The Argonauts are the only gay rowing club in the Southern Hemisphere. Matthew Wade caught up with the team to find out how the boys have found a new family in their quads.
When Matt Gordon was in high school he was overweight and never got picked for team sports during P.E. class. Much of the sporting world was alien to him.
“It was a source of anxiety, and I completely denied it,” he says.
“I was a late bloomer. It’s amazing how you can know [about your sexuality] but deny it as well.”
It was a journey for him to become more comfortable and secure in his identity, but he found that solace in the most unlikely of places: at six o’clock every morning by a lake in four degree weather, rowing a boat with three other men.
Gordon is now a rower with the Argonauts, Melbourne’s LGBTI rowing club.
“Having lived up in Cairns in the tropics all my life, I never thought I’d love that,” he jokes.
“I was having my impending mid-life crisis and it took a lot of energy to deny my sexuality, so I came out and eventually packed up my car and moved down to Melbourne.
“Then I Googled ‘gay’ things to do in the city, and all of these sporting groups came up, so I thought, why not give rowing a try?”
It was in the Argonauts that Gordon found a new family.
One where he could be himself and enter the gay community via a safe and comfortable space.
He says before he’d joined the team he had no idea how gay men socialised, but since picking up his oars he’s built an amazing and tight-knit circle of friends.
“I’m finding my sense of belonging as I go along,” he says.
“And that’s something the club really tries to do, is foster those important relationships.
“At the last regatta [race] we went to it was the first time my current competitive squad rode together, and I got my first medal.”
One of Gordon’s teammates, Nick Vitale, says after joining the Argonauts it broke down his perception that LGBTI people weren’t welcomed in sport.
At school he was closeted and it wasn’t an issue for him, but since joining the team as an openly gay man he’s seen how their presence helps to shift broader society’s definition of what it means to be gay.
Vitale rows as part of both a quad [four rowers] and an eight, and he says being in a boat pushing to win a race with his comrades really helps to bond the teammates.
“It’s a good physical sport that works your whole body,” he says.
“But we also always go out for dinner after, and go away together, so there are a whole lot of social events that help guys meet other guys in the gay community.”
“For me it was an opportunity to make friends that were part of the community. I didn’t have a lot of gay friends when I started, having come out not long before, but now it’s fantastic.”
Despite the teammates he’s bonded with in the Argonauts and the ability to help shift people’s perceptions around LGBTI participation in sport, Vitale says above all else he gets the greatest thrill from being out on the water.
“Being out on the water at six in the morning or later in the evening when the water is just so still is amazing,” he says.
“You get some cracker mornings where the sun’s rising as you’re putting the boat in the water, and it’s a beautiful way to wake up.”
Club President Tony Rogers used to live in the UK in a room in Cambridge that overlooked the River Cam.
Every morning he’d see men row past in their boats, a sight that captivated him for more than one reason.
“They looked physically amazing,” he jokes.
“But it also just looked glorious, and I thought I’d like to try it one day.”
However, rowing in the UK has always been a sport often synonymous with wealth, undertaken by straight white men, something Rogers felt excluded from.
It wasn’t until he moved to Australia and saw that the Argonauts were short of crew members that he decided to take the plunge and pick up a pair of oars: and he’s now the club’s president.
“Now I’m immensely comfortable with who I am, I’ve got a huge group of friends and in the Argonauts we’re diverse – we’ve got pilots, surgeons, and mechanics in the team,” he says.
“We’ve got 110 active rowers and 180 associated with the team.”
Rogers says a highlight of his time with the Argonauts has been seeing some of the newer members become more comfortable with themselves after joining.
“A guy who moved here from overseas was quite timid, and he really put himself out there to join us,” he says.
“It was great to see him embraced by the club and to see the warmth and friendships that developed.
“He felt like he’d won the lottery. It makes me feel really proud.”
The Melbourne Argonauts will be holding their annual fundraiser trivia night on August 26th. For more information or to book a table visit: www.melbourneargonauts.com