This is a Man’s World: Male-Centered-ness and the LGBTQIA Community
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Aisha N. Davis unpacks the difference that gender makes in coming out in professional sports.
Last Monday, the world was abuzz with conversation about Jason Collins’ coming out story. Hundreds of news outlets posted the story, thousands of fans sounded off in support, and millions of people continued to ignore Brittney Griner.
Go ahead, Google her name right now. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.
Like Collins, Brittney Griner was interviewed by Sports Illustrated. But her interview was published 12 days earlier. Although similar in nature, Griner’s revelation was not as celebrated or widely spread as Collins’. This discrepancy is not very surprising, given the known, and widely discussed, inequalities plaguing the LGBTQIA* community. The reaction to Collins and Griner’s coming out stories made me pause for two reasons: 1) is it unsurprising when we find out a female athlete is a lesbian and 2) outside of sports, what might this mean for the greater LGBTQIA community?
I will acknowledge that there is a difference between Griner and Collins coming out. For instance, Collins is being hyped as the first male athlete in a major team sport to come out while still playing (though it appears that Glenn Burke actually deserve credit for coming out in the 1970’s). Additionally, Griner did not start her professional career closeted. Then again, I don’t remember as much fanfare when Sheryl Swoopes came out in 2005…
The differences between Collins and Griner do not lie in race or sport (although, it should be noted that WNBA players make significantly less than NBA players). The greatest difference is the fact that Collins is a man and Griner is a woman.
More specifically, Collins is a male athlete, someone expected to be masculine, assertive and strong (think BE AGGRESSIVE, B-E AGGRESSIVE!). Griner is a female athlete and is expected to embody these adjectives as well. However, when Griner and other female athletes do this, they are forced into a mold that was etched in the image of men. This means Griner is supposed to assume attributes that have been considered masculine for centuries. As such, it is easy for people to shrug off her coming out story, because she already “looks masculine” and being attracted to women was just the next logical step. Collins, on the other hand, has stepped out of the norm for male athletes because manly men should go for girly girls. If he were effeminate or flamboyant, people would have been less surprised or said they had an inkling that he was gay.
If we flip through TV channels, we see Anderson Cooper and Ellen DeGeneres and Rachel Maddow. We see Wanda Sykes and RuPaul and Jay Alexander. We see Jay Manuel and Rosie O’Donnell and Portia de Rossi. Now, let’s think about the generalizations about the LGBTQIA community. If we all lined up Jay Alexander, Jay Manuel, RuPaul and Anderson Cooper, how many would you have guessed are gay? Let’s look at Rosie O’Donnell, Wanda Sykes, Ellen DeGeneres, Rachel Maddow and Portia de Rossi. How many lesbians would you have spotted? Is this because we have an idea of how a gay man and a lesbian woman should look or act?
Do women like Brittney Griner inherently embody the lesbian stereotype while the Jason Collins’s of the world do not? Is it because, like society in general, the LGBTQIA community has been affected by misogyny?
Let’s take this a step further. Consider that “femme” bisexual and lesbian women are often thought of as women who could not find a man, and, if they found one, they would renounce their sexual attraction to women or embrace if for a threesome. This perception can lead to, at best, someone being considered a LUG or, at worst, the crime of “corrective rape.” However, “effeminate” bisexual and gay men are not assumed to be waiting around for women, or, hoping in their hearts that the right woman will find them. The fact that men are the ultimate desirable for either sex is clear evidence of a male-centered society.
Lesbians can call themselves gay women, but you don’t really hear about lesbian men (except that episode of The L Word). We oftentimes find ourselves talking about gay marriage and marriage equality, both of which are meant to encompass the entire LGBTQIA community. It seems that, beyond assumptions of individual people’s sexuality, the LGBTQIA community is mirroring romance languages: whenever you add one man to a group of women, the group takes on the masculine form.
Don’t get me wrong, I long for the days when an athlete’s coming out story does not make headlines and LGBTQIA people will not be subject to stereotypes and assumptions. I hope that my future children will get a chance to read books about families that don’t look like theirs and feel like they can share any identity that fits them best. And I pray that we will soon see a day when all people are treated justly. I want a day that will be a cause for celebration for every person under the LGBTQIA acronym, not just gay, cisgender men.
And, since that day is yet to be upon us, and since homosexuality can still result in death in some places, I tip my hat to both Collins and Griner, and appreciate their willingness to share truths that often go unspoken.
*LGBTQIA is the acronym used to represent lesbian, gay, genderqueer, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual people (as well as their allies in some instances).