Body issues and body dysphoria remain a serious issue in the LGBTQ community. Traditionally, this issue has been classified as a “women’s issue”.
Women, in particular face scrutiny in the media in devastating ways, being pressured to maintain the “perfect” model physique, while rarely being celebrated for their curves or “imperfect” body features. Recently, many full-figured models and celebrities, such as breakout music artist Lizzo and plus-size fashion models Tess Holliday and Ashley Graham have been challenging these standards in the most fantastic and fierce ways.
However, body dysphoria in men – particularly gay and transgender men – often goes unrecognized and unaddressed. This is the reason why one Chicago rugby team has decided that it’s time to start addressing these issues.
Recently, I had a chance to chat with Kevin McMullin, the Match Secretary of the Chicago Dragons Rugby Football Club, to discuss the history of the team and their upcoming social media campaign, which will focus on body positivity and fitness for men through the sport of rugby.
KJ: Hi Kevin! So, what year was the team formed? Was there a specific incidence of discrimination that led to the formation of your team?
KM: Hi Kyle! So, here is a brief history of our team from one of our founding members, Paul Cannella:
“It was a combination of things. I personally had never heard of Mark Bingham or the story at the time the club was first forming in the summer of 2003. I had received an email from a friend in the softball league about a ‘gay’ rugby team forming. I was preparing to play for the Lincoln Park team that fall, and this brought back a flurry of memories about the third half, what was missing from my rugby experiences, and what I could do differently.
I wanted to check it out, and I decided the best thing I could do to help other gay people get to experience the greatest sport, was to make sure this club got started. It’s not that other teams were not welcoming, but there was a mix of how we were received at the CARFU match meetings.
We wanted to form the club to be about rugby first, not about being a gay rugby club. We wanted to play competitive rugby, and have a social environment where everyone could be happy and be themselves. To be honest, I envisioned being able to kiss my boyfriend at the third half and it not be a big deal. I couldn’t envision that happening while playing for any of the existing clubs.
So a handful of experienced and a bunch of new guys formed the Chicago Dragons RFC. We got killed for years, and it took way longer than I ever expected to become a competitive CARFU club. There were horribly lopsided matches, and times when the club almost folded, but we said we can never quit. Rugby is a way of life, and that attitude on the pitch, is carried over off the pitch. That is what I wanted to share with my rugby brothers, and the reason that prompted me to help start the Dragons.”
The team was formed in 2003.
KJ: It says on your website that your team was formed specifically for underrepresented groups, especially gay men. What other groups are represented in your team? Who is membership open to?
KM: Our team consists of men who are gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual, transgender, queer, white, black, hispanic, asian, and more. We have men from all different backgrounds, socio-economic groups, of all ages (ranging from 19-55), all shapes, sizes, and body types, and all levels of athleticism. We are an all-inclusive team, so membership is open to all men.
KJ: Can you tell me a little bit more about International Gay Rugby (IGR)?
KM: IGR is an international LGBTQ/inclusive organization consisting of 84 teams (more if you count teams who have not yet achieved full membership) that promotes LGBTQ inclusivity and tolerance in the sport of rugby. Officially founded in 1999, it has teams all over the world.
It also plays host every two years to the Bingham Cup (named for Mark Bingham, an IGR rugger from San Francisco who was among those who stormed the cockpit on United 93 on 9/11), a multi-day international tournament which pits against each other all IGR teams in one place.
The next Bingham Cup will take place in August of next year in Ottawa, Ontario. I would refer you to https://igrugby.org/history.htm for more information. There is a wealth of it there as well.
KJ: You all have many events coming up this fall. Can you give us some more information?
KM: Most recently, we just had our #PrideinRugby weekend from 10/4-10/6. For this event, which celebrates the 20th anniversary of the founding of IGR, we played the Madison Minotaurs, another IGR team.
When they arrived, both teams sported rainbow laces during the match to recognize our inclusivity. We also had a special bar crawl with our friends through the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago, which was open to anyone who wanted to join.
We are also launching a social media campaign that weekend called “Rugby Sized” which focuses on body positivity. We also have one more league match on 10/19 against the Kenosha Mammoths.
After that, we will host our second big annual fundraiser on 11/16, which is our drag competition, Ms. Ruck & Maul. As reigning queen, I can tell you it is a lot of fun to get rugby boys on stage in drag and watch them compete for that title. Chicago staple, and Dragons sponsor SideTrack will again host us for this event.
KJ: Wow! I love that! What is the process for joining the team? What are the requirements?
KM: Joining the Dragons is very easy: Just come out to practice with us. If you like it and want to stick with it, all you have to do is pay your dues and keep showing up. We are very proud to offer some of the lowest membership dues in Chicago sports, thanks to our stellar fundraising over the years.
KJ: That’s great! You guys have a lot coming up. Can you tell us a little bit more about the “Rugby Size” campaign? How did this idea develop?
KM: In April of this year, IGR sent out emails regarding a this event. The first thing I thought of was this campaign.
In the two years that I have been playing, I have encountered so many players who are gorgeous – some literally the epitome of what is widely considered to be “physically perfect” – ripped body, great hair, gorgeous face, etc, as well as some bigger guys with just a natural charisma that draws people in.
However, getting to know many of them, I found that so many have the same kind of body issues and lack of confidence that I’ve always had. It was eye-opening to me, because the thought that this could be the case had literally never occurred to me. It broke my heart.
So, though I am in these photos, I didn’t do this for me or my own issues. I put this campaign together for them – my brothers – because they are all beautiful, strong, sexy, and rugby sized.
KJ: That’s absolutely amazing, and so needed. Do you all have a website? Social media?
KM: We do have a website where you can learn about the team, contact us, donate, and buy merchandise. www.chicagodragons.org
You can also find us on Facebook – Chicago Dragons Rugby Football Club, and Instagram & Twitter @ChiDragonsRFC.