“Game Face” Challenges the Gender Binary in Professional Sports

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Game Face is director Michiel Thomas’s first feature film and its showing on the opening night at Portland’s QDoc (the Portland Queer Film Festival) along with the film’s sponsorship from Nike, created a ton of positive buzz.

The film follows Mixed Martial Arts competitor Fallon Fox and college basketball player Terrence Clemens through intimate and public moments as they both face coming out in an athletic environment. For Terrence, he keeps his head in the game to maintain an inner determination and to fulfill a love of b-ball, but the idea of coming out to his locker room of teammates, his coaches and college friends is too difficult a leap to make, or so it seems. Fallon is about to compete in a fight when the media catches wind that she’s transgender. As the news infiltrates sports media and mainstream tabloids, not only do the responses and opinions by the media seem intrusive, suggestive and at times, offensive—but Fallon must continue to keep her head in the game, where many conflicts crop up as a result of this newfound attention on her gender. 

GameFace_FallonFox1Fallon Fox

This is the kind of film that will change the world. It will shift our societal ideas of what defines physical (and emotional) strength and dominance, and how the athletic world has consistently separated female and male genders without regard for what lies beyond the gender binary. It will highlight the obstacles queer athletes face who aren’t out to their teams, coaches, friends and family for fear of losing their place, for being shunned and losing the camaraderie of the locker room, and for possibly being seen as weak, distracted, unable, unfair—a pariah fighting to prove their worth.

Should a transgender athlete be told that they should play only against other transgender athletes? If you’re unsure, you need to watch this film—with your family and friends, your teammates, your coaches. It needs to be shown in schools, where our children are being inundated with outdated forms of gender roles, like, “You run like a girl,” or, “That boy can’t be a cheerleader!” Game Face reminds us that there’s a human behind the jersey, off the court.

And whether its win or lose, a game requires training, practice, precision and communication. So once an athlete comes out, nothing changes that.

GameFace2Jason Collins and Terrence Clemens

The athletic world typically creates invisibility around sexuality and gender—history is replete with sports incidents that ostracized LGBTQ athletes to an extremely harmful result—the result being that they lose themselves. Michiel made this film because he too was an athlete who felt he had to suppress his sexuality to better fit the unyielding role of “straight male athlete.”“

“I was in denial of my sexual orientation and as a young basketball player I needed a role model to show me I wasn’t the only one dealing with those struggles. After I discovered my true identity, I realized many are still misinformed about LGBTQ’s players in sports,” Michiel says on his website. His hope is that athletes who watch this film will come out—not after they retire, but while they’re still in the game.

In the film, Fallon’s loving daughter and adoring girlfriend, plus the acceptance of her trainers and peers, keeps her soul in check and fuels her determination. If you’ve watched any of Fallon’s fights, this documentary will be a real treat—her energy is inspiring to the highest degree. There’s something centered about Fallon that we get to witness in these personal moments.

For Terrence, he too has a natural inkling to put his best foot forward and simply be himself. You may fall hard for this guy; his big personality is felt across screen and you’ll be inspired to step outside your comfort zones by his ways. By both Fallon and Terrence, we can feel the waves of change opening a space for the athletic world like never before—a space for us to exist as who we are, not by the roles in games that have boxed us in.

GameFace3 From L to R: Jason Collins, Kye Allums, Fallon Fox, Terrence Clemens and Michiel Thomas.

Game Face features loads of game-play juxtaposed with media-commentary and diary-like logs from Fallon and Terrence as they grapple with so much change. It’s a good thing they’re not alone—not anymore. Jason Collins, a former NBA player was the first male athlete in a major sport to come out as gay, and he was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the header: “The Gay Athlete.” When Terrance reached out to Jason for advice and guidance, he was responsive and they became good friends. Jason Collins surprised us by showing up, along with Kye AllumsNCAA’s first openly transgender athlete. Witnessing this kind of support is momentous, and the goose bumps just won’t bumping. The games have only begun.

For more info about Game Face, and to find out where you can see an upcoming screening, go to gamefacedoc.com. Big bonus: There’s plenty of LGBTQ athlete resources on the film website to peruse. 

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