“GET OUT!” Josh Cavallo exclaims in disbelief. His surprise is prompted by my pointing out that he looks like a total natural in front of the camera—he’s just appeared in a campaign for new Australian brand Unison, and his blue steel is Tyson Beckford-levels of good.
“I do not think that at all,” laughs the Adelaide United midfielder. “I have no experience in modelling, so when I’m on the set of a photo shoot I’m always like, ‘where’s the soccer ball? Where are my soccer boots? I have no idea what to do!”
You’d never know it. Next to a cast of personalities accustomed to being on film, model-turned-actor Josh Heuston and actress Madison Brown among them, Cavallo holds his own. It feels like a sign of how comfortable the soccer star is in his own skin; how happy he is to be out and proud.
“I go to sleep at the end of the day and I feel really comfortable with who I am,” he tells me. “I don’t really care about what someone on Instagram is going to say about the way I dress, or how I do my hair… I’m really proud of who I am.”
Two years ago, though, it was a totally different story. Rather than feeling safe to flaunt his personal style, Cavallo was hiding it—along with anything else about himself that might suggest he was “different”.
“I didn’t want to give out any hints that I was gay,” he says. “So I was always thinking about what the others were thinking. I had scenarios in my head 24/7, because when we’d have a drink break or after training in the dressing rooms, the boys would ask me stuff like, ‘who’s your girlfriend? What’s this? What’s that?’
“It was similar if you dressed a certain way. You would get asked questions about what you were wearing,” he continues.
“Unfortunately, being the first in the world in football that is gay, I’m gonna have a target on my back.”
Since Cavallo posted the video in which he came out as gay—a video which now has over two million views on Instagram—he says the culture at his soccer club has softened. Especially as it pertains to fashion. “Some of the players walk in with Crocs,” he says with a laugh. “It’s really nice to see the individuality of everyone. It actually improves us on the field, too, because we’re closer together and more comfortable as a group.”
Unfortunately, the safe space at Adelaide United isn’t a microcosm of soccer more broadly. The sport is famously known as ‘the world game’, but there are parts of the world where homophobia continues to thrive, and, in the case of the 2022 World Cup host country, where being gay is an imprisonable offence. Cavallo came out close to two years ago, and still, he’s the only openly gay professional top flight men’s footballer in the world. He receives thousands of messages each day, and while most of them are positive, a decent amount are far from it.
“Soon after I came out I [received] homophobic abuse and it was really, really poor. It hurt. Unfortunately, being the first in the world in football that is gay, I’m gonna have a target on my back,” he says. “Is it okay? No it’s not. But we are paving the way for the next generations to make it easier for the next person and then the next and then the next.”
To say the culture of men’s football—and men’s sport more generally—is a far cry from that of its female counterparts is, perhaps, the grossest understatement of all time. The FIFA Women’s World Cup wrapped weeks ago, yet still, Australia is high on the fumes of spectating a sport where the sexuality of players, coaches and fans is irrelevant to the game itself. Why is an environment like this so difficult for men’s sport to embrace?
Cavallo says he’s been asking himself this question since before he realised he was gay.
“I played with a lot of the Matildas girls when I was younger, and I saw in their teams that they had so many LGBTQIA+ players and they just didn’t care. And that was when I was like… ‘hang on a minute, why can’t we do this in the men’s game? What’s the difference?”
When I bounce the question back off Cavallo, he pulls that face people make when asked a question that has no simple answer. “Men’s sport… and football in particular… the masculinity is very toxic,” he offers. “And even when it came to the men’s  World Cup—I wouldn’t be able to live in the country that hosted it; I would be criminalised and possibly killed for being who I am. So that’s how far off we are from the men’s to the women’s game.
“But that’s kind of what pushed me over to saying, ‘I don’t care what people think, I’m gonna be myself ’cause I wanna make the men’s game like the women’s game.”
While, when it comes to inclusivity, the men’s game is still light years behind the women’s, Cavallo is convinced it’s making positive strides forward. Earlier this year, the A-League introduced its first-ever Pride Round, and Cavallo is passionate about involving himself in causes beyond the pitch that shift the stigma around who a professional male athlete should and shouldn’t be, and what they should and shouldn’t do.
Such as signing up to guest judge RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under.
“I was starstruck—and I don’t get starstruck very often,” Cavallo gushes. “RuPaul is one of my role models, because I saw what she was able to do in her industry—how she came out and became an icon in the space of the drag queens. And that’s something that I only dream and wish to be in the sport of football.”
The episode he guest judged comes out on September 8, so he can’t say too much about it just yet. “All of the queens smashed it. It was really hard to critique them because they all did such a good job,” he offers.
Cavallo’s charisma doesn’t just show on Drag Race, in the campaign for Unison—a brand he resonates with not only because its clothes match his own personal style, but because of its inclusive values—or on the soccer pitch. He carries himself with the natural grace of a role model no matter where he is, and although soccer is his first love, it’s not difficult to see that helping other people feel safe and valued is a pretty close second.
“At the end of the day, look… I’m only 23, so I’m still young,” says Cavallo when I ask about his future. “I just want to leave a pathway for people so they don’t feel like they have to announce who they are, or they don’t feel like they have to dress or act differently when they go to training.”
Speaking of training, he’s working hard at it. The 2023/2024 A-League season kicks off in October, and after losing the semifinals twice, Cavallo says his team is hungry for revenge. “Melbourne City is going to be the team to beat,” he says with a smile. “But we’re not intimidated. We can beat anyone on our day. I’m sure we’ll come home with the championship this year.”