Man up! Homophobia and masculinity in DROWN


In DROWN, a local hero at his lifesaving club, Len is faced with competition and confusing feelings when newcomer Phil arrives on the scene, younger and fitter in every way. After losing the annual Sydney Lifesaving competition, Len acts on his anger but not for all the reasons his teammates believe.

DROWN deals with an aspect of society many men, gay and straight, generally shy away from discussing – homophobia in hyper-masculine environments. Len is hesitant to act on his feelings for Phil, afraid that his fellow lifesavers would think less of him, ostracising Len in the process.

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In professions situated in primarily masculine environments, such as construction, the police and military, and team sports, homophobia is still present. Our modern society places undue stress and importance on the straight male to live up to his gender stereotype to explicitly express both his masculinity and heterosexuality, perhaps even more so than women. Conditioned by the media and their peers into thinking that there is only one definition of what it is to be a man with no room to explore who they are or who they want to be, leaving little space in which to explore their true selves. A study carried out this year at Stanford University echoed this, recognising that “being seen as masculine is very important for a lot of men […] We discovered that the things that men were using to assert their masculinity were the very things that are used as signals of identity”. Under such constraints, although his behaviour is unforgivable, we can empathise with Len when faced with questioning his sexuality.

A recent survey carried out in Australia pertaining to sport and the LGBT community noted the frightening statistic that “of the 9,500 gay and straight participants in the survey conducted by academics at universities worldwide, 80% say they’ve witnessed or experienced homophobia while playing or watching sport”.  It is within these team environments, where camaraderie and teamwork are key, that LGBT players feel hyper-sensitive to prejudice and exclusion. However, it is not just within the team that homophobia appears; spectators should be held accountable too. Insecure about their own masculine identity, they target those who are different to them in order to cement their masculinity amongst their peers and wider society.

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LGBT individuals in the military, police force and construction also face higher chances of homophobic behaviour, with only one in ten construction workers recommending their industry as a great place for gay men (and women) to work. More than three-quarters of victims of homophobic hate crime don’t report the incident to the police in the UK, often because they fear it wouldn’t be dealt with seriously. The UK police force suffers from under representation of women and the LGBT community within their ranks, with 27.3% of officer being female, and many LGBT applicants feel their sexuality is a barrier to entering. The British armed forces have paid out several human rights pay-outs to gay soldiers in the past decade; for instance, in 2009 they paid £124,000 in compensation to Lance Bombardier Kerry Fletcher after she was forced to leave having received harassment for being gay.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been progress within these sectors over the past few decades. Sport in particular has strived for greater inclusion and acceptance among teams and supporters, with the formation of numerous anti-homophobia groups like Right Behind Gay Footballers and the RFU’s campaign in association with Stonewall.  In 2011 the US military lifted its Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, encouraging LGBT members of the army to openly be who they are without fear of persecution. The British Army now ask those joining to state their sexuality in an attempt to encourage inclusion.

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Yes, we’ve still got a way to go but hopefully with films like Drown being made and seen, men will be unafraid to challenge what it is to be masculine in the 21st century.

DROWN is available now on DVD and On-Demand.

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