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Sports Literature: Gay Male  
page: 1  2  3  

Often the characters in the stories are athletes: football players, body builders, and swimmers being among the most popular. Favorite settings are locker rooms, locker room showers, gymnasia, summer sports camps, and wilderness tripping.

The most important athletic equipment to be featured in these stories are jock straps, often portrayed as the quintessential homoerotic garment. The importance of the jock strap stems from the fact that it enshrines the twin centers of homoerotic desire, the phallus as the epitome of masculinity and the anus as the cherished place in which masculinity meets its undoing.

Gay Liberation Magazines

Certainly an important part of the gay literary heritage is the gay liberation magazine. Attempting to sell sometimes dry political messages to an erotically oriented gay market, gay journals frequently use athletic imagery.

And if the classified advertisements in gay liberation journals can be read as literature, then many literary evocations of athleticism are to be found there. There are often references to athletic body types: swimmer's body, body builder, runner's build, and so on. Men seek "workout partners" and sometimes wrestling bouts.

Men's Muscle and Fitness Literature

Appealing in a more coy, but nevertheless gay, fashion to the homoerotic desirability of athletes are body-building magazines such as Men's Fitness and workout "textbooks" such as Working Out (1983) by Charles Hix. Here, barely submerged homoerotic subtexts permeate advice on how to transform one's body into the paradigmatic gay athletic body.

In these publications, fairly scanty technical texts are amply supplemented with photographs of athletic men exercising or just sitting around looking beautiful. For instance, Working Out has a chapter entitled "The locker room: Alone/together," with a full-page picture of some men lounging in a locker room, others removing their shirts, while another man, completely naked, towels himself dry.

The men's muscle and fitness literature has replaced an earlier homoerotic genre: books and magazines about dance, such as After Dark Magazine, which in turn was the successor to the earlier twentieth-century physical culture magazines. This form allows the homoerotic content of a publication to be masked by the ostensible "legitimacy" of exercise, art, or culture. In such publications, the function of the text is to mask the homoerotic import of the soft-core visual images.

Coming Out Books by Gay Athletes

The world of professional sports has been an extremely hostile environment for gay men. Although this hostility has prevented many gay men from pursuing athletic careers, those who have done so have felt it important to keep their sexuality a secret. A few professional athletes, however, have come out and written about their homosexuality.

David Kopay is probably the most famous case in point. He was a National Football League player who publicly revealed his homosexuality and subsequently never worked in professional football again. His book, The David Kopay Story, was written with Perry Deane Young (1977, 1988).

Olympic medalist and world-champion diver Greg Louganis revealed his homosexuality and affliction with HIV/AIDS in the best-seller Breaking the Surface (1995).

A body builder and former Mr. Universe, Bob Paris and his then spouse Rod Jackson published the story of their coming out and attempts at becoming officially married: Straight from the Heart: A Love Story (1994).

The major league baseball umpire, Dave Pallone chronicles his difficulties as a gay man in professional baseball in Behind the Mask: My Double Life in Baseball (1990).

Jim Perrin's biography of the writer and mountaineer John Menlove Edwards, Menlove: The Life of John Menlove Edwards (1985), is also well worth reading.

And the life of the great tennis star, Bill Tilden, twice jailed for his sexual involvement with adolescent boys, and whose desperation over his life ended in suicide, is recounted in Big Bill Tilden: The Triumphs and the Tragedy (1975) by Sports Illustrated journalist Frank Deford.


In the wake of gay liberation, with the flourishing of scholarly work on many facets of homosexuality, it is remarkable that so little has been written about the phenomenon of homosexuality in sports culture in general. Brian Pronger's The Arena of Masculinity: Sports, Homosexuality and the Meaning of Sex (1990) is the only work so far to examine the interplay of gay and sports cultures.

The Gay Games, a lesbian and gay athletic and cultural festival that originated in 1982 in San Francisco and has been held quadrennially since has been documented by Roy Coe in A Sense of Pride: The Story of Gay Games II (1986).

