Article #11, by Can Sönmez
You may well have seen the photo featuring a grinning Wanderlei Silva, unadorned except for a pair of fightshorts, held from behind by a similarly underdressed training partner. It tends to be captioned with the phrase "it's only gay if you make eye contact." This is part of the "BJJ is gay" meme, something anyone who has trained in BJJ for a while will eventually come across. Often, it will be a friend trying to make a joke about your chosen sport. When positions like 'rear mount' are a common part of class, that isn't exactly hard.
The fact is, two sweaty men rolling around on the floor looks a lot like something else to the uninformed. That is even more the case when it's no-gi, as in the infamous Silva picture. I'm a straight BJJer, so if someone tries to tell me "BJJ is gay," I'll just assume they're ignorant or trying to be funny.
However, I wonder what my response would be if I was a gay BJJer myself. Sport and homosexuality are not on the best of terms: it is still a big decision for a prominent athlete to come out publically. Even gay fans struggle to be acknowledged. Many gay sportsmen and women choose to remain in the closet (naturally it is difficult to get statistics on that, but related stories here, here and here) fearful of media reaction, losing sponsorship, or causing tension in their team. In the past, this worry has been tragically justified.
For a grappling sport like BJJ, homophobia is a particularly pressing concern. There are those who can't help feeling uncomfortable when in close bodily contact with somebody sexually attracted to their gender. This is unfortunate: after all, heterosexual women face that issue every time they step on the mats. The majority of their training partners will be straight men. A heterosexual guy rolling with a homosexual man should be no different: you're both there to learn jiu jitsu, not find a date.
Sites like Matbattle.com (not safe for work) probably don't help matters. That isn't necessarily the fault of Matbattle (although articles like this arguably cross the line), as they are catering to a specific audience, just like the vast slew of titillating material aimed at straight men. What consenting adults want to do in the privacy of their bedroom is their business. However, the problem is when homophobes decide that all gay BJJers are sexual predators waiting to jump on them, most likely pointing to Matbattle as some kind of spurious 'evidence'.
Personally speaking, I haven't seen a lot of homophobia in BJJ. The kind of attitude I'm familiar with is exemplified by my favourite martial arts forum, Bullshido. As much as it occasionally gets dismissed by detractors as a bunch of foul-mouthed meatheads, almost every time I've encountered a thread on gay BJJers, the consensus has been "yeah, so what? They're there to grapple and get better at BJJ, like everyone else." An eminently sensible response.
Nevertheless, there are examples of shockingly homophobic behaviour elsewhere in the sport, as the below video investigates (interestingly, the related documentary resulted in two initially contrasting Bullshido discussions. First this, then this, and prior to both of them, one on NHBGear):
I'm keen to hear the perspective of gay BJJers on this topic, so please feel free to share your experiences, good or bad.
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10 February 2010
Article #11, by Can Sönmez