WAR­WICK ROW­ERS

They strip off to fight ho­mo­pho­bia. Not bad for a bunch of mostly straight boys. War­wick Row­ers cal­en­dar pro­ducer, An­gus Mal­colm talks sport, sex and equal­ity.

DNA Magazine - - CONTENT -

DNA: What prompted the first War­wick Row­ers cal­en­dar back in 2009?

An­gus Mal­colm: Ini­tially, it was to fund the boat club at War­wick Uni­ver­sity. As the an­ti­ho­mo­pho­bia mes­sage of the cal­en­dar be­came a more im­por­tant part of the project, we set up Sport Al­lies with cal­en­dar fund­ing to fo­cus on mak­ing sport more in­clu­sive and a leader in pro­mot­ing in­clu­sion. All cal­en­dar prof­its now go to Sport Al­lies.

What was the re­ac­tion from the pub­lic like, the first time?

The re­ac­tion was al­ways pos­i­tive, but it re­ally took off when we made clear that the War­wick Row­ers were straight al­lies who were strip­ping off to show their re­spect for LGBT rights. Peo­ple loved that idea and that is when celebri­ties like Stephen Fry, Sir Ian McKellen and Kylie Minogue be­gan to sup­port us.

When guys sign up to join the team, they must know they’ll end up naked in the cal­en­dar? They hear about the cal­en­dar early on but there’s no obli­ga­tion to take part! For­tu­nately, most of them have cho­sen to any­way. Now that we are do­nat­ing all prof­its to Sport Al­lies we are open to in­clud­ing ath­letes from other row­ing clubs and other sports, as we have this year! Yes, there’s a spe­cial guest ap­pear­ance in the new cal­en­dar. Why did you choose to in­clude Rob­bie Manson?

Rob­bie Manson chose us! He reached out to us a few years ago to tell us, as an LGBT rower, how much he ap­pre­ci­ated the mes­sage we were send­ing out. He of­fered to sup­port us in any way he could so when we were plan­ning our 10th an­niver­sary cal­en­dar and wanted to do some­thing spe­cial we thought, “Why not ask the fastest rower in the world, who also hap­pens to be gay, to be our spe­cial guest star?” It’s not just a com­ment on the im­por­tance of straight al­lies, it’s high­light­ing that the world’s fastest rower is LGBT. Were Rob­bie’s shots done in New Zealand? No, they were shot at Syd­ney Uni­ver­sity’s spec­tac­u­lar new boathouse in Burns Bay, and on lo­ca­tion in the South­ern High­lands of New South Wales.

The team spent time in Aus­tralia shoot­ing the cal­en­dar; what was a high­light of the trip? Un­doubt­edly get­ting to spend time with Rob­bie Manson, who is a hero to the boys both as an elite ath­lete and as a leader for di­ver­sity in their sport. We had an amaz­ing time in Aus­tralia, and we must thank our friends at Planet Dwellers and the Cam­bridge Ho­tel for their sup­port. Does get­ting naked to­gether bond the team? Very much so. The guys are used to be­ing naked to­gether be­cause of the chang­ing rooms and show­ers. But spend­ing whole days to­gether naked is a very dif­fer­ent thing. It helps them to con­front the in­vis­i­ble rules about mas­culin­ity and ac­cept­able male be­hav­iour within which they live. The cal­en­dar ad­dresses the anx­i­ety that many men, gay and straight, have about be­ing naked in front of other men. Where does that anx­i­ety originate?

I be­lieve it orig­i­nates in rules that are in­tended to pre­vent men from form­ing phys­i­cal and emo­tional bonds out­side the es­tab­lished rules. And we are not nec­es­sar­ily talk­ing about rules that go back to pre-his­tory here! A lot of the “het­eronor­ma­tiv­ity” in our cul­ture can be traced back to the 19th Cen­tury.

Uni­ver­si­ties and sports clubs of­ten have se­cret haz­ing rit­u­als for new mem­bers. A lot of it seems vi­o­lent and sex­ual. Do you think those rit­u­als are in­her­ently ho­mo­pho­bic?

I’m not an ex­pert, but I think they are a clear ex­am­ple of how we need bet­ter mod­els for ex­press­ing healthy mas­culin­ity, both be­tween men and be­tween men and women. Ex­press­ing mas­culin­ity should not be con­flated with vi­o­lence or ag­gres­sion.

What did the team get up to at Ru­Paul’s DragCon re­cently?

The high­light was un­doubt­edly Lu­cas and Ryan strut­ting their stuff on the run­way in rhine­stone stilet­tos and War­wick Row­ers pur­ple one­sies. It was their first time in heels, and they did an amaz­ing job. An­drew Wil­son, a Broad­way chore­og­ra­pher, spent sev­eral hours cre­at­ing an amaz­ing rou­tine to Sissy That Walk.

Do you find your­selves cen­sored by Face­book, iTunes and other so­cial me­dia?

Do we ever! It’s a mas­sive is­sue in the dig­i­tal age that there is no demo­cratic dis­course around what is per­mis­si­ble in so­cial me­dia. Th­ese channels are con­trolled by pri­vate en­ter­prises who are, al­most ex­clu­sively, US-based and do not recog­nise that other cul­tures have dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives on nu­dity. What can I say? It’s part of the bat­tle we are fight­ing, par­tic­u­larly in re­la­tion to male nu­dity. There is still a pa­tri­ar­chal bias to­wards ob­jec­ti­fy­ing women while keep­ing men safely un­der wraps.

Since 2009, some high-pro­file pro­fes­sional ath­letes have come but there’s still plenty of ho­mo­pho­bia in sport.

Ab­so­lutely, and the big­ger the sport, the big­ger the prob­lem. If you want to find con­ser­va­tive, out­dated at­ti­tudes in sport, just fol­low the money. So, whether it’s about pro­fes­sional spon­sor­ship, sell­ing merch or broad­cast rights, you’ll see that money talks and equal­ity walks… out the door. Are things get­ting bet­ter, though? Are more LGBT peo­ple feel­ing more ac­cepted in sports teams and clubs than, say, back in 2009?

It de­pends on where you look. The world seems to be mov­ing in two direc­tions – for­wards to­wards greater in­di­vid­ual free­dom in some coun­tries, and back­wards to­wards cul­tural to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism in oth­ers.

In your opin­ion, what is the sex­i­est sport? Any sport that al­lows us to ap­pre­ci­ate the to­tal beauty and amaz­ing po­ten­tial of the hu­man body. I think the An­cient Greeks had it about right. It’s been down­hill from there, but I’m do­ing my best to re­verse the de­cline!

If you want to find con­ser­va­tive, out­dated at­ti­tudes in sport, just fol­low the money. You’ll see that money talks and equal­ity walks… out the door.

Rob­bie Manson (main im­age), the world’s fastest rower, just hap­pens to be gay and in the 10th an­niver­sary cal­en­dar.

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