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This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a purple belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©2004-2014 Can Sönmez

10 February 2010

Article - Homophobia & BJJ

Article #11, by Can Sönmez

gay bjjYou 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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29 comments:

Meg Smitley said...

Superbly written and researched, as usual, slideyfoot. Really enjoyed the documentary clip too. I like what the instructor was saying, that yes, prior to getting stuck in there may be some feelings of weirdness where potential sexual tensions are concerned, but once a person starts trying to submit you there's just no time to worry about those things anymore.

slideyfoot said...

Thanks! That does seem to be the essential point: sex does not come into the equation when you're grappling, because you're too concerned about losing either consciousness or one of your limbs.

I would have thought that it is generally just when those who don't grapple are looking at BJJ from the outside - and therefore judging BJJ on appearance rather than the actual activity itself - that people start worrying about sexual connotations.

Then again, that wouldn't account for homophobic/sexist BJJers who are fully aware of what it's like to grapple, unless they have never rolled with the opposite gender or a gay person (of course, how would they know whether or not their training partner is gay? Most likely they have rolled with a gay team mate, they just didn't realise.)

Stephanie said...

Interesting. Honestly I've never really thought about it seriously. Gay jokes abound, but I never considered the idea of a gay grappler. I think that is primarily due to the fact that I am a women, and I roll with men almost every day, so rolling with a gay woman would be no different. I also think women generally less homophobic them men, and can get away with much more then men can before the jokes start. I kiss my training partner mid grapple sometimes, and have yet to be called gay for it... Whereas men doing the same thing would never hear the end of it.

And like you said, sex is the last thing on my mind when I am grappling. Even if someone completely grabs my chest it's obvious it is not a grope, and half the time someone will apologize for it and I never even noticed in the first place.

Lioness said...

It's the same with any sport, in terms of sexual connotation, etc. However, that picture of Wanderlei Silva is very very very very gay.

A.D. McClish said...

Be honest, Stephanie. You are always trying to make out with me when we roll. ;) Just kidding.

I agree with Meg. Unless someone is really trying to be pervy, then there's not a whole lot of time to worry about the "intimate nature" of BJJ. Like Steph said, a lot of times people will apologize to me for grabbing something and I'll have no idea what they are talking about because I was in the heat of the grapple.

The Part Time Grappler said...

Excellent piece Slidey.

I guess the BJJ / mat is a place like any other and it will attract it's share of idiots.

The beauty of the sport itself is that it puts you face to face with who you really are. You can't sustain being a knob who thinks woman are weak and can't fight intelligently when a 16 yr old girl is RNC-ing you till you tap your manly hand in a manly rythm :)

The mat (and the world) is for everyone.

Georgette said...

I know a number of gay women who train jits and of course hundreds of straight men... haven't yet come across a gay man who trains in jits, though I do know some gay men training in other martial arts. While the article from MatBattle's founder didn't do the sport any favors, I agree with most everyone that sex is not on your mind when you're trying to keep an open airway and functional joints.

My only other thought is-- stupid Chael Sonnen with his homophobic commentary prior to UFC 109.

slideyfoot said...

@Stephanie: It would be interesting to hear a lesbian BJJer perspective on the topic. The closest I could see was this (nothing explicit in the article, but the site in general is not safe for work), although as Syd Blakovich happens to be a porn star, that certainly isn't the typical lesbian experience.

@Part Time Grappler: Yeah, the honesty of BJJ is something I really like as well. BJJ is very healthy for your ego. ;)

@Georgette: In fairness, I should note that there are a couple of articles on Matbattle which are considerably more sensible. For example, this piece on coming out to your team mates, or this balanced article (although it's kinda ruined by the much less balanced afterword).

Dolph Goldenburg said...

I've been out of the closet throughout my 7 years in BJJ, though I’ve never worn it on my gi. When I say I'm out without wearing it out, here are some examples:
* The "about me" section of my BJJ training blog refers to my partner by name (Frank).
* I wear a wedding ring and if anyone asks a question about my "wife", I casually say, "my partner Frank..." and finish answering the question.
* I bring my partner to the gym's social events and parties.
* When asked where I work, I tell folks where I work (for over six years I ran Philadelphia's LGBT Community Center and now run an AIDS Service Organization in Atlanta). You don’t have to be LGB or T to run an LGBT Community Center, but people will assume you are.

