Originally published in FUSE, February 2011.
The scene is set. A group of young, sweaty, beaten men, stand in a dark, damp basement. The sound of dripping water pulsates through air. Brad Pitt addresses the crowd. “The first rule of fight club”, he says “is that no one talks about fight club”. “The second rule of fight club is that no one talks about fight club”.
As Pitt concludes, the men begin to fight. Without any rules of engagement, the battle sees men beat each other to a bloody pulp with their bare hands. It doesn’t matter how far you go, as long as you don’t talk about it when you get home.
Around the world, groups of young and old men are living up to the Fight Club spirit. Meeting in gyms, halls and basements, gay men are coming together to engage in the ancient art of boxing.
Whilst these clubs are not secret (although some people might not tell people they participate) and they’re no run Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, they are, just like in Fight Club, a place where men can punch through their personal and societal barriers.
This is the world of gay boxing. We asked Andrew Georigiou, a gay bloke who boxes in Sydney, if he would give us an insight into what it is that draws him, and many other gay guys into boxing.
“I love the empowerment. There is nothing like the feeling of boxing…it’s a constant sweat-fest. What’s not to love about guys getting sweaty together?”
Andrew is the brains and brawn behind ‘Punch Him in the Ring’ – a gay boxing club run in Sydney, designed to teach men about traditional boxing techniques. About ten men join the group each week, with a professional trainer teaching skills such as footwork, and the correct way to throw, block and duck punches.
“Don’t be mistaken; this is no “boxercise” class that you’ll see at your local gym. When these guys enter the ring, they aren’t holding back,” says Andrew.
This isn’t the kind of sport that most people would associate with gay men – a rough and brutal game – yet, these and many other men don’t actually fit that ‘gay men are all effeminate and soft’ stereotype.
“We get all sorts of gay guys who want to box – camp, butch, twink, femme and masculine men. It becomes a place where everyone can be themselves, make new friends and learn a sensational sport and good fighting skills,” says Andrew.
It is the fight against discrimination, bullying and stereotyping that leads many guys to join these clubs. Boxing has a long history of homophobic discrimination. In 2002, Mike Tyson famously yelled at a reporter, “I’ll fuck you till you love me, faggot!”, making it clear that he didn’t think gay men were welcome in the boxing ring.
Unfortunately the discrimination isn’t limited to the taunts of Tyson. Gay men have always been the subject of teasing about the inability to fight, both in and outside the ring. The idea of a gay fighter is foreign in mainstream society.
It is the ability to break free from homophobia and stereotypes that makes boxing appealing to Andrew Georigiou.
“I was frustrated to read about victims of homophobic violence, unprovoked and random assaults. I made a decision to empower myself and others,” Andrew says.
These clubs are about empowerment; boxing provides a social, physical and political outlet for a growing number of gay men. It is an opportunity for men to fight back, not just against homophobic attacks, but also the discrimination and stereotyping that says a gay man can’t fight. Most of all however, boxing provides men win an opportunity to participate in a great sport, to get fit and to have a lot of fun.