For those of you who are new around here, I’ll provide some background context on why I felt the need to write a post about the so-called ‘misunderstanding’ about Australian Men’s cricketer, James Faulkner’s instagram post.
I write romance books for lesbian tweens and teens that portray positive representation and supportive environments – being gay in my books is not the story.
I am also #ownvoices, identifying as female and lesbian (though I prefer the term gay). (If you’re so inclined, you can find out more about me here).
As an author, words matter to me.
Getting words right in my books matters to my readers.
Being out and proud as much as I can, (even as an adult I still struggle daily), and a positive and affirming role model in the LGBTQI+ space is important to me.
Which is why posts like James Faulkner’s make me frustrated and angry.
Last night, for those who haven’t been following along, James Faulker posted this to his instagram account (sorry I only have the tweet view, as this is the only one that I have that shows the original wording of his instagram post – he later amended it to add ‘(best mate!!!)’):
For all of five minutes, people like me got extremely excited. Here, all of a sudden, was a male athlete, still playing, apparently coming out in a matter-of-fact way.
My immediate thought was “Wow, this is huge. How great is this?” Especially when I saw the supportive and affirming comments from team-mates and other superstar male cricketers.
That euphoric feeling quickly turned to disappointment, and then to anger and frustration when it was revealed that it was, in fact, a mistake.
James then posted this by way of explanation:
There’s already been a lot said about things being taken out of context. There’s a fantastic twitter thread I encourage you to read here.
My concern with the original post and the commentary that follows falls into three categories.
One, representation matters; two, not understanding the effects your words can have, regardless of the intentions; and three, not understanding the gravity of joking about coming out (intentional or not).
I’ll tackle representation first.
You can’t be what you can’t see.
Representation matters to those of us who don’t get to see it very often. White, straight and male is so often the norm that if you fall into that category yourself, you’re lucky enough to see yourself everywhere. This is particularly true in professional sport.
Any deviation from that norm though? People like you are much harder to find.
That’s why when someone comes out, those of us in the LGBTQI+ community rally behind them and get excited. We’ve finally found someone in the spotlight willing to be open about who they are – it’s inspirational and it’s rare.
And when we get excited about someone coming out only to have the rug pulled from under us, telling us that we misunderstood?
I am actually lucky that I get to see myself represented in international sport. This is one space women are miles ahead in. We have quite a number of women who are out and proud in almost every sport you can think of.
I can speak from experience, having played soccer for over 20 years, that sport is a welcoming place for non-straight women, and I wish it were so for men too.
‘Misunderstandings’ like James Faulkner’s post, and the comments that go along with it, certainly don’t help engender confidence in any gay male player that them being out publicly would be taken seriously and respected.
When a male uses a word like ‘boyfriend’ when they talk about one of their friends, it does not have the same connotation as the word ‘girlfriend’ does when women use it when referring to their friends.
It’s as simple as that.
And let’s be clear, he was referring to one male friend, his best friend, not a group of male friends. If that was the case, that he used ‘boyfriends’ when referring to a group of male friends, the context would have been easy to establish.
Plus he used the hashtag #togetherfor5years. That in itself hints at a relationship beyond friendship.
When gay men and women see terms like that used in contexts like these, it’s hard not to jump to conclusions, because we are crying out to see ourselves represented in the mainstream. We’re constantly looking for the hidden meanings in how people we admire talk about themselves because we’re hungry for representation.
We sometimes project our hopes that someone we admire is gay or lesbian onto them because that would mean we’re just like them and they’re just like us.
Every well-known sports player who comes out pulls down a brick from the wall those of us in the LGBTQI+ community spent years building around ourselves. Every brick knocked down means we can be a little more confident in who we are ourselves. If someone so famous and well-known can be out and proud, then we can too.
Whether James meant to or not, he misused a word that allowed his comment to be taken out of context.
I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt that unlike me, he doesn’t think as much about what words mean as I do. But this is his chance to realise that words and context matter – what he thinks he means may not actually be what others think he means.
Which brings me to my final point and that is
Coming out is no joke
If this was just a simple mistake, a simple misunderstanding about how James sees and refers to his best mate (which is entirely plausible), then I want to make sure he and everyone else who commented that his post was no big deal realises that it actually is.
For a lot of people, the decision to come out is dangerous. It’s not an easy decision for anyone, no matter how supportive they think their friends and family are.
Self-acceptance is a long road, and I’m extremely lucky that my family and friends were (and still are) so supportive. Not everyone is so lucky.
I first came out in my mid-twenties, and I say first because coming out never stops, and being on your guard about who you come out to and how is exhausting.
You don’t just come out once. It’s a constant, often daily decision we make.
Every person you come into contact with, from the checkout operator at your grocery store to your doctor to your hairdresser to your taxi driver, is someone you have to decide whether or not to come out to, either subtly and sometimes accidentally in conversation (in the case of hairdressers for example), or openly and deliberately (in the case of medical professionals).
These decisions to come out on an almost daily basis are fraught with danger.
Will the hairdresser refuse to cut your hair? Will the doctor not understand your unique concerns or refuse to treat you?
Will you be rejected? Is not coming out easier than coming out? Do you correct the person on the phone at work when they refer to your partner as he instead of she? Will it matter? Will this work colleague or boss think of or treat me differently when they discover I’m gay? Will the parents of the kids I coach let me coach them if they find out I’m gay?
Those are the questions people like me ask ourselves every day.
Not because we want to but because sometimes, our safety depends on it.
So if you think that James Faulkner’s mistaken coming out is a joke and not a big deal, I hope you truly think about that for a moment and be grateful that your privilege, your place in the world, allows you to think that and not be bothered by it.
Because there are a whole lot of us for whom it’s not a joke.
It never was, never is, and never will be.