More diversity, fewer taboos: Valentina Kogan, the figure of handball who fights for LGBT visibility in sport
It’s been a few years since Valentina Kogan, former goalkeeper of the Argentinian handball team, decided to tell her life story to raise awareness and break taboos. On the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, she raises her voice to denounce the resistance that still persists for a truly diverse society. She bets that her personal journey will help others overcome obstacles.
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“Sport in Argentina is run by conservative movements”maintains Valentina, insistently, in dialogue with NT. And he adds: “It is still governed by a rather sexist vision or linked to patriarchy since the incorporation of women is late.”
His tone of voice is soft, but firm when it comes to denouncing the old structures of the sports world. She, who knew how to travel and succeed in this field, is not afraid of being cataloged in certain labels and, on the contrary, seeks to generate a transformation so that there are never again cases of the excluded in because of their sexual orientation, gender expression or identity.
The moment he decided to speak openly about his sexual orientation
Since entering the world of handball, Valentina has chosen who tell them she was a lesbian. She just made it public before going to try his luck in Spain in the early 2000s.
“It had to do with my own fears, not with someone telling me that if I said it I would be frowned upon. It was my process to communicate it little by little, first in my closest surroundings “, she pointed out.
At that point, she chose who to tell about her sexual orientation (and, therefore, who she didn’t). In the Argentina national team, he found a small – but valuable – containment group: “We made a ‘ranch apart’ with those of us who were ‘in the same’ because of a theme of affinity, of codes. With time, age and experience, we gain more security and more confidence in being able to fully be who we really are.
Sport, an environment more misogynistic than homophobic
For Valentina, in reality, violence -some smaller, others more notorious- has its origins in being a woman. “I had very troglodyte coacheswhich were wrong in many ways,” he argues.
“There was more misogyny than homophobia. That yes I have experienced it a lot in sport on the part of coaches, physical trainers and leaders. There was a thing against the women, a differentiation with the men’s teams, Many terms of great degradation have been used toward our bodies or toward our attitudes. They told us ‘these are sows, sows, piglets’ or ‘Look at the ass that one'”, he reviewed with displeasure.
However, the former handball player is optimistic about the future: “I don’t know if there has been a change in mentalities, but there has been a change in form. There is a concern to include women and that there are certain quotas of women in leadership roles, at least conceptually. Later, in the implementation, it may or may not happen…”.
“It’s that in sport the difference between men and women is very bigsalaries to lots of other things that are still valid, but the question (of equality) is settled, it is on the agenda and little by little there is change”, he enthused .
Homosexuality in sport: why is it more difficult for men to express it openly?
There are many – countless, really – cases of female athletes who have come out openly as lesbians. This happens in soccer, basketball, volleyball, hockey, tennis and many other disciplines. The case is different for men: there are only a handful of professional or amateur male athletes who have publicly disclosed that they are homosexual or bisexual. This week, Jake Daniels, player of the English promotion, confided in an interview.
“There are cases (of athletes who have said so) in the male branch, but they are significantly fewer. This is due to a social situation that responds to patriarchy. For these men, the responses are more aggressive and violent. There are more taboos in the male world. It is clearly observable: among elite athletes on the world stage, there are great female stars who have communicated their homosexuality, but there are few cases of men who have done so,” said Valentina .
And he continued: “At the Olympics, the subject started to come up and it started to be made visible. The Olympics are a very conservative structure, but in recent times they have opened the doors to diversity and acceptance of differences”.
Sport as a conservative structure
Argentina is a country with many advanced diversity laws and policies: equal marriage, gender identity law, comprehensive sex education (CSE), and non-binary DNI, among others. But these regulations do not always translate into real inclusion and resistance to change is still felt in the sport.
“Laws are often a response to something happening in society, but not everyone may respond to them. Whatever legislation we have, sport is a very conservative structure: in the clubs, changes are difficult to put in place”, assured the former athlete, who today holds a position in the executive direction of the Running Club and who is also a commentator for handball on TV.
Kogan felt that the integration of women into the sport has been late and explained the reasons for this: “Women have less free time because they spend more hours on household chores, taking care of children. Historically, the Argentine sports management is neither praised nor professionalbut it’s ad honorem, so it’s something that is done in free time and women’s free time is limited, This is why in general the leaders are men. Because of this difficulty, the space for women, for diversity and for the incorporation of new contemporary concepts is even more restricted”.
What it was like to be a family of two moms: treatment, obstacles and surprise
Valentina and Carolina met, fell in love and decided to start a family together. They got married in 2013, and a year later they started planning the pregnancy. The decision about who was going to be pregnant was divided: the chosen one was Carolina since Valentina was in the process of qualifying for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 with the Argentine national team and being diabetic also generated doubts.
The method they chose was egg donation: Valentina put in her eggs and they were fertilized and implanted in Carolina’s uterus. “It was a very shared process. We wanted to do it like that to have the experience of both being physically involved, ”explained the former handball player.
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Although the procedure was planned and desired, the couple suddenly encountered some setbacks: “I was about to go to a tournament in Cuba to seek qualification for the World Cup in Denmark and that same year, I had the Pan American Games in Toronto during which we were going to pick up the ticket for the Olympics. I had a great sports year and when they started to do the stimulation (to get the eggs) the doctor said to me: ‘Now no sports for two weeks’”.
“I thought it was charging me. I am an athlete, I make a living from it. It was stress and learning for not knowing, for lack of information. Besides, it was quite a problem for me in sports: I was swollen, I had to be careful not to be touched by the ball… And I’m a goalkeeper! “, she continued.
Valentina and Carolina had two failed attempts that left them emotionally drained. But the desire to have children was stronger: at the beginning of 2016, they go on vacation, come back with their heads rested and decide to try again. The third treatment was successful and Caro became pregnant with twins.
The big surprise came when the doctors told them the estimated date of delivery, which practically coincided with the Rio Olympics. Again, an obstacle. “Caro already had the tickets to come with me and the doctor told him that if he was traveling the boys were going to be Brazilian because it was a high-risk pregnancy. So, I traveled with the team, played, came back and two weeks later the babies were born at 7 months gestation”.
Being athletic and diabetic
Diabetes and high level sports can be compatible. Valentina is faithful proof that it is possible. She lives with an insulin pump permanently attached to her body. He also wears a patch that constantly checks his blood sugar.
“Diabetes is very present in my life, I identify a lot with my diabetic condition I live in all my facets with this flag that sport is a tool for empowerment, that it is fundamental in all lives and even more so for a person with diabetes. There are many people with diabetes who evolve in different disciplines and this empathy or this community that is taking place is spectacular in setting an example, because the worst that can happen is that fear drives you away from sport. “, did he declare.
At 42 and already retired from professional activity, Valentina believes that in sport she has accomplished everything she set out to do: she has played in Argentina and abroad, and with the As a national team, she participated in World Cups, Pan American Games and an Olympic game. .
“Over time, new sports-related dreams came to me, related to the ability to communicate and show the importance of diversity in sport. I want to put all my experience at the service of inclusion,” she concluded.