Archive for January, 2010

My contribution to Give ’em the Lumber #4 is a translation from a Swedish book entitled Pittstim. Pittstim was published in 2008, nine years after the book Fittstim proved highly influential on Swedish discussions about gender politics. Fittstim roughly translates as “swarm of pussies” – the title was chosen after a prominent Social Democrat had used it in reference to the party’s women’s club. Fittstim was a collection of texts by young women reflecting on various aspects of female identity and gender relations. Pittstim – or “swarm of cocks” – understands itself as a belated contribution to the debate. It collects essays of young men who openly and self-critically analyze male socialization.

The first essay in the book is called “Piss Showers and the Pressure to Fuck: Guys and Sports”. It was written by Axel Gordh Humlesjö who grew up as an aspiring hockey player in Sweden’s far north. While the text paints a critical picture of hockey culture, it expresses an enduring love for the game itself. Having gone through similar experiences in European football locker rooms, I found the piece moving in its description of how unhealthy social expectations can ruin the joy and beauty that each athletic activity promises if executed in an atmosphere of respect and solidarity. In blunt terms, the text reminds us that in order to enjoy hockey – or any other game – we have to reclaim it from the assholes, idiots and bigots. In times when North America’s most famous hockey mom is a reactionary anti-abortion warmonger – oh, the hypocrisy! – it shouldn’t be too hard to drive the point home.

Today Axel works as a TV journalist. The following excerpt from his essay appears with his kind permission.

Gabriel Kuhn

– – –

We grew up in the team. Hockey was our source of inspiration and our boxing sack. During matches, our opponents became “pussies”, “fags” and “whores”. This was expected of us. We spurred each other on and got slapped on the back by our coach: “Come on, boys! This is no goddamn girls’ game!”

Some of the fathers on the stands were even more enthusiastic than us. They called the referees “cunts” and us “sissies”. When one of us took some time out after getting a puck or a stick in the groin, our coach Stefan would grin and say: “Stop whining. It’s not like you have much there anyway.” This was his favorite comment.

When I was on the ice, I got compliments from Stefan, but as soon as we were in the locker room it was a different story. Stefan checked our underwear and if he figured it wasn’t sweaty enough he accused us of laziness. I also got a hard time for being skinny: “What the fuck happened to you, Axel? You almost disappear without your gear!”

The older we got the tougher the coaching became. When puberty made us more spiteful towards each other, Stefan would be the worst of all. Today I believe that he saw himself when he looked at us and that he wanted to relive some of his own experiences as a youth. His attitude set the standard for the entire team.

Many of us suffered from the pressure we were exposed to. We felt imprisoned and wanted out. But we continued with what we were doing. Coaches, players and parents united to create a code of honor. A norm that told us how to behave as hockey players and as men. To call others “pussies”, “fags”, “whores” and “sissies” meant to identify the qualities that diverted from the ideal – an ideal that no one dared to challenge.

When Olof became our coach things changed. Olof was never our head coach but he was in charge once during spring season. One time he overheard us teasing Micke for his penis size. Olof got mad and told us to leave the skates at home for our next training session and to bring pen and paper instead.

That Monday we met at a café. Olof told us about his hockey career. As a talented young player he got a contract with a big club in Stockholm. All went well until he began drinking too much. “I thought that the team would support me, but no one would openly talk about feelings or problems. In the end, the booze dragged me down. I had to stop playing hockey. I became depressed because I didn’t know what to do instead. I had invested all I had into hockey and I wasn’t good at anything else.”

We looked up to Olof. He showed us respect and took us seriously in a way that other adults never had. He demanded the same from us that he demanded from his older players. Our behavior on and off the ice suddenly mattered. Olof could talk about our perception of girls, about the downsides of machismo and about the importance of treating your team mates with respect. The word “fag” was prohibited in the locker room. “A person’s sexual orientation is no one else’s business,” he used to say.

We would have ridiculed and scoffed at such lecturing before, but when Olof said something we listened. It felt great to know that he was there for support. Since he didn’t pick on us from above, no one felt the need to pick on anyone below. There was no demand to be particularly tough either. Olof was the first who broke with the hockey code I knew; he showed that there was a different way of being a man.

The following season everything went back to normal. Olof was gone and the old style returned. We, the best players on the team, owned the locker room and defended our territory with piss showers and fag jokes. We had no adult to point out our mistakes and soon forgot Olof’s principles.

We liked each other, but the closest we came to expressing this were towel snaps. To hang out meant to compete over who was best and toughest. At some point it just wasn’t fun anymore. I began to realize that the team was turning me into a despicable human being. Homophobe and brutal in a way I actually abhorred. I had no idea about who I was or how I wanted to be. The only thing I knew was that this wasn’t it.

It was a hard decision to make. After all, all this had been my world since I was very young. I left the team right in the middle of the season. I still loved playing hockey, but I could no longer deal with the way a hockey player was supposed to behave.


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