Bi Visibility Day: Football, wrestling, and being bisexual

Published by Jon Holmes on

Finding inclusive environments within his favourite sports helped journalist Sam Clarke grow in confidence as a bisexual man. He shares his story…

By Sam Clarke

To mark Bi Visibility Day, we invited freelance sports journalist and FvH Youth Panel comms officer Sam Clarke to blog for our site…

Growing up in South East London, there was never really any doubt for me that I didn’t quite fit in.

I feel like the area was truly built around a ‘man up’ culture, which honestly is probably more common than not throughout the country.

The expectation of men to stand up, puff their chests out, and show very little emotion weighed very heavily on me. That was never me, so even before starting to realise and come to terms with my sexuality, I already felt like I didn’t belong.

This didn’t stop me from throwing myself into male-dominated environments. From going to an all-boys secondary school, to my pursuit of a career in sport, I was always landing in courses that were majority men.

To the eyes of most, I fit in just fine. But in reality, this was simply a mask I was putting on. For as long as I’ve had innocent celebrity crushes on women, I also had them on men. For as long as I started developing an attraction to the girls around me, I also started developing an attraction to boys.

It was never a question of if I was bisexual – it was a question of if I could ever be openly bisexual. Every discussion I ever heard around bisexuality growing up was this idea that eventually you had to pick a side, and that it is simply a phase.

I even started to believe this myself. Was I just gay and unable to admit this to myself? Again, this was a common thing I had heard of bisexual men especially. Interestingly, through conversations with my fellow Football v Homophobia Youth Panel member Amy Allard-Dunbar on the most recent FvH Podcast, I learned her experience of perceptions of bi women is quite the opposite.

“I’ve had various experiences with queer women and they’ve been like, ‘look, I’m not going to date you because you’re bisexual and you will cheat on me’,” Amy explained, with comments like this suggesting that a bisexual woman will eventually just want to be with a man.

If you’re interested in hearing more from myself and Amy about our experiences of being bisexual, listen to the latest episode of the FvH Podcast…

You can also listen on Apple Podcasts.

While it’s different to how bisexual men are received, the common thread in this is that bisexual people simply won’t be able to resist the allure of men, or they are just disloyal and want to sleep with everyone. Both perceptions are equally wrong.

It was these kinds of misconception that part of me believed growing up, and while the other part of me didn’t believe them, I dreaded the idea of coming out and that being all I got. If I’d never found an alternative to the environment I grew up in, I may still be closeted to this day, but I did find another environment in which I grew and truly found myself.

I had two loves growing up. The first – as I’ve suggested – was football, but my other love was professional wrestling. It was the latter that provided a safe place when I needed it most. Becoming more active talking about wrestling on Twitter led me to slowly build a community of wrestling fans around the world, and through that began conversations with more like-minded people. For the first time, I started making friends within the LGBTQI+ community.

I had very limited contact with anyone LGBTQI+ in my everyday life in my local area, and I had never met anyone who was bisexual like me. Through wrestling Twitter, I met a number of people who were bi and also pansexual, an identity I never even knew existed before this.

There is a lot of confusion on the difference between bisexuality and pansexuality. Just basing it on the general definitions for each, bisexuality is the attraction to two OR MORE genders, while pansexuality specifies that it is the attraction to ALL GENDERS. In practice though, I think you just need to respect the freedom of self-expression.

Personally, my attraction doesn’t solely fall within the gender binary. I have been attracted to people across the binary and non-binary spectrum. I simply just like who I like. I can’t speak for people who identify as pansexual, so instead I’ll point you in the direction of this Sports Media LGBT+ interview with Charlie Martin.

It was the acceptance I found in the wrestling community, and the fact I was yet to find a safe place in football, which led to me taking a step back from the latter. I still went to games and loved Charlton Athletic, but my passion to be involved in football fell massively. I was already on the road of journalism at this point, but my attention shifted to wrestling journalism.

As I grew more comfortable with myself and my sexuality for the most part, whenever I would be around football, I would revert back to wearing that mask. In a more literal sense, it was wearing a hat to hide my hair which had been grown out at this point, because one thing that always stuck with me was homophobic slurs being thrown around in regards to footballers with slight longer hair.

A university project about homophobia led me to discovering more about Charlton Invicta, who until that point I had thought were just Charlton fans naming their inclusive team Charlton. It was through research for this project that I realised that they were officially associated with the Charlton Athletic Community Trust, and the club. This led me to finding all the fantastic work my very own boyhood club had done in inclusion, not just on a raising awareness level, but supporting both Invicta and the LGBTQI+ supporters’ group, Proud Valiants.