I have not experienced any adverse reaction directed at me personally while training at any BJJ gym. But I also don’t make a big deal out of it. I don’t look for ways to bring it up and don’t act like the moral police if someone tells an off color joke. Though I’ve heard very few inappropriate jokes at the gyms I’ve trained at (not just inappropriate for gays but people of color, women, etc).

In fact, most BJJ people I know – coaches, teammates, or family/friends I meet at their parties - haven't even raised an eyebrow about it. What’s more, I've seen coaches confront obvious sexist and/or homophobic behavior and language. As an example, when I was visiting Easton BJJ while at a conference in Denver, a young (male) blue belt in the lineup said (in a feminine voice) "when will I get my pink belt?" The coach responded, "when you want to tell a joke, make sure it's funny.” No one laughed at the kid’s comment, but pretty much the entire class laughed at the instructor’s comment. That kind of reinforcement stops unwanted behavior pretty quickly.

While in Philly, I knew gay guys who trained at each of the major schools in town, but I think they stayed in the closet at their gym. I'm not judging their decision to do this - - - there is always the very slight chance that someone will decide to break your arm instead of releasing an armbar. Having said that, they also didn't participate in the social activities or make friends with their teammates, which was a real loss for them. I'm sure it's the same way here in Atlanta, but I don't yet know that many folks down here.

Finally, one last thought that applies people living in areas with multiple BJJ schools. If someone doesn’t feel comfortable being out at their school, they should switch schools. If someone doesn’t feel comfortable being out at any BJJ school, they may have some internal issues to work on.

Sorry for the long comment, Slidey.

slideyfoot said...

@Dolph: Heh - no need to apologise for long comments. I love long comments: more to read! Thanks for taking the time to write it. :D

I was hoping you'd respond, as you're one of the few gay BJJ bloggers I'm aware of, so your opinion is obviously very relevant to this topic.

Out of interest, do you think the manner in which sites like Matbattle take a largely homoerotic approach trivialises serious gay athletes in BJJ? Or is a place like Matbattle potentially useful (after all, there is that article on coming out to your team mates)?

Reason I ask is that a link to Matbattle's 'New Gay Judo' article (NSFW) is the first result that pops up when you type 'gay BJJ' into Google. Therefore I wonder what a prospective BJJer who happens to be gay might think if he or she was looking for support, or hoping to discuss gay issues in relation to BJJ.

Dolph said...

Let me first start by saying that I am only speaking on behalf of myself – not as the representative of all gay people everywhere.

Personally, I disagree with their advice on coming out. It assumes that many people in the gym will be shocked or disturbed by learning a teammate is gay, and I just don’t think that’s the case. While they cite a few inflammatory BJJ forum threads, those threads just don’t represent the mindset of any gym I’ve ever been to. The article suggests “breaking the news” to a trusted friend at the gym, but that implies it’s disturbing news. I think folks should just be casually out about it.

In terms of finding support as an openly gay person in BJJ, I don’t really feel the need to do that at this point in my life. But I’ve also been out for twenty years this April, have and am pretty comfortable in my own skin (jeez, that makes me sound old). If I were ten years younger, that may not be the case. Though, if I had read the second article you referenced when starting my BJJ journey, I may have decided to not come out so early in the journey for fear of how people would perceive me.

Also in terms of support, within my first year or two of training in Philly, I got to know many of the gay folks at other BJJ gyms in the area from meeting them at parties, events, etc, so I knew they were out there.

The real question, I think, is “what’s good for the sport?” Ultimately, I think the answer to this question is simple: offer to introduce your friends to BJJ. That includes all your friends - women, men, gay, lesbian, straight, bi, trans, black, white, latino, asian, young, middle aged, family members, jocks, geeks, couch potatoes, etc. The vast majority won’t stay after the trial class(es). But some will stick around for a few years; others for a few decades. Some will be mere enthusiasts while others will be world champs. But you will be responsible for helping to make BJJ a stronger, better understood, and more interesting sport.

slideyfoot said...

@Dolph: Heh - goes to show why it's important to have somebody from the relevant demographic comment, as that hadn't even occured to me.

I just assumed that a gay BJJer would automatically want lots of help in coming out to team mates, but then I myself haven't seen any homophobia at the places I've trained. So, your suggested approach makes a lot of sense in that context.

Then again, there are situations like the one in the video (although the reaction there was so hostile, perhaps the gym in question was a lost cause? Though it would be a very sad state of affairs if there was no hope of progress).

