Chris McNaghten, an out and proud gay strongman competitor from Ireland, spoke about his experiences with homophobia in sports.
Participating in competitions around the world, pulling lorries and lifting extreme weights, McNaghten has discovered that this sport is less homophobic than others, such as football, because “there is no insecurity.”
“This is the most masculine sport with the most masculine people and they can all stand around and not bat an eyelid,” McNaghten tells PinkNews.
Watch McNaghten share his experience of coming out in the world’s “most masculine sport”—and lift his assistant over his head:
The strongman athlete continues: “But go into other sports, where there’s less masculinity if you like, and for some reason it’s a big deal.
“I think that’s a lot to do with insecurity in other people because there is no insecurity in strongman.
“These men are the biggest and strongest men in the world, there’s nothing to be insecure about.”
McNaghten says he has “never experienced anything” homophobic in strongman competitions but, he adds, he has “seen it in plenty of other sports.”
Before Chris McNaghten came out, he was engaged to a woman
Before realising he was gay and coming out, Chris was engaged to a girl and struggled with mental health in the closet.
He says: “It was definitely finding myself within strongman that gave me the confidence to come out.
“[After coming out] the next competition I went to everybody talked to me.
“Some people to be honest I thought wouldn’t [but] everybody shook my hand the way everybody normally does, everybody asked how I was, everybody talked normally, adjusted themselves to my partner.
“They don’t care, many of them have said: ‘As long as Chris is happy, we’re happy.’”
The gay strongman is nicknamed ‘Big Bear’
Embracing his nickname of “Big Bear” followed a surprising revelation about the double meaning of the label ‘bear.’
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“[The nickname] ‘bear’ started for me when I was born and my dad always called me ‘the cub,’ then when I became older and was playing a lot of rugby, I was called ‘bear,’” he explains.
“When I started strongman I was called I went on then to be called ‘Big Bear.’
“It was only later on in my teens that I realised there was a whole different side to being called bear.
“A strongman came over from England to Ireland and he said: ‘Oh I wasn’t sure if you had gay followers or what was going on?’
“I was a wee bit confused as to what he meant but then when he explained that bear was a thing within LGBT+, I was like: ‘Oh, wasn’t aware of that at the time,” McNaghten laughs.
“Bearing in mind at the time I was engaged to a girl, nobody knew anything about my sexuality, I was very much in the closet—it was a wee bit of a gulp moment.”
“I remember researching it and was like yep, I’m definitely a bear.”
McNaghten says he is sharing his experience of coming out and being openly gay in strongman competitions in the hope people “will understand a wee bit more about mental health.”
McNaghten’s documentary, Bear Strong, is available now on Amazon Prime.