On Andrew Shaw and Hockey’s Entrenched Homophobia

(CW: homophobia; use of slurs and NSFW language)

I don’t know how many times I’ve been called a faggot. Every time emotions were high. Every time things were heated. If not for the guy saying it, smirking it, yelling it at me, for me. Every time I’ve been called a faggot the situation was emotional and heated for me. Because I was on the receiving end. Because I am, among other things, a trans dude who is attracted to men. Because I know all too well these guys use that word because of how it cuts. Because I know it’s possible it’s a precursor to something violent.

And every time those guys knew what they said.

Calling someone a faggot is a deliberate choice, caused by a desire to inflict pain or informed by a person’s established, underlying belief that gay men are somehow lesser than their straight counterparts. That’s the power of slurs. That’s why people use them. They upset and terrify, and with good reason. Using them the way athletes do is never an accident; the only accident is getting caught.

Athletes resort to a wide variety of discriminatory language during games, most of it goes unheard by the fans in the arena and those watching at home. But we all know it’s just as much part of the game as those celebrated handshake lines that close out a playoff series. Homophobic remarks and slurs are particularly popular because of the codes of masculinity that govern leagues like the NHL. Faggot, fag, homo, and other slurs have currency in the NHL for similar reasons that sexist taunts like referring to the Daniel and Henrik Sedin as “sisters” and Sidney Crosby as “Cindy” do: because they are designed to mark players as effeminate and undermine a player’s masculinity, narrowly-defined by the game’s cultural norms. We live in a violently misogynistic society, one in which women, femmes, and the feminine are inherently seen as less worthy and less valuable. Homophobic insults become an easy shorthand to undermine a player’s masculinity and often rely on sexism to convey meaning. This is why it’s so damaging when a group claiming to advocate for gay athletes, like YCP, partners with a team that has shown a continual disregard for the safety and inclusion of women, Chicago, without directly confronting that team’s sexism. Homophobia is intersectional, it’s impacted by racism, sexism, transphobia, among other things, and approaching it with such a narrow focus does not root out underlying homophobic views.

While Andrew Shaw might maintain he doesn’t remember what he said, the video evidence is clear enough for most people. It would be tempting to focus solely on the word itself, that damaging shitty word. If we focus solely on the word, than all we demand is an apology from Shaw and a hope we don’t hear it again. If we centre this discussion only on the term faggot we let many of us in the game (fans, media members, players and organizations), rally against a word that can easily be read as offensive and present ourselves as progressive all while ignoring how deeply rooted homophobia is in hockey. That’s simply not enough, not anymore, not ever.

Hockey’s homophobia isn’t confined to one word. It’s on the ice and in the stands. It’s in the media. It’s often most visible in the way we insult each other. I suspect when a player calls for an opponent to “suck his dick” or tells a player on the other team that he “got fucked in the ass” on a scoring play it means the same thing it does when guys harass me with the same phrases: that I am lesser, that my sexuality is insulting. While anyone can enjoy the pleasures of anal and oral sex, these phrases refer to common gay sex acts and place the straight man in a position of dominance. These phrases undermine the idea that gay, bi, and pan men are equal to their straight counterparts. I’ve been harassed by straight men at games, they’ve called me faggot and homo and told me they were going to fuck me in the ass. They weren’t talking about consensual sexual experiences, they were trying to intimidate and scare me because they knew I was somehow different. In a few instances, hearing this stuff was a precursor to being shoved, hit, and punched.

That harassment and violence won’t stop if Andrew Shaw and the Hawks apologize or the league takes disciplinary action and then we all forget about it. Challenging the many ways hockey and the NHL are discriminatory needs consistent and considerable effort. It has stalled because both players and fans cling stubbornly to hockey’s outdated culture that narrowly and problematically defines masculinity. Until those who sell tickets and cable packages stop valuing dude bro spending power over all other fans this won’t change. Until we stop teaching boys they have the greatest value because they are successful at a game, this won’t change. Until we see YCP nights at NHL rinks as the façade the truly are, this won’t change.

We know what he said and so does he.

There should be repercussions for Shaw. But there should also be repercussions for straight allies who recognize homophobia only in its clearest form and act only when calling it out requires little effort and even less personal change. Your allyship is performative and it’s not getting the job done.