Dolph said...

Yeah, I think that gym in South Carolina is an outlier because I also haven't really witnessed homophobia at the places I've trained at or visited.

I said something like this before but here goes: If someone isn't comfortable being out in one gym, the issue is probably with the gym. If someone isn't comfortable being out at any gym, the issue probably is with them.

Overall, though, I actually think training BJJ is a unifying force at most gyms. It gives folks a common platform of knowledge, skils, and interest that bridges other significant demographic differences.

In an essay I wrote about why I train two of the 16 reasons are about the diversity of folks you'll find:

#9. BJJ introduces me to more interesting people. I don't recall a time when I've met a more eclectic and interesting group of people in one room. At my BJJ gym, you'll find people who have Ph.D's training alongside people who dropped out of high school after getting just D's. You'll find liberal peace-niks spending time with gun-toting conservatives. Law enforcement officers, convicted felons, business owners, government bureaucrats, construction workers, and doctors can all be found at my gym. And they all get along!

#10. BJJ overcomes my petty biases. Because of the great diversity of people BJJ exposes me to, my stereotypes are silently challenged and I find greater commonalities with all types of people now. My world view has broadened significantly because of BJJ.

mastersdivision said...

Excellent thread! I've only been at this for a few years, but the diversity theme holds true for me as well. I've trained at a more Boxing / MMA focused gym and now a school that caters more to traditional BJJ. In both cases people seem to accept anyone that shows up to train and take things seriously.

It seems natural for there to be some segmentation or cliquishness. I saw this some at the more MMA focused place. It was a younger more aggressive crowd, in which just wearing a gi would make you a target some days. Even then, it was more of a test of skill than anything malicious. It was extremely rare to find anyone talking smack (in fact I can't remember a regular ever doing it).

Training at a more traditional BJJ school has killed any sense of even that little bit of judgment and hobbyist vs pro cliquishness. We have just as many 18 year old aspiring UFC stars, but the sensibilities of the instructor are reflected in the students. We're really focused on our training and that training is a great equalizer - regardless of your background.

jay said...

I am a gay guy and I train bjj.

When I first started I didn't think anything about it. I have been out since I was a teenager.

I train at a larger schools and there are so many people personal stuff doesn't usually come up at first.

After a while I realized that people at the academy might learn that I was gay and not be cool with it. I googled "gay bjj" and came across matbattle, & was pretty horrified. I believe it is one guy who does this site and all of the stuff there is pretty much made up or out of context.

I felt pretty ashamed to be out for so long and to be somewhat in the closet again. Straight people need to know that they know gay people in order to realize that we are normal people just like them who aren't defined by our sexual life. Right now, even in the US there are people who want to jail us and kill us just for our sexuality. I know that just being out will transform someone's idea of what a gay person is like and that it is really important for all gay people to be out.

Eventually, I found some other sites and met people from other schools who are gay and no one had any problems. Also, there are some gay women at my academy. This helped me feel a little more comfortable. Now I don't care so much. I have never heard anything bad at my academy or pretty much at any other school I have trained at.

One thing straight people need to realize is that the gay people at their schools are most likely not going to be the stereotype of gay people. I don't know if people know if I am gay or not when I meet them it just doesn't come up. I am trying to be honest with who I am and also trying not to make anyone else uncomfortable.

The main thing is that I am on the mat to learn bjj. I put my time in to try to get better and that is the reason I am there. I don't think about sex or attraction while I am there. I am trying to improve my game.

Megan said...

Before I went to my first class, I really did worry about the idea of men being turned on. But then I thought to myself though "if straight men can do this with potentially gay men, I can roll with potentially straight men". Interestingly, I never worried about rolling with lesbians.

That really got me thinking though, what was I worried about? Was I scared I'd be assaulted in the middle of a roll? Nope. I was most concerned about what was going on in somebody else's head (or pants), and people don't need BJJ to be attracted to you.

I'm wondering if male discomfort rolling with other men is a reflection of their own practices of sexual aggression...kind of like a "would he do to me what I'm thinking of doing to Becky Sue?" state of mind.

Either way though, like Dolph said, BJJ is a unifying force and as long as the sport continues to focus on the quality of its practitioners, I think it will grow as a platform in which people increase their understanding of and bonds with each other. This is why sites like MMA girls irk me...not just because I'm female, but I see it as a gateway to viewing jiujitsukas as anything other/less than jiujitsukas.

slideyfoot said...

