Brittney Griner and Race, Gender, Sexuality and Sports
I just read an article in The New York Times called Female Star Comes Out as Gay, and Sports World Shrugs, by Sam Borden and it is in reference to the awesome Black female basketball superstar Brittney Griner. She shined at Baylor University and recently became the number 1 draft pick for the WNBA team Phoenix Mercury.
In the article, Borden asks why her revelation is met with little response as the world awaits a professional male athlete to reveal being gay. The people he asked alluded to the sexism and stereotypes involved, which you can read in the article.
Though I cannot cite why this is the response she receives (insults or ignoring) from the perspective of a lesbian, as I am heterosexual and have heterosexual privilege, I believe it’s a combination of factors that contribute to this (stemming from patriarchy, male privilege, capitalism, sexism, misogynoir, homophobia), ones that allude to her intersectional experience, which includes:
Men’s sports are always treated with higher regard than women’s sports, period. No announcement from a female athlete is going to generate the attention that an announcement from a male athlete does, regardless of what the announcement is. Such a division is clearly seen in men’s NCAA sports versus women’s, let alone in professional sports. (Even in Olympic sports, male sports get more primetime coverage [outside of volleyball, track and gymnastics] and while most can easily cite Usain Bolt as the fastest man in the world, do they know that Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is the fastest woman in the world? They’re both Jamaicans. This gender issue isn’t even accounting for the racist [and sexist] media issues regarding Olympic sports.)
Female athletes are always assumed to be lesbians UNLESS the media and public deem that they meet an almost hypersexualized version of femininity to derail such homophobic assumptions for misogynist ones. Further, the sheer act of being physical and competitive (as in sports) are associated with patriarchal notions of gender, so women engaging in sports is often viewed as being “male-like.” (We see the same type of rhetoric regarding women in combat, for example.)
Some people who claim to be tolerant (as if tolerance alone is enough) of LGBTQ people are only “tolerant” through a fetishized and disrespectful way; they’ll accept lesbians but not gay men, because in their self-centered minds, lesbians solely exist to “perform” for men, not as independent humans in their own relationships with their own meaningful lives. They do not see lesbians as a “threat” in the way that they do gay men, so to them, a female athlete “coming out” is not worth a response in the way a male athlete coming out is; in that their only response to the latter is anger.
Black women are already viewed as not “feminine” with the combination of racism, sexism, misogynoir and homophobia shaping these perceptions. Thus, it wouldn’t matter what her sexuality is to homophobic people; they already have negative views of lesbians and Black women in general, so Brittney existing at that intersection is a "duh, I already knew she’d be gay" reaction from some, a reaction shaped in stereotypes, not actual acceptance of who she is.
No one should feel forced to come out and no one who chooses to do so should be given disregard, silence or disrespect as a reply. Recognizing a person’s full humanity is embracing who they are completely—not who people want them to be or stereotyped them to be.
Brittney Griner is an exquisite athlete and seems to be a very confident young woman, comfortable in her own skin, sexuality and ability. As we’ve seen, a Black woman who is happy and self-possessed is deemed a threat to many and an object of scorn to even more. When a 9-year-old Black girl with confidence and talent like Quvenzhané could have so many angered in their seas of hatred, seeing nasty negative responses to Griner’s talent or purposeful ignoring/disregarding (and not because of acceptance, as I illustrated) of Griner’s sexuality doesn’t surprise me at all, actually.
I hope that she truly shines in the WNBA and enjoys doing it, and that her talent, skill and confidence continues to inspire.