The high-school years can be a painful time. But for me, the normal adolescent angst was exacerbated by a slow-motion mental struggle over the fact that I was attracted only to other boys.
I came of age in the early 2010s, when the shame and stigma attached to homosexuality had started to fade in the United States. Barack Obama was president, the Supreme Court had ruled to legalize same-sex marriage, and gay rights were ascendant across the commanding heights of Western culture.
Yet my high school, situated in a largely rural Massachusetts exurb, hadn’t yet caught up. There were few gay students and staff. And my knowledge of gay life emerged from media stereotypes, like the effeminate, high-voiced Kurt on Glee. I never saw myself in that archetype, and so my journey to self-discovery was complicated and protracted.
No, I never worried that I’d get beaten up by jocks and stuffed in a locker. At 6’4” and 200 lbs, I was a jock. But I truly believed my soccer and basketball teammates wouldn’t look at me the same way if they knew I was gay.
So I lied—to my family, to my closest friends, and, most vigorously, to myself. This was a common and understandable coping mechanism. But in hindsight, it fills me with sadness. I can’t help thinking that my entire high-school experience, especially my career as a student athlete, would have been more joyful if I’d felt free to be my authentic self.
This sense of longing and regret helps explain why, a half-decade later, as a fresh college graduate living in Washington, D.C., I signed up with the local LGBT soccer club. The teenaged me couldn’t have imagined something like that existing in my community. Here was a chance to play a sport I love without concealing anything about my identity. How utterly naïve I was.
By this time, I’d already experienced shunning from the so-called LGBT community at my undergraduate university—not due to my sexual identity, but, rather, my political views. As the only openly conservative columnist working for the school newspaper, penning columns against affirmative action, supporting pro-due-process reforms to campus sexual-assault proceedings, and, yes, even advocating for gun owners’ Second-Amendment rights, I quickly became persona non grata within the local gay community.
That included the dating scene. In many cases, I either had to lie about what I believed or face rejection. Dating apps, which are supposed to facilitate romance and hook-ups, now became just another way for people to excommunicate me. (One gay fellow kindly took the time to tell me I was a “traitorous faggot” before blocking me on a dating app.) Some angry students posted my dating profiles to public Facebook groups as a way to mock me, despite the fact that I hadn’t yet come out to my family. For all progressives’ talk about social justice, it became clear that many campus LGBT activists were eager to use the most ruthless methods at their disposal to punish “traitorous faggots” who dissented from their left-wing agenda.
Campus life can be a social fishbowl. But Washington, D.C., with its big, vibrant LGBT scene, would be different, I hoped. Alas, no. By the time I joined my gay soccer club in May 2019, I’d already built something of an online profile as a gay conservative writer. And as I learned, the Internet has the power to turn even a large city into a fishbowl.
At first, things went fine. I signed up for the club, paid my dues, and started attending scrimmages and pick-up games. Eventually, I was drafted to play on a few teams. While several members were standoffish and distant, I had no particular reason to think this had anything to do with my background.
As the weather got colder, I wrote on the club’s widely subscribed Facebook group, asking about opportunities to join a winter league. That’s when things went downhill. Posting to an audience of hundreds, an employee of the D.C.-based anti-conservative group Media Matters publicly branded me a “transphobe” and exhorted other members of the club to ostracize me—a campaign subsequently cheered on by a Media Matters project director. Some of the other club members then piled on, including folks I’d played with just the week before. One unhinged commenter even called me a “segregationist.”
This person, Brennan Suen, is a project director at @MMFA.
Here he is cheering on his co-workers as they invade my personal life and try to see me ostracized from apolitical social venues — where I don’t mention politics — for my WrongThink. pic.twitter.com/Ad2ITusiR3
— Brad Polum-skim-milk-lover-bo (@brad_polumbo) December 21, 2019
Let’s be clear that I never mentioned politics at a single club event. To the extent that any transgender people were actually involved with the club (its membership being comprised almost exclusively of gay men), I would never have dreamed of being anything but polite. This wasn’t about my behavior. This was about my thoughtcrimes, which apparently could make (theoretical) transgender members feel “unsafe.”
As for those supposed thoughtcrimes—no one on the Facebook page could even point to anything legitimately transphobic that I’d ever said or written. In fact, I have a lot of compassion for transgender individuals. I can’t imagine how difficult their lives must be. But putting aside all of the inclusive sloganeering that goes along with LGBT+ acronym building, I simply don’t think that I, as a gay man, actually have a ton in common with the trans community at large. As many gender activists themselves are quick to insist, sexuality and gender identity are distinct concepts—which is why, as I’ve argued in Quillette, the LGBT umbrella concept is more usefully divided into two separate groups, one for sexual minorities and another for those with atypical gender identities. This apparently makes me an evil segregationist.
I also believe that transgender people should have the same (or analogous) rights as gay people under law, and have advocated as much in conservative publications. Ultimately, I do acknowledge that biological sex is real and determined in part by chromosomes, but I also think adults should live however they want. And if that means living as the opposite sex and transitioning, more power to them.
But I won’t ever cave in to progressive gaslighting by pretending there are no real differences between biological males and females—or, more specifically, that these differences don’t manifest themselves in women’s sports. I’ve also expressed deep discomfort with the idea of pre-adolescent children being fast-tracked into irreversible therapies and surgeries before they’re old enough to truly understand complex concepts such as sex, gender and sexuality.
That’s it. That’s the extent of my wicked “anti-trans” views that supposedly make me unworthy of acceptance in the gay community.
It’s important to note that I wasn’t officially kicked out of the club. I chalk this up in part to the fact that many of the club leaders are older gay men. Though they might not be as vocal on social media, they have their own views on such matters, and sometimes are skeptical of the dogmas that now dominate young progressive activists within D.C.’s gay community. I believe there was also some appreciation of the fact that expelling me for ideological reasons could invite a legal challenge (though I didn’t threaten any). Moreover, my critics knew they didn’t have to actually expel me: All they needed to do was make club life sufficiently unpleasant and humiliating such that I would simply leave on my own. And that’s what happened.
At the end of the day, this isn’t a big deal for me. I can find another team to join. (Ironically, as a gay man, I’m now far more likely to find acceptance among boring, straight, suburbanite soccer players than among the rainbow ideologues at Media Matters.) And, like many adults who’ve moved on from their teenage dramas, I no longer depend on the validation of this or that clique for my self-confidence.
But this little fishbowl fiasco is emblematic of previously disadvantaged, left-leaning communities that now kick people around in the same way they themselves were once treated. The fact that I can no longer play soccer with people who might disagree with me politically is just another sad reminder that “inclusivity” advocates now have become a leading source of division and intolerance—even when it comes to enjoying the simple pleasure of sport.
Brad Polumbo is Deputy Opinion Contributors Editor at the Washington Examiner. His work has also appeared in outlets such as USA Today, National Review and Quillette. Follow him on Twitter at @Brad_Polumbo.