Virginia Fernández has one of those values that we see less and less: she is genuine. She has character and personality, she was born in a humble family and has worked for as long as she can remember, and, despite having been through difficult times, she has never lost her smile.
Goalkeeper with Costa del Sol Málaga and with the Spain beach handball squad, she is an institution on the local handball scene and the soul of a team that is making history. People recognise her for who she is and not for her sexual orientation, but it hasn’t always been the case. Until she made the decision to tell her mother that she was a lesbian, she led a double life. She felt that she had to hide in other circles to be herself, but it was when she did open up that she really found herself. Now she shares her life with her partner and is a successful handball player who calls for an end to the taboos that keep many athletes trapped in the closet.
–Does your girlfriend come from the world of handball?
– Yes, she used to play. We met at a Copa de Andalucía game.
– And now you’ve been together for five years. Is a wedding on the cards?
–Actually I proposed in Sweden. After a game. I had planned it for a month and organised it with my team [Virginia played for Boden before returning to Malaga]. The arena was full and we even made the news in Sweden. The Swedes are much more liberal, they’re way ahead of the Spanish.
–In what sense?
–I think it's because of the way they are brought up. For example, there, everyone celebrates Pride, you see elderly people in the parades, little kids with their flags… They make it normal and people grow up with that and see it as normal, without prejudice.
–Things have improved in Spain, but up to a few years ago things were very different…
–Twenty years ago I led a double life. Inside, I was one Virginia and outside, I was another. Only my closest friends knew that I went out with girls. I was scared to say, how do I tell my mother?
–Mothers can always sense the truth…
– Yes, when I went to tell her, when I was 13 or 14, she said “Yes, I knew”. My mother always accepted it really well, but I wish I’d told my father before he died, which was when I was 17.
–Those secrets were part of your double life.
-It’s a double life in which you’re lying to yourself when you go home, or you get a boyfriend you don’t feel anything for.. I’ve had a boyfriend as I also found men attractive. I always said that I had 100% of possibilities when I went out on the pull [she laughs]. But it was the girls who really attracted me, I couldn’t fool myself. Until the day I told my mother, I led a double life.
–You felt free when you went out…
–I had a gay friend from when I was 14 and we used to go off to Benalmádena or Torremolinos to go out, or meet someone we’d got to know on Messenger. We went out a lot in that area; then we had the feeling that we need more privacy, not now.
-Have you been through a difficult situation in public?
–Not in sport no, but in the street I‘ve sometimes been called “bollera” [an informal word for a lesbian considered offensive] or “machoperico”.
–It’s the most horrible word I have heard used against a woman who likes girls. In fact, when I was little, the first fight I had at school was with a boy who called me “machoperico”. I hate that word so much…it’s repulsive.
–Do you think it’s more difficult for professional athletes to come out in public?
–I don’t know whether it’s because they don’t want to mix their sporting and personal lives, or out of fear of what people might say, or even out of fear that they could get kicked out… But if they throw you out of a job or club for being gay, it’s not your problem, it’s the firm’s.
-Perhaps people are braver in women’s sport. You see players celebrating a title with a kiss or sharing photos of them with their partners, but in men’s sport it still seems taboo, doesn’t it?
–In men’s sport coming out is more taboo, and it’s a shame. In women’s sport it seems more normal. We’re not all in the same bag, there are lesbian and hetero women. But for boys I think it’s more complicated, because it’s not seen as “normal”. People have to say to themselves, “hey being gay won’t affect my performance”.
–Is there anything of Virginia’s double life left?
–Now I have another double life, but only one on and one off the court. I have a quiet life surrounded by people who love me and have accepted me. We’re athletes, it doesn’t matter who we like.