Before long, I discovered just how big the LGBTQI+ football community was. I knew it existed but I didn’t know to what capacity and that it spanned across that much of the country. While this was a massive revelation for me, I still approached it with caution, because sometimes even in LGBTQI+ spaces, I feel a lack of acceptance.

I’ve had experiences within the LGBTQI+ community which felt like I was always under inspection, like people were judging if I was ‘gay enough’, which is a phrase I quote from an individual who was making exactly these judgements. Whether it was a question of how many guys I’ve slept with in comparison to girls, or suggesting that I was ‘straight again’ due to my current relationship with a woman, the narrative of needing to ‘pick a side’ or that I was just going through a phase were pushed on me from people in the LGBTQI+ community almost as much as those outside of it.

Luckily, I haven’t found this to be the case in the LGBTQI+ football community, and among LGBTQI+ people in wider sports. Yet despite this ever-growing community, athletes coming out as bisexual doesn’t appear to be as common an occurrence as those coming out as gay or lesbian.

There are likely to be a few gay and lesbian athletes who are actually bisexual, but haven’t explicitly come out as such and all that is known is who they are in a relationship with. An example of this can be seen with WWE superstar Tegan Nox, with her initial ‘coming out’ simply an Instagram post which made it apparent she was in a relationship with a woman.

The first wave of headlines stated it as the Welsh star coming out as lesbian. It wasn’t until a later interview that she specifically said she was indeed bisexual. Unlike being gay or lesbian, bisexuality isn’t visible from just a relationship status, which makes someone like Levi Davis coming out as bisexual by stating it outright so powerful.

For me personally, for a long time, I never planned on coming out as bisexual unless it was ‘necessary’. By that, I mean if I never met a man who I wanted to be in a serious relationship with, I wouldn’t need to put myself through the homophobia or biphobia that comes with being LGBTQI+. For a long time in my life, I was desperate for the person I fall in love with to be a woman so that I could be content while being closeted.

This could very well be the same for bisexual people in sport as a whole, because anything that I feared about coming out would be amplified by being a famous athlete. By no means am I saying it’s easy to stay closeted under these circumstances – it’s never easy to hide something that is a part of your identity. It takes a massive toll on your mental health.

I found this out the hard way, which is why even though I did experience the scenario that I craved – where the person I fell in love with just so happened to be a woman – I still ended up making the decision to come out.

One thing that would play a part for sports stars that never really played a part for me, is the looming threat of being ‘exposed’.

Particularly in football, we have had our fair share of media storms over speculation of which footballers are hiding being gay or bisexual, such as stories of someone telling a newspaper they are having a ‘homosexual affair’ with footballers. I can only imagine the mental toll it could have seeing those headlines, when you are an LGBTQI+ football player yourself.

As for the effect my sexuality may have on my own career in sports media… as a bisexual man, I don’t really know. I’m actually unaware of people who are bi in the industry, and again, any number of the things I’ve talked about throughout this blog could be playing a factor in that lack of visibility.

On a basis of not specifically bisexuality, but representing the LGBTQI+ community, there may be questions over why you’re getting opportunities. We’ve seen it a lot over the last few weeks, with the potential for opportunities that are presented to black pundits and journalists being labelled as trying to fit people who are undeserving in order to somehow satisfy the Black Lives Matter movement.

This happened when women started to get more prominent roles in football and sports media, and I have no doubt it will be the same as more out members of the LGBTQI+ community are given similar opportunities.

For now, my focus is on projects I am currently working on as part of my work with the Football v Homophobia Youth Panel that directly link to inclusivity in sports media, as well as doing my part in making football a more welcoming environment for the next generation in the sport.

Our thanks to Sam – you can follow him at @sam_aec on Twitter and on Instagram. Check out his personal website at AEC Media.

The FvH Youth Panel also has its own blog, and new episodes of the FvH Podcast are produced regularly. Follow @FvHYouth on Twitter and on Instagram.

Sports Media LGBT+ is a network, advocacy and consultancy group that is helping to build a community of LGBT+ people and allies in sport. We’re here to help. Learn more about us on our About page; to get in touch, Contact Us here.

Further reading…

Reactions to Levi Davis coming out as bisexual show care is there

‘Coming out lifted a mental weight off my shoulders’

Jon Holmes

Digital Sports Editor

1 Comment

Rob Harris · 23/09/2020 at 8:07 am

What an amazing piece and so much that is relatable. So glad to have Sam as a member of the Proud Valiants. Something tells me such readable reporting – a great future is on the cards !

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