@jay: I think that's a good point - if more gay people are out, then homophobes are forced to confront what a gay person is really like, not what they imagine them to be like. That's especially true if gay people have the support of those in authority, as in Dolph's reassuring example.

Related to that question of representation, the Fightworks Podcast has a new poll up about gay people training at your BJJ academy. It will be interesting to see the results.

@Megan: Yeah, sites that objectify women in a BJJ context aren't helping female athletes: it trivialises their accomplishments. The same could be said of Matbattle, as they're objectifying men.

Kintanon said...

It would never have occurred to me to question what the sexuality of my partner is. Just like I'm not obsessed with whether some girl is attracted to me if I'm rolling with a female. When I'm on the mat everyone is equal. I'm far more concerned with picking apart their game and figuring out how to impose my will on them than about what their gender, or hair color, or skin color, or sexual preference is.
I guess I just assumed that attitude was the norm for everyone since I've never heard anyone make a statement that would lead me to believe otherwise.

Matt's Jiu-Jitsu Journey said...

Great article! I love your blog and what you contribute to BJJ!

When the subject of BJJ comes up with non-BJJ types, some people have made the "gay" comment. I promptly invite them to the gym. I tell them they can try it out if they want. I'm not looking for a newbie beat down but to educate them on BJJ. They can see first hand that it's nothing sexual, erotic, or "gay". It's a sport!

I've rolled with females before and again, nothing sexual comes from it.

If someone at my gym happens to be gay, I see it as nothing different than a straight guy who is trying to submit me.

Are they really homophobic or are they just scared to get beat?

Thanks again, Slidey!

Steve said...

This is something I've thought about, as well. Personally, it's just not an issue. There have been guys at our school who I'm almost certain are gay, although I don't know for sure.

I largely agree with the position that it just isn't a sexual situation. Any straight man or woman who has grappled with a member of the opposite sex knows that it's just not an issue unless you're making it one. And those guys don't last long.

I trust that my training partners are there to learn and are serious about it. We trust that our partners will keep us safe and help us become better grapplers. And it's totally okay with me if a woman who doesn't know me would rather not roll with me. It's about trust.

In the same way, rolling with someone who is gay is no big deal. I mean, really. Unless he does something that makes it a big deal.

The Beast said...

I am gay and train in BJJ. I'm not out to teammates or instructors for fear of being alienated. I have yet to be confronted about my sexuality, but If I am hope that I can be honest. It's a part of my life that is not relevant on the mats and if I am judged, I would hope it be criticism of my game and technique, not for my sexual orientation. Though off the mats I find that teammates attempt to grow friendships with me and I find that because I hide this part of my life I have begun to alienate myself. I haven't felt this sort of internal struggle since I first came to terms with my sexuality.

On a side note, I have noticed the incredible bond and camaraderie amongst grapplers, men and women, and that has nothing to do with which sex we are sexually attracted to or seek affection. I think it only goes to show how much more connected grapplers are to the suppressed primal side of our humanity that actually brings us balance and comfort.

Can Sönmez said...

Interesting: I was just rereading the comments on here (thanks for your thoughts Matt, Steve and the Beast! :D), due to another reddit thread on the topic of coming out in BJJ, and I see that the aforementioned Syd Blakovich has since discussed the question of training BJJ and MMA as a gay person.

E.g., she talks about the connections between BJJ, MMA and her career in porn here (some NSFW content on there, unsurprisingly), along with a discussion of a self defence workshop she taught for sex workers here (which mentions that at the time she wrote that, she was a purple belt). She's on Twitter, so I'll see if she has any interest in adding her thoughts in this thread.

OH!MALLEY said...

i'm a gay bjjer, i live between SF and NYC.

i'm pretty out and have been for a long time. that said, i tend to tread pretty carefully in the gym. it usually takes me 3-6 months to come out. i've never had anybody say anything directly rude to me, but i've had some very unfortunate experiences. a former judo coach -- who'd been a charismatic mentor up to this point -- turned into a total dick immediately after learning about me (my other teammates had known for years and had no problem with it -- note that he was korean (FOB) and there was a significant language/cultural barrier). seriously douchy stuff, like berating a higher ranked training partner whom i'd beaten in a roll ("you lost to HIM?!?!?") -- usually accompanied with a smack across the head -- and RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. i left shortly after.

