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: 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.