Thursday, December 27, 2012

In and Out of the Locker Room

In and Out of the Locker Room
by Jeff Kagan

Upon hearing the quick rhythm of Truett Lee Vaigneur, Jr.’s speaking voice, one might place him as an auctioneer from Baton Rouge or perhaps a fast-talking city official from Atlanta. His southern twang has a twist of what sounds like Cajun. As difficult as it is to pinpoint exactly where he’s from, the avid tennis enthusiast hails from Barnwell, South Carolina. Truett was born in the same hospital as the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, also known as “the hardest working man in show business” which is quite fitting, as Truett just might be “the hardest working man in academia”.

Truett is an adjunct professor and counselor at several of the City University of New York campuses and he’s currently working on an Educational Doctorate (EdD) degree in Interdisciplinary Studies at Long Island University’s C.W. Post Campus. “I research subcultures within the mainstream campus culture, for the past few years it’s been gay male college athletes, specifically athletes playing non-team sports. The focus is identity formation,” he says. And he’s channeling his extensive research into a documentary on the subject entitled The University Pool which showcases three gay former college swimmers and how being athletes has influenced their individual development, helping to turn them into the successful young men they are. He says, “I wanted to create conversations with gay athletes that was not focused in a locker room environment. While the locker room seems like a great place to start, the subjects aren’t always in a relaxed state, walking around in towels and taking showers, especially young men who are still discovering themselves.” Truett’s work follows the logic that an athlete is gay both inside the locker room, and when they leave it. “Every athlete — college or pro — identifies with athleticism, but how strong the identification is will actually be a result of what happens away from the playing field. There are family influences, religious influences, etc.; researching athletes is not a brush-stroke technique.”

As an academic, Truett studies the developmental aspect of gay athletes, but his interest in participating in sports began many years ago, when he was younger. Sports were a source of great enjoyment for him in junior high school back in South Carolina, where he played baseball, volleyball and tennis, the latter being his favorite. “I played a lot as a child, but my family moved from one small southern town to another when I was in high school, and there were no team sports other than football and basketball, so I stopped playing altogether.” he says. Sports can play a very important role in our lives, but the sport itself isn’t the defining aspect of who an athlete is. Being a tennis player is a major factor of how Truett identifies himself, but he says that the sport itself hasn’t done much to change his life. The key is participation, which leads to further development of his self-esteem and a positive self-image as an athlete. He says, “It enhances who I am, however, it is my involvement with tennis and the various LGBT sports leagues that has really changed who I am by showing me I can just be myself as a gay man — and an athlete.” In The University Pool, Truett hopes to show that it is possible for young gay men to be athletes and also be out of the closet. The three young men who we featured in the documentary may have had difficult times in the past, but the reality is that athleticism was there. It was a positive factor that gave them confidence and a sense of self-awareness that they might not have had otherwise.