By Scott Davis
I learned to sail and race sailboats as a young closeted teen. I love being on the waterâ€”so soothing and connected to nature, like surfing. And so exciting to harness the wind, race across the water and blast through the wavesâ€”yet I didnâ€™t want to â€śrock the boatâ€ť and come out as a gay teen, especially when I was crewing with straight guys. Yacht clubs, sailing and sailboat racing have long been the domain of straight, white, affluent and conservative men. Mt. Gay Rum sponsors many regattas and so lots of sailors wear caps with â€śMt. Gay Rumâ€ť embroidered on them, yet only the gay guy finds this funny. Women and people of color were so rare in that world that I knew there was no room for being comfortably myself, so I acted straight and felt out of place like lots of the closeted LGBT community competing in sports and wrestling with their internalized homophobia.
But that world is changing. The LGBT community is rocking the boat and making changes in the world of sailing. CNN.com on August 6, 2002, posted: â€śThe first gay sailing team to enter Skandia Life Cowes Week has stolen the spotlight of Europeâ€™s longest running and most famous regatta.â€ť Sailboat racing has been included in the Gay Games since Sydney in 2002, which drew 150 competitors worldwide its first year. Thirty-nine were on TeamSF. The Stonewall Regatta has been an annual gay pride event in New York City for over 10 years and the Euro Gay Cup has been held in various European countries for 11 years, drawing gay racers from all over. So the LGBT community has been making waves.
And my world as a gay sailor changed too. A couple of years ago I raced with an all-gay crew on a Melges 24 here in the San Francisco Bay.
Every other boat in the fleet was, and continues to be, â€śmannedâ€ť by straight guys, or so we think. We were known as the gay boat (well, half lesbian), so it was always fun to see how fellow racers, presumably straight fellow racers, would greet us. I kept hoping that someone from another boat might divulge after a race that he was gay or bi. But that day is drawing nearer. Only a few years ago we never thought weâ€™d hear a professional athlete come out. And yet, when they do, it inspires and empowers.
Many of us grow up afraid to try things and compete in a world in which the dominant paradigm has not yet accepted us at our core. Sailing is a sport in which you donâ€™t have to be tall, large, muscular, male or female. What matters most is your intellect, strategy and skill. And the LGBT community is making inroads in the sport. There are many ways you can get involved in sailing and sailboat racing. And if you donâ€™t want to race, you can still learn to sail and go sailing. You can get involved by contacting the Barbary Coast Boating Club, a gay boating club in the Bay Area, or other gay organizations interested in racing, such as TeamSF, SFSailingteam.org.
Americaâ€™s Cup and Americaâ€™s Cup World Series are here in our fair city. Itâ€™s a great opportunity to see a rapidly changing sport up close. The boats are fast and exciting, racing very dramatically close to shore. Iâ€™m hoping that at least one of these world-class racers may speak to the LGBT community to inspire a new generation to have the courage to NOT be afraid to rock the boat and get involved in racing. We all need acceptance and encouragement. Something like this may have inspired me to come out in the sport many years ago.
Scott Davis is a psychotherapist in SF and Mill Valley and can be reached at email@example.com