Friday, February 9, 2007

Coming out of the Locker Room

Photo caption: Morning on Fire. January 2007

Former NBA basketballer John Amaechi came out last week, as in announcing to the world that he's gay. This shouldn't be a big deal except that there is no place in the world where homosexuality is more feared than in a professional sports locker room. I know. I've been there.

The good news for current NBA ballers is that Amaechi is no longer actually playing anymore . Whew! Their masculinity is safe for the moment, but S.O.L. wonders how long it will be until a current pro athlete can be a gay and nobody gives a shit. I predict the Cubs will win the World Series long before that ever happens.

But in perusing the web about this story this week, I saw more than a few message board comments about womens' pro athletes -- the gist of which is they're all lesbians. Um, could we all try to be a little less fucking ignorant?

Supposedly educated folk are not immune apparently. I belong to a private message board of professional writers and we have a sometimes lively discussion about the sports world. When someone posted about Amaechi's outing himself, it didn't take long before the thread turned into a guessing game about which women pro athletes are gay -- and how, really, everybody knows how most of them are. (I can't share any of the specific material here because I'm bound by the site's TOS rules so you'll just have to take my word for it.)

Labeling women pro athletes as gay may well be the last, best safest place for bigots to be out loud and proud. Even Wikipedia has a ridiculously biased (and unconfirmed) reference page on this subject.

For straighter dope, check out this book or the Women's Sports Foundation, which has long been a reliable place to get the truth out on this subject. In fact, there's a very thoughtful piece here that goes into all the ways women athletes are misrepresented or marginalized.

I have personal experience on both sides of the coin, having played sports as a child and then later covering womens athletics as a sportswriter. When I was nine years old, I was among the first girls in New York to play Little League Baseball with the boys. I'm happy to report that for the most part, my presence wasn't a big deal to my teammates and opponents. It was their parents and other adults who felt the most threatened.

One man, a gym teacher no less, once told my mother that her daughter shouldn't play baseball because and I quote, "she might slide into second base and get breast cancer." Mull on that heaping plate of stupid for a second. I was told to "go back to the kitchen" and was labeled a "tom boy" and a "dyke" -- I admit to the first but as for the second, well I'm here to report that playing sports did not turn me into a Lesbian. Not that there would be anything wrong with being gay, but seriously folks, for the vast majority of us, your sexuality is hard-wired into your DNA - you either is or you ain't and there isn't much you can do to change it.

There's a lot wrong about the way women are portrayed in the media in general -- I'm not sure you can be too thin in America today -- but one thing you can't really argue with is that being active is a good thing for everybody -- mentally and physically. The last thing a girl needs to worry about when the time comes for her to sign up for a sports team is whether it's going to make people question her sexuality.


susie said...

So here's the deal in our sexually repressed culture: women having sex with women is masturbatory fodder for most guys, hence the preponderance of girl on girl action in porn. And many of them, including the one I date, believe that these women are waiting in trembling anticipation for a man to join them.

Bless their hearts.

S.O.L. said...

Susie - that was my laugh riot for the day. Thanks!

Undercover Black Man said...

Great post, S.O.L. Here's what I wonder, vis-a-vis lesbian athletes: is there room to acknowledge a unique reality without tipping over into simple-minded homophobic ignorance?

From what I know, having talked to a few police detectives, many female cops are gay. Not all of them, of course. But a lot. Just like a lot of male nurses are gay.

I'm curious as to whether the aggressive, competitive nature of sport suits whatever is biochemically or psychologically unique about lesbians. Again, I'm not all hung-up on the topic... I'm just interested in how the world works. What would be your honest ballpark guess as to the percentage of WNBA players that are gay? Any basis for a guess?

S.O.L. said...

Interesting questions, UMB. I'm not sure about the psychology of what hardwires women to be lesbians in general or whether they are more apt to play highly competitive sports. I was looking for studies on the subject and didn't find much on the web so I'm going to dig a little deeper and see what's out there.

My guess is, and this is only a guess, is that there's probably a higher percentage of gay women playing in the WNBA but that the numbers aren't as high as people think.

The issue is further clouded by, among other things, when an athlete does come out (I’m thinking of current WNBA-er Sheryl Swoopes) and says she doesn’t think she was born gay.

Swoopes was quotedin ESPN The Magazine back in April 2006 as saying

“ I didn't always know I was gay. I honestly didn't. Do I think I was born this way? No. And that's probably confusing to some, because I know a lot of people believe that you are.”

I don’t think she’s trying to say that being around women “turned” her but the implication is there (which is why the quote was/is considered controversial in the gay community).

I know this is the claim of some gay women (my own cousin says this about herself) but I wonder how much of that is them not understanding who they really are, or knowing but refusing to face it. I can’t speak for everyone but I sure as hell know I’m not always honest with myself. And I know a lot of women who have had an endless string of bad experiences with men and who love their girlfriends like sisters, but have no desire to sleep with them.

Having said all that, this is me talking, for whatever that’s worth, which ain’t much. So I will research the subject and blog about it when I get some answers.