From Johannesburg, lesbian footballers chosen to play, choosing to live

To Moore, football at any level consists of unspoken dialogue among players—defenders with the midfield, midfield with forwards, all making space for themselves by creative interchange. Football and honest witness are intertwined. Moore testifies to her real life through sport and in performance poetry. "I can speak it, I can sing it, I can rap it," she says of her work, which she tailors for Sotho, Xhosa, Zulu, Afrikaans and English audiences. Although she has only played the game for five years, football inspires her. In some poems she compares the game to sex—a far cry from the mask she affects with straight family members.

Moore cuts a halftime interview short: "I nearly swore at them. I nearly cursed." See video at the Global Game’s YouTube channel.

Moore left the side last year but in her tenure encouraged players to "be out," to strive for full humanity rather than remaining half a person. Many players emerged from football backgrounds in which sexual preference was the great unsaid. Openness about same-sex feelings for women and about sex in general still poses a threat. Only in Mar 09, according to media coordinator Mpule Mathabela, were many FEW members prompted to share past traumas. The impetus was the rape of a Chosen Few player that month in an East Rand township. At the time of the friendly three months later, FEW was still pushing investigators to gather evidence. No arrests had been made.

"We’re not just a soccer team," Mathabela says.

Mark Gevisser and Edwin Cameron in one of the first post-apartheid surveys of queer cultures in South Africa note the "jolly-hockeysticks façade" of women’s football and field hockey in the 1950s and ’60s. Later, Johannesburg softball games in the 1990s constituted some of the largest "out" lesbian gatherings. These, however, were for white and mixed-race women. For black women in townships there were women’s soccer teams with, according to Gevisser and Cameron, gay contingents. But these were not liberated zones, said a player from Soweto Women’s Soccer Club—“It is just so difficult to expose yourself that even there it is not always safe to come out to women you suspect are also gay."

Laws and rhetoric have changed in the past 15 years. But despite decriminalization of homosexuality and the country’s recognition of same-sex marriages in 2006, Malebo Ramotsemeng of Chosen Few says that a stigma keeps women closeted. "You think twice," says Ramotsemeng, a left-sided midfielder who lobbied the principal at her school in Pretoria for women’s football and also took up cricket, another male preserve. "You don’t want to find yourself being one of the victims that are abused because of your sexuality. The minute you decide to come out, people start calling you names. … They try to correct you of your sexuality."

Women’s football correlates with lesbianism in the minds of many South Africans. According to a new member of Chosen Few, Katso, lesbians, too, harbor such prejudices. Some gay women believe that all lesbians play football. Katso’s partner of three years, however, is, in Katso’s words, "too feminine" to play soccer. Indigenous languages in South Africa, Moore says, mark football as grammatically masculine. Even linguistically there is little room for women on the pitch.

Katso, who has also played rugby, says she sought out Chosen Few after visiting their website. "Honestly, I’ve been, I would say, locked up," she says. Her family has accepted her, but she feels put off by institutions such as the church that accuse lesbians of demonic intent. "I was always scared to be in an organization like [FEW], scared of questions. The first question [men] would ask you is, ‘How do you guys [have sex]?’ and I hate questions like that."

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