the next school i trained at was a bjj school. overall it was a MUCH better experience, altho as the news leaked out i did notice that a few frequent rolling partners had suddenly stopped training with me. nobody said anything directly, but it was kind of clear they were uncomfortable. it always bums me out when that happens, but a) at least they're not being assholes, and are sitting (quietly) with their own discomfort, and b) shit happens. i once had a guy stop rolling with me when he found out i'm critical of israeli policies re palestinians. ppl can dislike you for any number of reasons. that's life.

i do feel a need to respond to the mattbattle reference. i find the existence of this site neither shameful nor belittling of bjj athletes. it's clearly a porn site that, like MANY others (gay and str8) eroticizes sports and other nonsexual activities. the difference here is that there's a higher emphasis on actual legitimate bjj topics, so it's a little harder to dismiss as "just silly porn".

after i dumped my judo school and dickhead instructor, i googled gay and judo and sure enough, matbattle was the first thing that came up. i signed up and started posting; i wasn't there to hook up or get off -- i was just happy to talk with other gay grapplers, and also chuckle/joke openly about the very intimate and homoerotic aspects of the sport. but even in all the joking and discussions about sex, even these guys all agreed that when you're actually rolling, it's just not a sexual thing. it's gruelling, sweaty, smelly, uncomfortable and sometimes just plain painful. most of the guys i chatted with were really just interested in talking about bjj, and maybe meeting for a drink/date if you were in the same city. but even the abject horndogs (who wasted no time asking for your dick size) were clear about this: when it comes to actual training, the stiffest thing on the mat is not in your shorts -- it's shoulder pressure.

i didn't hang around matbattle very long. there just wasn't a lot of depth. there were only a few serious posters, and most of the others just wanted to look at hot pictures and read jerkoff stories. whatevs. i guess the point of my longer-than-necessary story is that, if matbattle really does make you uncomfortable as a serious bjjer, then you're taking it way too seriously. i'm guessing the meatheads who get all up in arms about the tate shiho gatame story are mostly disconcerted by a thought that's probably new to them -- the idea that they could be a victim of sexual assault, not just a perpetrator. women deal with this every day and still manage to get on the mats. some guys just need to pull on their big boy pants and focus on their training, not the internet's gay fantasy hour.

cheers, and thanks for this!

oh, and btw, i kinda wish the guy who'd done the documentary had encountered stephan goyne's SF academy Bay Jiu Jitsu. stephan is straight but has a clearly stated, strict zero tolerance policy re homophobia, or any bigotry for that matter. like most schools, it's mostly straight -- but it's easily the most gay-friendly place i've ever gotten my ass kicked!

Can Sönmez said...

Oops, forgot to acknowledge Josh's comment earlier: sensible, as always. :)

Syd Blakovich responded on Twitter, which was cool: conversation here.

@OHMALLEY!: Thanks for the long response! Like I said to Dolph, the longer the comment, the better, so no worries on that at all. :D

On the Matbattle question, like I said in the article, on the one hand, yes, it's just a porn site that happens to cater to gay viewers rather than straight. It isn't pretending to be anything other than a porn site: this isn't a gi company throwing random semi-naked women into their advertising, it's a site specifically intended for titillation aiming to do just that.

However, I personally think there is a serious issue when BJJ is sexualised. I do find articles like this (NSFW) belittling and trivialising to both judo and BJJ athletes, whether or not it is meant to be taken seriously. I can't imagine Neil Adams or Ray Stevens (who is not only a judo black belt, but also a BJJ black belt under the same guy who gave me my purple, Roger Gracie) would shrug that off as a joke or just some harmless fun.

The biggest problem I have with it is that the author of the article approvingly describes sexually assaulting somebody on the mats. Even if this was merely a fantasy, the complete lack of any element of consent makes it deeply distasteful IMO. I do not condone rape fantasies. If it actually did happen (highly unlikely, but I guess it's possible), that isn't just unpleasant, it's criminal.

As you say, women regularly have to deal with that issue. The Lloyd Irvin situation has highlighted the severity of the problem. The objectification of women in BJJ is lower on the spectrum but a related issue: some might argue that what happened at TLI is in some ways a consequence of the 'rape culture' encouraged by that lack of respect for female training partners. It's cropped up yet again recently, with Kyra's recent pictures and the Tukano Kimonos debacle.

