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At What Point is Physical Contact Unacceptable in Sports?

Published: October 25, 2017
Dear TeenHealthFX,
I play water polo and we have one openly gay player on our team who tends to end up in others' personal space more than most. In this sport you have to get used to things that would make most people uncomfortable (it is a highly competitive environment and we're all in speedos, after all) but this seems to be right on the blurry line of what's ok. At what point is physical contact unacceptable in this case? How do you say you don't think this is ok without being called homophobic? (I am not homophobic)
Signed: At What Point is Physical Contact Unacceptable in Sports?

Dear At What Point is Physical Contact Unacceptable in Sports?,

Homophobia is essentially society’s fear and persecution of gay people. Homophobia can manifest in many different ways, such as bullying or wanting to eradicate homosexuality. Homophobia is also evident in the stereotypical ways in which gay people can be portrayed. Even the idea of tolerating homosexuality as long the gay person hides who they are and what they do is a form of homophobia.

Prejudices such as homophobia or racism are not beliefs that are either fully present or not present at all. Think of it more like being on a spectrum – we all fall somewhere along that spectrum in terms of our own beliefs. You may not be on the far end of the spectrum where you would advocate or tolerate a gay person being bullied or attacked in some way. But the fact that you are writing in about this is some evidence of some level of homophobia. TeenHealthFX does not mean this in any kind of blaming or critical way. It would be very hard to grow up in our society and not have any kind of prejudices whatsoever. So you are certainly not alone in some of the fears and beliefs that you do have. However, it can be helpful to acknowledge they exist in terms of how we choose to handle certain situations.  

TeenHealthFX raises all of this so that you can take an honest look at this situation and ask yourself some important questions. One question would be whether or not you would be as aware of the personal space issue if it involved a teammate who you knew was straight. Would you really, truly be as worried or as uncomfortable with it? It is possible you may be more aware and tuned into this person’s behaviors because of his sexual orientation.

The other question you might ask yourself is what does it mean to you to have a gay teammate, especially in a situation where you are all in limited clothing because of the dress requirements? One common prejudiced idea against gay people is that they would get involved with any member of the same sex simply because they are gay. However, not every heterosexual person befriends or comes in contact with a member of the opposite sex and automatically wants to get with them. So perhaps it is important to ask ourselves why we will unfairly assume this of gay people and to ask yourself if you may be unfairly assuming this of your teammate.

While it is important to look at your own fears and beliefs in terms of how they may be influencing how you are perceiving this situation, it is certainly possible that this teammate is not maintaining appropriate boundaries in terms of personal space. However, this may not be a statement about his being gay. Keep in mind that there are people of all ages, races, genders and sexual orientations that can have issues with boundaries and personal space. If you do think there is a personal space issue with this teammate, FX suggests you discuss it with a trusted, understanding adult (such as a school counselor, a parent or your coach) to talk about the best way to address this issue with this person.

Signed: TeenHealthFX

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