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To mark International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia, we spoke to frontman Simon Makienok about diversity, feelings in football, social media, individuality and values.

Hi Simon! When you moved to the Millerntor, you said you shared the values of FC St. Pauli. What values does Simon Makienok stand for?

The main thing for me is tolerance for all people no matter what sex you are or where you come from. In my mind, I don't see any differences between people. I don't care whether you're black or white, Christian or Muslim, gay or straight or whether you feel you don't belong to any gender. For me, it's important to show these values and stand up for them. That's what I'm focusing on to ensure more people are aware of them. There are so many different people, religions, skin colours and so on – there shouldn't be any difference in how we see people. That's a key value for me, especially when it comes to how I see people myself. 

You say you want to show what values you stand for. To people who follow you on social media, it seems as if you and your girlfriend Ida communicate your values a lot. Are you active away from social media as well?

It's not as if we're members of a specific organisation or anything like that, but we do have lots of homosexual friends in Denmark. There's a gay pride parade there every 17th May and lots of our friends join in the celebrations. We normally like to go along as well, so maybe we can take part in something similar in Hamburg as soon as that's possible. As far as social media is concerned, we feel it's important, if you have a platform, to use it to influence people and draw attention to certain things. We often write about these issues or repost something, for example. I think it's the most common way of voicing your opinion, especially for the younger members of our generation. And finally, it's also about how you apply these values in daily life, of course. That you always consider what you say and how you express yourself when you meet new people or talk to people, for example. 

"I always try to confront it and say something."

What contact have you had with this issue over the years? Have you experienced anything specific?

I don't think I've been in a situation where I've been confronted with it full on in recent years, though in general I do think it happens a lot, for example when it comes to language. People still use certain words in a negative context when they're arguing with their mates, for example by calling them "homos". Or men using the word "pussy" as an insult. I still hear that a lot and my friends say the same. I think it's sad that in 2021, in such a modern and educated society, some people still think that way and frame these things in a negative context. When I encounter or hear something like that, I always try to confront it and say something.

What do you say?

I ask them why they're using the words in a negative way, for example. I think a lot of people just don't give it any thought and perhaps don't mean it like that but say it regardless. We have a word in Danish called hygge, which means something like "for fun" or "easy going". We use it in all kinds of ways really, and the word itself isn't a problem. But you also get it in connection with racism or homophobia, for example hygge racism, which is when something is said for fun and isn't meant in a bad way at all. It can still hurt people, though, and that's not right.

You come from Denmark but have already played in quite a few countries during your career. Have you experienced any cultural differences in terms of tolerance and diversity in that time?

Yes, I think so. In England, in particular, it can be hard sometimes, for example in terms of the language used. When you look at the big picture, though, I do think Europe is going in the right direction. There's still a long way to go, but there's an increasing focus on the issue. Lots of campaigns and organisations are really trying to move things forward. What does frighten me, however, is that there are still countries in this world where homosexuality is not allowed, for example, where two men can't even walk down the street hand in hand or kiss each other. You can end up in prison for that and there are even laws against it. For me, it's totally crazy that things like that are still around in 2021.

What's your take on the culture in Hamburg in this respect?

That's not so easy for me to say because I haven't been able to do much since I moved here, unfortunately. I've spent most of the time at home because of the circumstances. I do get the feeling that Hamburg is very modern and open-minded, though. It's also important for me to be at a club like St. Pauli where these topics are given a lot of attention and space. I get the impression that people don’t just talk about things here but actually try to do something.

"I've been wearing it all season to be honest," says Simon Makienok about his rainbow sweatshirt. He's worn it a lot at the training camp in Herzlake as well.

"I've been wearing it all season to be honest," says Simon Makienok about his rainbow sweatshirt. He's worn it a lot at the training camp in Herzlake as well.

You mentioned social media briefly, do you think the social networks are a positive or a negative influence on the topic of diversity and tolerance?

Social media is a difficult subject at the moment. In Denmark there's a big discussion going on about social media being used in two ways. On the one hand, as a great platform for sharing your views and values with lots of people and communicating things quickly and easily, of course. On the other, however, it's dangerous because it's so easy to have an opinion sitting behind your computer at home or on your mobile phone. You can comment on things and say things to people in a way you might never do in real life. That can affect those people, however, and, in the worst case, really hurt them. People can say what they like, of course, but don't forget how easy it is to hurt someone in the process. That said, I do think social media will play a big role in changing things in future.