I think you're probably right when you say that some of the extreme reactions to Matbattle are because men are not used to being treated that way. Regardless, given my perspective on the objectification of women in BJJ, it would be hypocritical of me not to view the sexualisation of men in BJJ in a similar light.

I'd be interested to hear what other people think. :)

Megan said...

The MatBattle issue hits on an opinion I've formulated since the whole Kyra Gracie deal...I believe BJJ should be defended as an asexual space. It's just too far outside the norm of human physical interaction to start sprinkling sex in, not to mention a lot of people train to confront/defend against sexual trauma.

That said, I get that people like the Ultimate Surrender and Mat Battle crowds happily mix sport and sexual aggression. I believe someone has already said it, but things get a little more dicey when the sexualized material starts to mix with the serious application...I don't like that line being crossed and that's the exact issue I had with Kyra's last shoot. (her gi being the element of serious practice).

Just like I believe people should have a right to spaces where they can express themselves sexually, I also believe people should have a right to spaces that are void of sexualization. Even letting the door peek open a bit is too risky.

Can Sönmez said...

I believe BJJ should be defended as an asexual space. It's just too far outside the norm of human physical interaction to start sprinkling sex in, not to mention a lot of people train to confront/defend against sexual trauma.

Nicely put: I think that's a very important point and worth repeating.

OH!MALLEY said...

i agree with preserving bjj schools as SAFE AND RESPECTFUL spaces, and sympathize with folks' distaste with the tate shiho gatame article. (altho, for the record i feel it's important to distinguish between that article and matbattle as a whole. they're often conflated). but here's the thing: we sexualize EVERYTHING. football, gymnastics, diving, and especially womens sports. even something as low-contact and high-brow as womens tennis is burdened with sexual subtext. i don't think it's just misogyny (altho that's certainly a big factor), i think it's human nature. personally, i don't care if you're having sexual thoughts while training. i just care that you behave appropriately.

i guess if the overt sexualization of women's mma --- specifically to make it more palatable to male viewers -- were causing such consternation, i'd be a little more sympathetic to folks who feel their sport is belittled by bjj porn. i just think that, in time, as ppl get more comfortable with queer sexuality being as prevalent as straight sexuality, folks will feel less belittled and more inclined to simply roll their eyes and move on. that's pretty much what i do every time an octagon girl walks by the camera...

in any event, thanks for hosting a great dialogue. much respect!

cheers!

Can Sönmez said...

No problem OH!MALLEY: thanks for contributing a different perspective to the discussion! :)

In regards to MMA, I don't think that works as a comparison. The reason is down to the audience. In BJJ, the audience is made up pretty much entirely of practitioners. In MMA, practitioners make up a tiny proportion of the audience. That completely changes the relationship between the viewer and the fighter. In BJJ, when you see images of BJJ, you're viewing the people within those images as potential training partners or athletes you want to emulate. In MMA, that connection simply isn't there: the majority of people watching have no intention of ever putting on a pair of 4oz gloves themselves.

I'd also disagree that overt sexualisation in women's MMA is not controversial: it absolutely is, but the voice against it is quieter, because the people consuming those images are generally not fellow MMA fighters. Many female fighters have complained about the objectification in their sport. Though naturally it isn't as straightforward as that, given that some of those female fighters (like Felice Herrig) willingly objectify themselves in order to get more exposure (similar to how Kyra has done the same thing, to a lot more outcry in the BJJ community, such as here, here and here).

I don't think rolling the eyes is enough: that's still tolerating something which should not be tolerated. I want sexualisation completely out of BJJ advertising. I'd love to see it gone from MMA too, as the inclusion of pointless pornographic elements like ring girls adds nothing but a sleazy image to the sport, which I think it could well do without.

Can Sönmez said...

Also, I don't think I've yet linked Dolph's piece (entitled 'Being Gay in Jiu Jitsu'), which he wrote a couple of years ago, here. For example, here's a great point I hadn't considered:

"In most areas of my life, I only need to come out once. Once at work, once with the family etc. But in the BJJ world, I seem to come out every three to six months. In fact, I'm always sort of surprised when I realize someone at my BJJ gym didn't know I was gay. [...]

But BJJ gyms have a lot of turn-over, especially among white and blue belts. One day before or after class, one of them will ask about my wife. Tonight for example, a blue belt asked about which city my wife liked best from our recent trip. I responded, "He liked Florence the best." No one skipped a beat, and life went on."