[Even as] there is increased speculation about whether a male athlete — any male athlete — will come out while still playing a major professional team sport, one of the best female athletes in the history of team sports comes out, and the reaction is roughly equivalent to what one might see when a baseball manager reveals his starting rotation for a three-game series in July.
What’s the story?
First, female athletes have been coming out for a while:
Individual-sport stars like the tennis legend Martina Navratilova and team-sport players like basketball’s Sheryl Swoopes and soccer’s Megan Rapinoe are among the women to continue playing after publicly discussing their sexuality.
That’s great. Griner’s ‘news’ isn’t news because it’s old news. We’re on our way to a post-gay society. Hurrah.
But perhaps Griner’s ‘announcement’ made no waves because the really ‘problematic’–and thus ‘important’–way of being gay is to be male and gay. Which is to say that if you are a woman and gay, it’s not that much of a ‘problem’, because all the problems we homophobically associate with gayness–you know, like weakness and being, er, feminine–are true of women anyway (misogyny and homophobia – a twofer!). So, your coming out isn’t a big deal. Or: Who cares if you are a gay woman? Being a woman is kinda gay anyway; if you were a man we’d pay attention. This is one big sexist mess.
“We talk a lot in the L.G.B.T. community about how sexism is a big part of what contributes to homophobia,” said Anna Aagenes, the executive director of GO! Athletes, a national network of L.G.B.T. athletes. “It’s disheartening when there are so many great role model female athletes out that we’re so focused on waiting for a male pro athlete to come out in one of the four major sports.”
And then there is the stereotype that successful female athletes are gay, that strong and athletic women are gay, and that they are so, because, you know, they are ‘manly’ and hence ‘unnatural’, which then feeds right back into the notion that women cannot be strong and athletic without being, somehow, ‘un-women.’
“There’s certainly going to be people who say, ‘Oh, it’s just another lesbian,’ ” Murrell said….That persistent stereotype about female athletes does damage on multiple levels….While a number of heterosexual male athletes…have publicly supported the efforts of L.G.B.T. athlete groups, it has been much harder to find straight female athletes to speak out…“We’ve had tremendous success in getting straight male players to speak to the issue; we’re having a tougher time finding straight female athletes speaking on this issue because they’ve spent their entire careers fighting the perception that they’re a lesbian.”
So, take the notion that a woman being gay is not a big deal, combine that with the stereotype that to be strong and athletic you have to be a not-quite-normal-woman i.e., gay, and you’ve possibly gained some additional insight into why Griner’s news isn’t news.