Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Women's Sports and the Lavendar Menace

I was pleased to read this well-done article by Graham Hays at ESPN, of all places, openly discussing the problem of pervasive homophobia in women's sports. The article centers around Olympic and pro softball player Lauren Lappin, who came out before participating in the 2008 Olympics.

Because of the stereotype about the ubiquity of lesbains in athletics, some might assume that lesbians and bisexual women are accepted within the world of women's collegiate and professional sports, and in college softball in particular. Unfortunately, many heterosexual athletic administrators and coaches don't appreciate this Lavendar Menace of women's sports, those women who give all female athletes and coaches a bad name. Thus, as Hays notes:

"As a result, softball can itself paradoxically become a breeding ground of intolerance among those on the inside seeking to assert a place within the supposed normalcy of heterosexuality."

Indeed, during my long athletic career, some of the most homophobic environments I have been in were girls' and women's sports' teams, teams where members enforced compulsory heterosexuality on each other and virulently ridiculed anyone suspected of being gay while coaches looked the other way. It is a homophobia grounded in the insecurity that develops when the larger misogynistic society uses homophobia to denigrate female athletes, but it is a hurtful homophobia nonetheless.

For instance, Hays writes of elite college sports' programs with "de facto bans on gay players," of homophobic recruiting pitches to parents' and athletes that are centered around a rival school's "gay-friendly culture," and players benched or kicked off a team if they come out. Yes, lesbian athletes have been writing about this problem for years, but kudos to a male ESPN writer taking on this subject. Maybe now it will start to be addressed more seriously?

The bottom line is that a player or coach's sexual orientation should be a non-issue in sports but as much as many lesbian and bisexual women would like it to be a non-issue, they often have to endure homophobic witch hunts and go to absurd degrees to hide details of their private lives that heterosexuals can freely flaunt with no fear of retribution.

Which is why I find it incredibly unfortunate that, via AfterEllen, girls' basketball programs like this exist where, in addition to teaching basketball skills, this "Christian" basketball programs "encourag[es] young girls to be proud and secure in not being part of the lesbian and homosexual lifestyle which is so prevalent in woman's/girl's athletics."

Why I find this message so reprehensible is that this message of hetero pride assumes that acceptance of homosexuality is the norm and heterosexuality the deviant, othered status, a reversal that turns the reality of pervasive homophobia and persecution within female athletics on its head. Any narrative positing that it's heterosexual girls who need to learn pride and security in their orientations implies that it is not lesbian and bisexual girls who are persecuted, but heterosexuals. For instance, citing no evidence or even anecdata, coach Jaye Collins opines:

"Many girls, as early as middle school, are being influenced or 'tested', or converted and convinced that if they play sports, specifically basketball, they must be, should be, or need to be gay."

The reality, of course, is that most girls, as early as pre-school, are influenced and convinced that in order to be a real, normal woman they must be, should be, or need to be heterosexual, especially if they play sports.

That anti-gay Christians, a group of people who share a changeable trait and who see it as part of their religious duty to recruit others into their lifestyle, consistently charge that it is gays who possess these traits is always a fun reversal as well.

No comments: