Arrogant insults from the stand reveal ugly underbelly of rugby culture, writes a bruised Hannah Spyksma

Article originally published in The New Zealand Herald*.

An open letter to the men who told me at Eden Park last Saturday evening: "If you don't like us using the word faggot then don't come to the footy - because it's just part of the game".

To the three men in the row behind me who decided it was fair game to bully me after I called bulls*** on your mindless slurs at Eden Park last Saturday night, I would like you to know that you were on the ball when you admitted you were arrogant, ignorant and rather homophobic.

I know you meant those words in a drunken, sarcastic rhetoric but you really did score between the goal posts with that fitting self-description.

Thanks to you, I left the match feeling belittled and that standing up for myself was a free ticket for you to verbally abuse me, to ridicule and repeatedly touch me.

I have been going to rugby games for more than a decade now. I've watched my brother, my high-school boyfriend, and other friends grow through this sport. My teenage milestones were marked by Saturdays spent at the footy and later the bruises I collected playing and captaining my school's own women's rugby team.

But never before have I been at a rugby game where I've been left with just bruises to my dignity.

Luckily for me I had a home, a girlfriend, and a whole supportive community to go home to after the test match. I needed them that night. But how many young people - gay or not - must be hurt by the word faggot before it becomes acceptable and encouraged to say at a rugby match: "That's not OK."

I'm all up for getting a bit of banter but sitting through 80 minutes of hearing the ref, the players, the coaches being told how gay they are for simple mistakes is just degrading.

It sends a message that in New Zealand, using homophobic taunts is the best way to communicate anger and frustration in sport.

Ultimately what it says is that you can't possibly be any good if you are gay. And that hurts.

Bigoted slurs are not a necessary part of any sporting game and I will not be made to feel like I should just go home if I point that out.

How are we ever supposed to have an openly gay All Black or Black Fern when being gay is equated with being useless on the field?

I for one would never suggest outing someone in New Zealand's mainstream sporting arena because the behaviour of my fellow patriots the other night is an indicator that we just aren't ready for that.

"She must be a lesbian," the men muttered after my apparently out-of-line outburst.

It is news to me that speaking out against homophobia is a marker of sexuality. Last time I checked, it was a marker of being a decent human being.

Yes, since they so astutely noticed though, I am in a same-sex relationship and I do identify as queer. But if we had met on the street I may still have thought one of them was cute. However, it was quickly apparent that arrogance has a way of seeping through to the bones and making someone ugly from the inside out.

And as for telling a lesbian that they should go home if they can't handle the word faggot, well perhaps the men behind me should have checked the demographics of who likes watching the footy.

I'm sure they'd find a lot of loyal All Blacks fans are women who identify as being lesbian. We all have just as much right to buy tickets and go support our national team as you do.

But I suspect the trio were too busy tripping over their arrogance, ignorance and homophobia to be able to look past their own world views.

Maybe I should have just shut up, known my place as a young woman at a rugby match. But if no one speaks up then that kind of behaviour is condoned.

So to you three men, I really just want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to blow the whistle on the macho, degrading underbelly of a game that's supposed to make us all swell with a sense of nationhood.

Thank goodness my brother and the other men in my life aren't all like you - but your insulting behaviour sure doesn't put the ball in your court or do you any favours.

If rugby matches are milestones in my life then Saturday night's was definitely one I won't forget.

My bruised dignity is slowly healing and soon all I'll be left with is a faint purple streak which I'll wear proudly the next time I go to the footy.

*Please note, article received huge volumes of comments as well as shares and interaction on social media but these statistics no longer show on NZ Herald link due to the platform’s website upgrates since then.