At first glance, it wouldn’t seem surprising to learn there’s a new queer art exhibit in London that calls out society’s double standards when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues.
But what if we told you the bold project is housed in a soccer stadium?
And contains glory holes and photographs of unclothed men?!
Now that we have your attention: the artist, JJ Guest, uses soccer’s homoerotic side to expose homophobic cultural attitudes. The exhibit, appropriately called The Other Team, is located at Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium, and can only be accessed through the team’s official gift shop.
That’s on purpose. Guest wants visitors to feel challenged.
“I’m not trying to get people’s backs up,” he told The Guardian. “I want people to know that if straight men found it easier to be tactile with their friends, it would make it safer for us as well, because we wouldn’t be scrutinised for doing it. So the work is really for everyone.”
One of the signature displays is a piece called Glory, which depicts one of the most iconic images in British sports history: all-time national team great Geoff Hurst winding up to kick the shot that propels England ahead in extra time of the 1966 World Cup Final.
Except in Guest’s version, there’s no ball. In its place, there is a 3.5-inch glory hole — regulation sized.
“That’s the standard size of glory holes in gay clubs,” he confirmed.
Guest says the hole, which allows visitors to look into the adjacent room, shows straight people how it feels to have something important taken away from them.
“The GLORY series subverts memorable goals scored by the England football team,” he writes on Instagram. “The football is cut away and removed leaving a 3.5-inch hole in the image, fetishizing a historic moment of national pride and celebration. The removal of these goals draws parallels with the erasure of queer history, and the vulnerability of queer rights, with any progress being made being immediately at risk of being taken away.”
Guest’s inspiration for the gallery comes from a place of rage.
The 30-year-old British native says he was looking up gay soccer players in his teenage years, when he stumbled upon another famous photo from Premier League lore: Manchester United’s Gary Neville kissing teammate Paul Scholes on the lips after a game-winning goal.
Guest says the widespread celebration of that moment bothers him.
“I suddenly got really angry,” he said. “My eyes started to stream. There’s, like, seven different versions of this image, all from different angles. Two straight men are allowed to do that and I can’t hold my boyfriend’s hand in Birmingham because I’m terrified I’m going to get beat up?”’
Going down a similar rabbit hole, Guest also found images of soccer players basking with each other in their birthday suits.
Again, the double standard angered him.
“I remember thinking, ‘They’re so happy – why is this so upsetting to me?’,” he said. “And I realized it was the absolute freedom they had from all those societal rules about how to be friends with a man, or be in love with a man, or just be around another man. I was confused as to how this could be celebrated when, at the same time, gay men were being beaten by police and arrested for almost the exact same activity.”
When gallery visitors head up to the second floor, they’re greeted with a life-size changing room bath — the same kind that teammates used to celebrate in after winning a match. Visitors are welcome to take water from the bath, and splash it against the wall.
Then, they will see a very seductive shot: the naked Everton team enjoying a communal bath following a victory over Manchester United in 1966.
While police harassed gays for public affection, straight men were allowed to openly bask in each other’s nudity.
Just a little bit hypocritical, don’t ya think?!
It will be interesting to see the reactions of Tottenham fans. Last year, a group of Spurs fans were caught chanting homophobic slurs during a match against Chelsea.
Being openly gay in elite levels of men’s soccer is still taboo. The only out British player is 18-year-old Jake Daniels.
There hasn’t been an out player in the Premier League since Justin Fashanu in 1990.
The Other Team is destined to cause some discomfort, just like good art is supposed to. The gallery is on display through December 17.
We’ll keep you posted on the glory hole’s whereabouts. Maybe a real bathhouse is next?