A year before my trip to Africa I went to the International Gay and Lesbian Football Association (IGLFA) World Championship in London, UK. It was here that I was drafted to the same team as Craig, who would later become my South Africa host family and partner in do-goodery. Dennis Fish (VP of the DC Federal Triangles, and recently profiled in these pages for organizing a game for the Football v Homophobia Initiative) was another teammate. I’ve told many stories here that began during those seven days, but there’s one that hasn’t yet made it into these pages – a story that I’d all but forgotten until an article showed up in my feed today.
It began during the 2008 IGLFA Championship. As someone who comes from a co-ed league it felt natural to place myself on a mixed team, if you can call 13 men and me “mixed”. The unfortunate side effect was that I felt pretty separate from the other women participating in the tourney (including me, there were less than five women playing in the open division). There was little overlap between divisions at the field, so it wasn’t until I made it to a tournament event that I caught up with some of the women players.
It was mid-summer so the best part of the party was taking place outside the venue in the back alley. After a knocking out a few moves on the dance floor with my teammates, I ventured outside. The alley was packed with people reliving the day’s games, pints swinging around and voices rising over rival conversations.
Off to one side was the South African women’s team, the Chosen Few. They’d been the subject of many conversations, having invited the attention of players from both divisions for their practice of approaching the field for their games singing and dancing in unison. It was an impressive display, both beautiful and intimidating.
Now, the team was standing in a wide circle socializing with each other and whoever wanted to step into the ring. I did.
Within moments I realized I’d inserted myself into a discussion about the consequences of being lesbian in the townships of South Africa. The women spoke in turn, uninterrupted, and told everyone assembled stories of brutal violence, “corrective” rape, and murder. In the preceding few years, I was told, several players had been killed for being lesbian.
We were standing close, shoulder to shoulder, protective and insular, when the women from the Chosen Few began to clap and sing, pulling each other into the centre one by one. Concentrating on matching the rhythm of the group, I slapped my palms together and felt honored and ridiculous and lucky and amazed all at once. By choosing to play, these women were effectively “coming out” into extreme hostility and risking terrible violence, even death. I didn’t know what to do with this information – I still don’t – except to put my hands together and share that fleeting moment in the alley.
The Chosen Few is run by the Forum for Empowerment of Women (FEW). They won a bronze medal at the Gay Games Tournament in Chicago in 2006, and again in 2008 at the IGLFA Championships in London. The team has been awarded a Gay Games scholarship to handle travel and accommodation expenses so they can compete in the 2010 Gay Games in Cologne, Germany, but they still require further financial assistance to obtain gear and handle other associated expenses.
To help, contact Dikeledi Sibanda at 0113391867 or 0765123874 or e- mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Read the article in full: “Lesbian Team Needs Your Support for World Tournament“.
UPDATE:For additional information about the team and the women who play in it, read Magali Reinert’s article, “Belles of the ball
” published in the Mail & Guardian Online on Arpil 23, 2010.
The piece does a good job of explaining the structure and background of the team -the Chosen Few is the team launched and supported by NGO The Forum for Empowerment of Women (FEW) – and what it means to be an out lesbian in some parts of South Africa. To be drafted, every player “must ‘be out’, have passed the physical aptitude trials and be committed to defending homosexual and women’s rights.”
This team’s story is extremely resonant of the themes of homophobia, violence, activism, and sport that I discuss in these pages. Well worth the read.