 20 year olds who are perhaps unfamiliar with homophobia, or don't consider anyone's sexuality a big deal.
What the Warwick Rowers doing is less gay-bait and more an attempt to redefine what's acceptable behavior for straight men while creating a safer space for non-straight men to join team sports. In the process, they've gained a gay following because--well, hey, you're not going to threaten us with a good time.
I met up with three of the Warwick Rowers--Lucas, Tristan and Will (below, from left to right)--on their first trip to New York to discuss the origins of the calendar and Sport Allies, fighting homophobia, and the joys of getting naked in public.
But first, let's give them a bit of the pin-up treatment with some pertinent (and not-so pertinent) background info:
Height: 6'3 Astrological Sign: Capricorn (Jan 7) From: France Studying: International Business and Spanish What do you want to be when you grow up?: I don't know yet. Boxers or briefs: Boxers
Height: 6'3 Astrologicaal sign: Capricorn (Jan 10) From: Cornwall in England Studying: Mathematics Operational Research Statistics and Economics What do you want to be when you grow up?: I've done work experience in financial services and applied for jobs in consultancy, but being involved with the calendar has really opened my eyes to what I value and what I gain pleasure from. It's basically a grassroots project that we built up ourselves, and it's giving people faith that wouldn't be there had the product not been there. It's made me realize that I want to do something with my life where I can create a product that helps people that wasn't there before I came up with the idea. I don't have the idea yet, but I'm working on it. Boxers of briefs: I'm a boxers man, but I do have a lovely pair of brief. I don't buy 'em, but if they were bought for me I'd wear them.
Height: 6'4 Astrological sign: Aquarius (Jan 29) From: Around Surrey area Studying: Chemistry What do you want to be when you grow up?: I want to travel and work in London, not really sure what I want to do yet. Boxers or briefs: Boxers
OUT: What inspired you to get involved with the calendar, as a club and individually? Tristan: It started, as a club, about seven years ago when our club was in a lot of debt and we decided to raise funds in some way. So we thought, we'll take off our clothes. We tried cake sales, didn't work. It sold about a couple of hundred pounds the first couple of years. It was only about four years in when we got a real big backing from the gay community that we decided that we wanted to give something back. That's why we started our charitable initiative called Sport Allies that helps tackle homophobia in sports. I think that was a big part of why I got involved. It's such a big part of the club now, it's a great cause to be a part of and it's just an exciting project as well, as a student, to be involved in. It's doing great things with the LGBT+ community.
Lucas: It just seemed really natural for me to take part in it--I have a lot of friends who are LGBT+ and it just seems like something that society needs at the moment. They need to be aware of what homophobia does for people who want to play sports and I figured it was an easy thing for me to do: get naked and bring a bit of my personal touch.
Will: It's a great message, especially through Sport Allies, that we spread. It's not something that you usually mention in day-to-day life. It's not something that not being LGBT+ you come across that often, and so it's good being able to kind of campaign for those that are affected by the issues we're trying to combat. Some of the messages that Tristan gets on the publicity accounts are really touching. It means a lot to a lot of people. It's nice to be able to be a part of that.
What were some of the messages you've gotten? T: Recently, we held a competition for tickets to come meet us in America. You had to complete the sentence, "I support Sport Allies because..." and one of the guys messaged in because he'd recently been suffering from cancer. He said it was great knowing our message was there so that if he was to die he can leave the world where he knows people are fighting for what is right. That's something I thought was incredibly humbling--to know that someone going through that looked to us and found a bit of relief in what we were doing.
Do you have any queer teammates? T: Yes, we do.
W: Our cox [coxswain] is bisexual.
T: And we have had gay members of the team who have been in the calendar--two or three in the last seven years--but not this year.
What was your favorite part of the photoshoot? T: I'd say generally, there wouldn't be one favorite part, but the experience as a whole--being able to be yourself and have a lot of fun, a lot of silly fun....
W: Good fun with the water fight. We had 18 water pistols, about 200 lbs worth of water.
L: Getting naked and going to the beach. It was pretty crowded-- there were like hundreds of people there looking at us. And then it was like, "Fine, I don't know these people, I might not see any of them ever again." It was a lot of fun and a big step for me, personally. Before doing the naked calendar shoot I was not that confident about getting naked anywhere near other people, except in like the gym changing room. Doing the calendar made me realize, well, it's not that big of a deal. We're all different and we have to accept the way we are--and the way others are.
What have you learned from doing the calendar, being part of Sport Allies and the entire process? L: Getting all the messages of support from people and the gay community, it makes you realize even if you don't see homophobia happening, it is happening. The work that we're doing with Sport Allies and the calendar's message is actually helping some people out.
T: I didn't realize how big a problem discrimination was against LGBT+ people. Some of the research we got from Sport Allies, for example: if you're LGBT+ at university and you want to get involved with sport, you're half as likely to do team sport as you are individual sport. You may think as a team--we're not homophobic, why aren't they joining? It's more the expectation of what's going to happen. I think you need to be active against that, active against any sort of discrimination, which is where we're going as a club now. I think that's a great thing to be a part of.
Pick up your Warwick Rowers 2016 calendar--and other associated merch--here. And follow them on the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.