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

Despite the deluge of goals and aggravating an injury from the London competition the previous year, on the return along the R24 highway to Johannesburg she relaxes. The wine helps. The van passes citrus groves and signs promoting pastureland paintball. Toward dusk we pass squatter settlements with full-size dirt pitches and scratch goalposts, men in bright replica kit playing in winter light. Women emerge from footpaths along the highway, thumbs flying over mobile phones. Manik splays across the laps of two teammates, looks into the arid steppe and indicates one secluded valley as the future location for a gay retreat center. This is a dream—a place for gay women to get away from it all.

Additional sources

“To be poor, and black, and a lesbian in South Africa is to live in danger,” writes Andrew Harding for the BBC in a report on Tumi Mkhuma, another of Chosen Few’s rape victims. The side’s struggle for playing space and a space to breathe as gay women is contextualized at (Michael A. Jones, “Can Soccer Help Stop Corrective Rape in South Africa?” Jun 2). The Guardian reports Jun 20 that Chosen Few is barred from formal competition in South Africa (Louise Taylor, “The Chosen Few Lesbian Team Has Changed Lerato Marumolwa’s Life”). This was not my impression on visiting in 2009. At the time, they struggled with funding and meeting registration deadlines for regional amateur leagues.

Gevisser and Cameron in Defiant Desire: Gay and Lesbian Lives in South Africa (Routledge, 1995) provide oral histories and address South African gay culture’s intersection with law, township life, literature, death and sport. On apartheid’s construction of gender and, specifically, the details of the Madikizela-Mandela case, see William J. Spurlin, "Nationalism, Homophobia, and the Politics of ‘New’ South African Nationhood," in Imperialism within Margins: Queer Representation and the Politics of Culture in Southern Africa (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 78–102. He also discusses "the transformative power of the erotic."

Judy Davidson writes about the background of the Gay Games—with attention to the unique biography of founder Tom Waddell—in "The Necessity of Queer Shame for Gay Pride: The Gay Games and Cultural Events," in Sport, Sexualities, and Queer/Theory, ed. Jayne Caudwell, Routledge Critical Studies in Sport (Routledge, 2006). A fascinating article by Marc Epprecht, "The Ethnography of African Straightness," in Heterosexual Africa? The History of an Idea from the Age of Exploration to the Age of AIDS (Ohio University Press, 2008), 34–64, charts how anthropologists misrepresented gay practice across the continent and, further, how nationalists enlisted this myth of pan-African heterosexuality.

In her petition to a school principal to offer women’s football, Ramotsemeng imitates the deeds of fictional Hemprova Mitra. The protagonist of Hem and Football (Secker & Warburg, 1992), Mitra represents Nalinaksha Bhattacharya‘s audacious attempt to explore connections among same-sex female desire, traditional Indian family practice and sport. From a Left Wing‘s Jennifer Doyle in “ ‘Art versus Sport’: Managing Desire and the Queer Sport Spectacle” (X-TRA: Contemporary Art Quarterly, summer 09) brilliantly reminds us how groups of women athletes threaten social norms and mainstream sports imagery. England in 1921 enacted a 50-year ban on women’s football, Doyle writes, because women’s teams seemed rebellious, organizing, like Chosen Few, for political causes and because “the women who played [football] were considered unseemly—cigarette smoking, swearing, and hard playing (and plainly gay).”

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