What needs to be done to progress further along the road to more diversity and tolerance? 

If you look back over the last 10 or 20 years, I do think we're moving in the right direction as a society and have come a long way overall. But it's still important to take a stance against discrimination and to keep educating yourself. If you already know a lot about it, it comes down to passing on that knowledge to others, raising awareness and pointing out the issues. 

So you should still concern yourself with these issues even if you're not directly affected by them yourself?

Exactly. Sometimes it simply isn't enough not to be racist or homophobic. You have to be a lot more anti and make it clear that it's not right. You have to do something instead of saying that's not you and so it's nothing to do with you. That's so important.

"Sometimes it isn't enough not to be racist or homophobic."

It really is! So what does individuality mean for you in general?

I have a tattoo on my chest that says, "Humanity should be our race and love should be our religion". What I want to say with that is that everyone should be themselves and feel comfortable in their body, i.e. that people should be accepted for who they are by others and no one should have a problem with that. You should be free in your own body. That's easy for me to say as a privileged white man, of course, but in the end that's what individuality comes down to.

Do you ever think about what people think or say about you?

No, not really. I've never given it any thought. I've never been really hurt by it either. I've always been a confident person, but I also try to keep both feet on the ground and listen carefully to the people close to me because I'm interested in their opinion. I'm not the kind of person to say I don't care what other people think of me. Instead, I listen to what they have to say if I really have done something wrong or haven't realised something and someone points it out, I think about it and try to learn from it. It isn't the case that I don't care about anything or anybody. I feel OK the way I am, even though that's easy for me to say. I would hope everyone could say that of themselves, but I know it isn't like that, unfortunately.

In summary, then, you do what you like?

I think the sentence "respect and treat others the way you wish to be treated" sums it up nicely. Sometimes when I think about someone treating someone else badly, it's the case that they themselves wouldn't want to be treated like that, so I always try to treat other people with love and respect and keep it to myself if I don't like someone. Obviously, there are people who think I'm a crap player or I'm stupid or whatever. That's OK, but maybe they're better off keeping it to themselves. I don't want to be hurt myself, so I try not to hurt anyone else.

Has this way of thinking been of help to you in your life?

Yes, it has. I think it's a good way of thinking. I know it isn't easy for some people to go through life with this attitude. It isn't something you can turn on like a switch. I can't say whether I was born that way or whether it's something my family has given me. I'm just happy that's the way it is and I'd like to pass it on to other people. I'd like to help them, even though it isn't always easy.

Simon Makienok and Sebastian Ohlsson after the win in the derby at the Millerntor.

Simon Makienok and Sebastian Ohlsson after the win in the derby at the Millerntor.

Coming back to football, do you think it's still important to be a "typical man" to gain acceptance and make your way in the game? 

It's still a big issue that the football world is often very rough and macho. Occasionally, some people feel weak or unsure of themselves but don't like to show it in front of others. It shouldn't be that way. So I don't feel like a typical footballer at all, even though I might look like one. I hear that a lot when I meet new people, by the way. They say things like, "you're nothing like the way you look". It's never been important for me to demonstrate how strong I am to other people. I've always been emotional and I've always been myself. If I'm having a bad day, it's OK if I'm sad and quiet and act the way I feel. If I'm sad, it's totally OK to cry, though I don't think everyone in football sees it that way.

So often there's no place for feelings in football?

I don't know. I think there are people in football who are unsure of themselves in terms of their personality but don't want to show it or can't show it because they're scared of not surviving in the game and going under. It saddens me.

What can we as a club, the players, the fans or the media do to change things? 

It's hard to say what more St. Pauli could do as a club. They're definitely one of the clubs who do the most on these issues – at least among the clubs I've played for. I get the feeling that St. Pauli are among the best in the world at using their platform to draw attention to these things. I think it'll stay important to use your stage the best way you can. If you have the opportunity, you're almost obliged to use it to make progress on these issues. You shouldn't just say you're against something once a year, you have to stand up for your values and give them space. You can't do that often enough.

What would you wish for the future in terms of diversity, tolerance and equality?

My biggest wish is for everyone to feel they're free. We often talk about living in a free society where everyone can be themselves, but it simply isn't the case that everyone feels free. I would wish that everyone can be themselves and feel comfortable in their minds and bodies, regardless of their skin colour, their sexuality or their viewpoint. I hope we can become better as a society in this respect. 


Photos: Witters


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