Yunel Escobar’s Eye Black – Where homophobia meets misogyny

So, those of you who know me know that I’m a huge baseball fan, with leanings towards my hometown team, the Toronto Blue Jays. I’ve always found baseball to be a much more complex sport than the rest; the other sports are pretty much just variations on the same theme. You’ve got two teams, two “nets” (or scoring areas), two sides of the playing area, and some sort of projectile – usually a ball – and you have to get the projectile into the scoring area using whatever rules the sport dictates. Maybe you have to use your hand, or your foot, or another object to direct the projectile into the scoring area, but beyond that, they’re all pretty much the same concept wrapped in different packages.

Baseball is a totally different sport than the rest, and it’s widely acknowledged that hitting a 95-mile-an-hour fastball is the hardest thing to do in professional sports. It requires a very different skill set than other sports, and also requires a huge amount of mental toughness, because luck plays a bigger role than it does in any other sport, and you’re constantly having to deal with failure. Even if your batting average is .333 (which is All-Star calibre) that means you’re failing twice as often as you succeed, and it’s incredibly easy to lose confidence when you get stuck in a slump. For these and other reasons, I’ve always been very impressed with baseball, and baseball players in particular – but the actions of my favourite team and one of my favourite players have left me painfully unimpressed in the last two weeks.

In a story that many people already know about, Yunel Escobar was photographed with hand-written words on his eye black, which said “Tu ere Maricon”. This has been variously interpreted to mean anything from “You’re a faggot” to “You’re a sissy” or “You’re a wuss” and former and current baseball players – especially native Spanish speakers – have been lining up to claim that it’s not a big deal, and wasn’t meant as a hateful slur because it’s a common term flung around baseball clubhouses.

The problem with Yunel Escobar’s eye black really doesn’t have anything to do with the specific translation of “Maricon”. A lot of apologia has been floating around suggesting that the term “faggot” isn’t really what he meant, and there might be some truth to that. However, the problem is that the alternative – which is usually translated as “sissy” – really isn’t any better. A closer look at both North American and Latin American constructions of gay men can help us understand that both terms essentially mean the same thing.

When I was studying Sexual Diversity Studies at U of T, one of the things I found most fascinating was how North American definitions of sexuality weren’t universal at all. We understand homosexuality to be static and unchanging – something which Lady Gaga continues to reinforce with songs like Born This Way (which I liked a lot better the first time I heard it, when it was called Express Yourself… I’ve always wondered how Lady Gaga managed to get ahold of Madonna’s DNA). We understand sexuality as being driven by object choice­ – your sexuality is entirely dependent on the gender of the person you’re attracted to. If you’re a male and you’re attracted to males, then you’re a homosexual – always have been and always will be, with no variation within the term.

However, this is very different from the way sexuality is understood in other parts of the world. I’ve read a lot of work written by researchers such as Barry Adam and Antonio Torres-Ruiz, and they explain that sexuality in places like Turkey and parts of Latin America is determined by sexual role – the specific role that you play in the bedroom, and whether your bedroom preferences are traditionally masculine or traditionally feminine. Now, I don’t want to get into explicit detail here, but when two men have sex (oral sex or intercourse) it usually means that one is the “active” partner (playing the traditionally male role) and the other is the “passive” partner (who takes on the female, receptive role). In North America, it doesn’t matter which role you play; if you’re male and your partner is too, you’re gay and that’s all there is to it. But in Latin America, only the passive partner is considered “gay” – as long as the man is doing what men are expected to do, their partner’s gender is mostly irrelevant. However, the man taking the traditionally-feminine role is the maricon – the faggot, the sissy, the girly-man, whatever – and that’s the person who’s looked down upon for their actions. The active partner, in some ways, is almost considered hyper-masculine in some cases, because he can make both men and women subservient to his sexual needs.

This is where misogyny comes into play. Escobar’s eye black was insulting any man who takes on any feminine behaviours, whether they’re sexual or not. That’s precisely what “sissy” means, and “faggot” as well. When someone throws the slur “Faggot!” at someone, it’s not necessarily because they’re having sex with another man – it’s usually meant to reflect the breaking of gender barriers in some way, and is primarily aimed at men who exhibit effeminate behaviours or mannerisms. It’s not the muscle-bound weightlifter who just happens to be going home to a male partner that receives the bulk of “homophobic” attacks – it’s the man who has seemingly forsaken his male superiority, and taken on the role of the inferior female. That’s why Vivanne Namaste suggests that the term “gay-bashing” is a misnomer; in fact, it’s a case of “gender-bashing” where men or women are violently attacked not for their sexual preference, but for their transgressive gendered expressions.

At the core, homophobia and misogyny stem from the exact same place – the deep-seated and pervasive belief that men are superior to women, and therefore, the worst thing a man could be is a man that somehow resembles a woman. Whether it’s in the bedroom or outside of it, that’s the implication of any insult against a man’s masculinity – and that’s where faggot and sissy become one and the same. In hyper-masculine cultures, including Latin America (the birthplace of the word machismo) this is even more apparent – and that’s exactly the sentiment that he meant to express.

I’d like to believe that Escobar didn’t really think through his actions to the point that I’ve described, and given that he doesn’t have a degree in sexual diversity studies, I don’t think he realizes the implications of his actions. I don’t think the Blue Jays do, either, and I’m quite sure that all the people trying to parse apart his meaning to make it seem less offensive don’t realize what they’re saying. Homophobia and misogyny are cut from the very same cloth, so it really doesn’t matter what the “literal” translation of the word is, because the message is exactly the same.

Escobar’s message is offensive to gay men, straight men who are comfortable with occasional feminine behaviours, and every single woman on the planet. In fact, the only people who might not be offended by Escobar’s message are the same idiots who still believe in male superiority, who truly consider women inferior, and think it’s “all in good fun” to insult someone’s masculinity. Unfortunately, the culture of sports is rampant with this sort of attitude, and that’s the same reason why the sports world remains the very last bastion of institutionalized homophobia and embedded misogyny.

Also, please don’t give me any crap about North America (or Canada in particular) being a more “advanced” culture in this regard, just because some jurisdictions have legalized equal marriage. All the apologists who are basically excusing Escobar’s actions are simply proving that their attitudes are still the same as they were before, they’ve just (mostly) learned not to express their bigotry in polite company. After all, take one look at the Mayor of the city where my beloved Blue Jays play: Hizzoner Rob Ford, who basically fits this description to a T – homophobic, misogynistic, bigoted, and perpetually trying to deny his homophobia with the same “I have gay friends” tokenism that nobody actually falls for anymore.

Maybe this will be a watershed moment for sports, where people stand back and realize exactly what’s being said with words like “sissy” or “maricon” or “faggot” or (my personal favourite) “pussy” – the very same term used to describe women’s genitals, which is certainly no accident. Maybe the Blue Jays, who are now under a microscope in a different way than ever before, will take this as an opportunity to aggressively strive to weed out the misogyny and homophobia that is so rampant in professional sports…

Image from the 2011 Annual Rookie Hazing event

Then again, maybe not. 🙁

Edit: My original post mistakenly claimed that this picture was from the 2012 rookie hazing event, which occured soon after the Yunel Escobar press conference. Dirk Hayhurst has corrected me, pointing out that it was actually taken in 2011. My apologies for the error, and if anyone can provide a link to a picture from the 2012 event (when it happens), it would be much appreciated. It would help to determine what steps (if any) the Blue Jays have taken to decrease homophobia and/or misogyny in their clubhouse.

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