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‘Faggot’, ‘poofter’: words that made me scared to play AFL footy, the game I love ​| Antoun Issa

The acceptance of sexual diversity in football will not be achieved when a gay or bi player finally comes out; it’s when he won’t feel the need to come out at all

“Girl” was what the boys called me. That was before anyone, including myself, was of age to understand the vagaries of sexuality. Upon reflection, it’s quite remarkable how perceptive children as young as seven are to another’s differences. The taunts eventually progressed to “gay”, “faggot” and “poofter” once those words entered the vocabulary – taunts that I would receive daily until the very end of my school years in Melbourne’s outer northwest, by which time I was gasping for the finish line.

Nowhere was that more profound than on the footy oval at lunchtime. That’s what the boys did in primary school – lunchtime scrimmages on the oval. It became routine that I was the last kid picked on a team, no one passing the ball, criticised when I did get my hands on it, and dismissed when I kicked goals. I was “crap”, a “girl” who couldn’t play football.

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