Lesbian and gay newspapers, both local and national, regularly report lesbian and gay community sports events and organizations.

Brian Pronger

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arts >> Overview:  Bodybuilding

Although more often denied than recognized, gay men and lesbians are an important part of bodybuilding, both as athletes and as consumers of the physical culture and entertainment products that the sport sponsors.

arts >> Overview:  Sports: Gay Male

While sports, at least on the major competitive level, may be the final closet for gay men, there have nevertheless been a number of gay male elite athletes.

literature >> Forster, E. M.

One of the finest English novelists of the twentieth century and a tireless defender of humane values, Forster deserves a special place in the gay and lesbian literary heritage.

arts >> Frontrunners

Frontrunners is an international confederation of gay, lesbian, transgendered, and gay-friendly runners, joggers, power walkers, strollers, rollerbladers, and sometimes bicyclists of all abilities.

arts >> Gay Games

A quadrennial sporting and cultural event designed for the glbtq community, the Gay Games has become a lucrative attraction for host cities.

arts >> Kopay, David

The first American professional athlete to acknowledge his homosexuality publicly, former National Football League player David Kopay stands near the head of the short list of openly gay and lesbian elite athletes.

arts >> Louganis, Greg

Widely regarded as the greatest diver in history, Olympic champion Greg Louganis has acknowledged both his homosexuality and his status as a person living with AIDS.

literature >> Plato

Among Greek writers on homosexual themes, Plato is preeminent not only as a major philosopher but also as the greatest master of Greek prose.

literature >> Theocritus

The ancient Greek poet Theocritus is the first great voice in the homoerotic pastoral tradition in Western literature.

arts >> Tilden, William "Big Bill"

One of the best tennis players of all time, William "Big Bill" Tilden achieved spectacular success on the courts only to suffer an equally spectacular fall when his homosexuality and penchant for underage boys became known.

literature >> Vidal, Gore

The multifaceted Gore Vidal is important in the gay literary heritage because of the straightforwardness with which he pursued gay themes and included gay characters in his work.

literature >> Warren, Patricia Nell

Patricia Nell Warren is the author of significant novels about American gay culture that exemplify popular adult and young adult mainstream fiction.

literature >> Whitman, Walt

Celebrating an ideal of manly love in both its spiritual and physical aspects, Walt Whitman has exerted a profound and enduring influence on gay literature.

literature >> Wilde, Oscar

Oscar Wilde is important both as an accomplished writer and as a symbolic figure who exemplified a way of being homosexual at a pivotal moment in the emergence of gay consciousness.


Coe, Roy. A Sense of Pride: The Story of Gay Games II. San Francisco: Pride Publications, 1986.

Deford, Frank. Big Bill Tilden: The Triumphs and the Tragedy. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1975.

Jackson-Paris, Rod and Bob. Straight from the Heart: A Love Story. New York: Warner, 1994.

Kopay, Dave, and Perry Deane Young. The David Kopay Story. New York: Primus, 1988.

Louganis, Greg, with Eric Marcus. Breaking the Surface. New York: Random House, 1995.

Pallone, Dave. Behind the Mask: My Double Life in Baseball. New York: Viking, 1990.

Perrin, Jim. Menlove: The Life of John Menlove Edwards. London: Gollancz, 1985.

Pronger, Brian. The Arena of Masculinity: Sports, Homosexuality and the Meaning of Sex. New York: St. Martin's, 1990.

_____. "Gay Jocks: A Phenomenology of Gay Men in Athletics." Men, Masculinity and the Gender Order: Critical Feminist Perspectives. Michael Messner and Don Sabo, eds. Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics, 1990.

Sprawson, Charles. Haunts of the Black Masseur: The Swimmer as Hero. London: Vintage, 1992.


    Citation Information
    Author: Pronger, Brian  
    Entry Title: Sports Literature: Gay Male  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated November 23, 2002  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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