Thursday, January 9, 2014

Thomas Hitzlsperger comes out

Thomas Hitzlsperger, right, playing for Everton (UK)
I came across an article in the Munich paper, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, this morning that made me feel good.  It's the story of the coming out of the footballer (or to use the American term: "soccer player") Thomas Hitzlsperger.

Coming out stories are not as noteworthy as they once were, even when they involve professional athletes, and I might have simply read it and moved on. But the Süddeutsche made a big deal out of it, attaching several other articles to it, including interviews with Hitzlsperger's colleagues and other professionals, and read in the aggregate, I found it a real upper.

There has been a serious setback in Utah.  I don't know whether the Supreme Court is moving tactically toward a clear victory for LGBT marriage rights, as the optimists are maintaining. Possibly.  Possibly, too, this is a more serious longterm setback.  In any case, it's the end of a great run of victories on the gay liberation front, a sobering moment, and watching the shark-feeding frenzy by the religious right over this win for their side, I needed a bit of an antidote. This article did it for me.

Hitzlsperger played for several teams in England (Aston Villa, Chesterfield, Everton and West Ham) and for Lazio in Italy, as well as being a big name in soccer in Germany (Wolfsburg, and the German National team) where he played in the World Cup in 2006.  He retired last September after a series of injuries.

Here’s the interview transcribed for non-German speakers, in case you’re interested.  I trust I am not breaking any copyright laws here.  If I am, I will of course take this down immediately.  The transcription and translation are mine, so any errors you discover will be mine, as well.   

If you want to watch it on video, it’s available in German here

There is a 10-second intro. And then the interview:

Warum bekennen Sie sich jetzt zu Ihrer Homosexualität?
Why are you acknowledging your homosexuality just now?
Für mich ist es der richtige Zeitpunkt, weil ich vor gut sechs Monaten aufgehört habe, aktiv Fußball zu spielen.   Ich stehe vor einer neuen Lebensphase, und möchte einfach die Zeit nützen, auch über meine Erfahrungen zu sprechen als homosexueller Fußballprofi.
For me it was the right moment, because I gave up playing soccer actively a good six months ago.  I’m starting a new phase of my life and want to use the time to speak about my experiences as a homosexual soccer professional.
Warum haben Sie sich als aktiver Fußballprofi nicht zu ihrer Homosexualität  bekannt?
Why didn’t you come out while you were an active soccer professional?
Es war für mich ein langjähriger Prozeß, das halt auszufinden.  Zu Beginn meiner Laufbahn war ich mit einer Frau in einer Beziehung ganze acht Jahre, und erst danach, als ich allein gelebt habe, ... mir, ich habe Gefühle für Männer, ja, und ich möchte auch mal mit einem Mann zusammenleben.  Aber das hat eben sehr lange gedauert, und deswegen war das für mich nie ein Thema in der aktiven Zeit als Fußballprofi, das zu bekennen, oder überhaupt darüber Auskunft zu geben. 
It was a long process that took many years for me to find that out.  At the beginning of my career I was in a relationship with a woman for eight years, and only afterwards, when I lived alone, did I realize that I have feelings for men, and that I would like to try living with a man.  But that took a long time, and for that reason it was never a topic for me to take up while I was active as a soccer professional, or to give any kind of information out about it.
Hätten Sie sich auch in Ihrer aktiven Zeit zu Ihrer Homosexualität bekennen können?
Could you also have come out during your active time?
Natürlich hätte ich das tun können.   Aber bei mir hätte die Bewusstwerdung eben länger gedauert.  Ich denke, aber, daß junge Spieler heute, die sich vielleicht viel früher im Klaren sind über ihrer Neigungen, die es eben tun können die können darüber sprechen, die können offen damit umgehen, weil sie auch sehen an meinem Beispiel, dass man sowohl homosexuell sein kann, auf der einen Seite, und auf der anderen Seite, ein erfolgreicher Fußballer  und das soll auch jungen Spielern Mut machen. 
Of course I could have.  But then the consciousness raising would have taken even longer.  I think, though, that young players today who are maybe aware much earlier about their tendencies, they can do it.  They can talk about it, then can be open about it, because they see my example of how one can be both homosexual on the one hand, and on the other hand a successful soccer player.  And that should give young soccer players courage.
Herrscht im Profifußball ein schwulenfeindliches Klima?
Is the atmosphere in the world of professional soccer hostile to gays?
Diese Frage kann ich nicht eindeutig beantworten.  Ich kann nur sagen das es homophobe Äusserungen gab, es wurden Witze über Schwule gemacht in meiner Gegenwart auch, aber ich konnte auch mitlachen, wenn der Witz gut war.  Es ist, im Gegensatz zum Rassismus, schwieriger zu beurteilen, weil beim Rassismus weiß man ganz klar, gegen wen der Haß sich richtet.  Beim Fußball gibt es keine bekannten Homosexuellen.  Und daher ist es schwer zu sagen, ob es wirklich schwulenfeindlich ist.   Man muß abwarten auf den ersten/die
ersten Fußballer, die sich bekennt zu ihrer Homosexualität. 
I can’t answer this question unequivocally.  I can only say that there were homophobic remarks.  There were jokes told about gays in my presence as well, but I was able to go along and laugh, when it was a good joke.  It is, in contrast to racism, harder to judge, because with racism you know very clearly whom the hatred is directed at.  In soccer there are no recognized homosexuals.  And so it’s harder to say whether it’s really hostile to gays.  We will have to wait for the first gay or lesbian soccer player to acknowledge their homosexuality.

