When Jethro Soutar first asked me if I wanted to take part in his anthology of football-related writing, I was, shall we say, less than keen. I’m not keen on football, beyond (ahem) a certain gratuitous enjoyment of the male form (hello, Iker Casillas!). But when I read the piece he sent me, Salcedo Ramos’ “Queens Football,” I was hooked. Like the best examples of long-form journalism (and, I suppose, most good writing), it’s not really about what it at first seems to be about. Yes, there are footballers in it. There are terms such as “free kick” and “penalty save,” for which I had to defer to my editor’s superior knowledge of the beautiful game. But it’s really about social cohesion, discrimination, sexual prejudice, joy, hatred, love, and redemption.
The piece reveals the contradiction between a group of trans and gay men using their outsider status to play to a crowd, raising money for men like them who are suffering, in part, because of the very prejudices that draw the spectators to the stadium. They want to raise awareness of the difficulties faced by the LGBT community in Cali, Colombia, but it seems the only way to do so is by conforming to the widely-held stereotype of trans and gay men being a limp joke, and thus reinforcing it. The show football they play is aimed to raise a laugh, to be non-threatening and certainly not to pose an actual challenge to “real” players, even though many of the Las Regias players are genuinely talented. It made me think of how younger jazz players such as Dizzy Gillespie criticized Louis Armstrong for his “plantation image,” performing to please his white audience, giving them the slave playing slave music they wanted. But in both cases, of course, it is more complex than that.
I think what this piece is about on the whole is contradiction: the players’ mix of fragility and strength; their vulgar jokes versus their nuanced understanding and articulation of the position of the LGBT man (because we are only talking about men here) in Colombian society; the supposedly straight man who insults or physically attacks the transsexual in the daytime only to solicit his services as soon as night falls. The only thing missing here is a lesbian’s perspective – if anyone’s got a piece on Latin American lesbians, footballers or not, that they want translated, do get in touch…
I enjoy translation most of the time, but it’s always especially nice to translate a piece that you feel has some impact beyond the literary. Salcedo Ramos’ article is vital, in both senses of the word: it’s important this stuff gets read, both in Colombia and here, and it’s also lucid, lively writing with an energy that comes both from his clear style and from the humour and humanity of his subjects. Although I still wouldn’t call myself a football fan, I have been persuaded to watch some of this summer’s World Cup matches after contributing to the Crónicas anthology. And anything that gives me an excuse to Google Iker Casillas can’t be a bad thing.