Haben Sie erlebt, daß “schwul” als Schimpfwort benutzt wurde?
Have you had an experience where “gay” was used as an expletive?
Ich habe es ab und zu erlebt, wenn es darum ging, einen schwachen Paß zu umschreiben und da sagte man ganz gerne mal ein “schwuler” Paß.  Eben man denkt schwul sei weich, schwach, und das traf auf mich nicht zu, weil ich war bekannt für einen harten Schuß, für ein gutes Paßspiel, und deswegen ist es ein ganz klarer Widerspruch, über den ich im Nachhinein immer schmunzeln konnte.
From time to time, when it was a question of talking about a weak pass and people would like to say a “gay” pass.  That’s because people think of gay as soft, weak, and that didn’t apply to me because I was known for my hard shots, for good passes, and so it was a direct contradiction that I could laugh about later.

Was für Reaktionen erwarten Sie jetzt?
What kind of reactions are you expecting now?
Darüber könnte ich jetzt spekulieren, aber daran habe ich keine Interesse.  Es ist auch für meine Familie und für meinen Umfeld unwichtig, daß ich über meine Homosexualität spreche.    Wichtig ist es nur für die Leute, die homophob sind, andere ausgrenzen auf Grund ihrer Sexualität, und sie sollen wissen, sie haben einen Gegner mehr.
I could speculate about that now, but I’m not interested in doing that.  It’s also unimportant for my family and for those around me to have me speak about my homosexuality.  It’s only important for those people who are homophobic, who shut others out because of their sexuality.  And they should know, they have one more opponent.

Perhaps even more interesting (to me, at least) than this interview are all the other videos linked in the Süddeutsche Zeitung article, to reactions to Thomas’s coming out.

Here’s a sample from one of the links, comments from Herzlsperger's colleagues.   Not an exact translation this time, but a summary:
1. Arjen Robben, Bayern München – For me personally, I find that totally normal that he has outed himself.    Fantastic.  Really good.    When I look around and listen to all the discussion about it I think to myself, “What’s to discuss?”  He outed himself and that’s all there is to it!

2. Sebastian Kehl, Captain, Borussia Dortmund -  I was a little surprised at first, but then I was glad that he had the courage to come out.  I think we should stop with all this excitement about the whole thing.  It’s something natural…

3. Hans-Joachim Watzke, Business Executive, Borussia Dortmund – What’s the big deal?   As a football player, he has a huge bunch of fans and I can only join them.

4. Holger Badstuber, Bayern München – A whole lot of respect.  Yeah, with soccer it’s not a topic we like to talk about much, but privately everybody can do what they want.  He’s decided he wants to express this, and that’s perfectly in order, and we will tolerate it.

5. Magdalena Neuner, Biathlon – world record holder -  He didn’t have to do this.  He could have quietly gone his way.  But he wanted to do something for the other athletes and to provide an example and to fight for the right of gay people to move around more freely and be open about it when playing the sport.

6. Arjen Robben (again) – I could out myself as hetero if I wanted to.  For me it’s exactly the same thing.

Just another day in paradise.

Not really.  But if there were to be “just another day in paradise” it might well include things like this.

1 comment:

Alan McCornick said...

Since I posted this, I've come across an interview Hitzlsperger did with The Guardian - his English is near-native - in which he says almost word for word what he says in the interview here.
Hitzlsperger is also the topic of discussion on Maybrit Illner's talk show (in German) on January 9th: