The 2012 London Summer Olympics begins July 27th.
women who chose to participate in sports often went to great lengths to
display traditional heterosexual cultural markers through their
clothing, hairstyles and mannerisms.
we all know that homophobia in sports is the other "Don't Ask, Don't
Tell,” twenty-one openly LGBTQ athletes, two coaches and two gayParalympians will compete for the gold. Three LGBTQ Olympians will represent the U.S., Seimone Augustus (basketball), Megan Rapinoe (soccer), and Lisa Raymond (doubles tennis).
Lesbian U.S. wrestler Stephany Lee qualified for London but
was kicked off the team after testing positive for marijuana. And with
women's softball no longer an Olympic sport (remember those hotties!) the number of out lesbians is lower.
the 12,602 Olympians in this year's games, less than 10 percent (126)
are openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ). ButLondon's numbers are twice those of Beijing’s in 2008.
an LGBTQ Olympian doesn’t elicit as much homophobic shock and awe as it
did when four-time American Olympic gold medalist, Greg Louganis,
competed in the 80's. But homophobia finds a way to surface, and
nowadays it’s not so much about an athlete's sexual orientation as it
is about suspecting that a LGBTQ athlete is perpetrating "gender fraud."
Will these London games have their "gender fraud" squad trolling the stadium, looking for impostors?
The Beijing Olympics did.
In 2008 Time Magazine listed 100 Olympic athletes to watch out for. Dara Torres,
nine-time Olympic medalist, was one of them. At 41, Torres was swimming
faster then than in her 20’s, revealing a more muscular and tone
physique. While the question of steroid use could be asked, questions
concerning her gender and sexual orientation should not.
The Beijing Olympic
organizers devised a “gender-determination laboratory” for “suspected”
athletes like Torres, to catch “gender frauds,” men masquerading as
experts at Peking Union Medical College Hospital evaluated each
“suspected” female for “gender verification” based on blood samples to
test their genes, hormones, chromosomes and, first and foremost, their
external appearance. According to these experts, Torres, with her
washboard abs, on appearance alone, should fail.
And while we know reducing female athletes to their sex chromosomes is absurd, America has
a different test to verify the authenticity of its “gender frauds” -
culture markers of beauty and femininity. And Torres, on appearance
physiques have always suggested a norm of beauty and femininity that
“supposedly” many female athletes don’t meet. And their image as strong
women has always created fear about a deluge of lesbians, intersexuals and transwomen titling the level playing field away from “real” women.
the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972, prohibiting
discrimination based on gender in education programs and activities
receiving federal funding, women’s participation in high school and
collegiate sports increased. But with women’s increased participation
in sports, the damaging stereotype of the lesbian athlete became
prominent as a way to police unfeminine behavior. And many women who
chose to participate in sports often went to great lengths to display
traditional heterosexual cultural markers through their clothing,
hairstyles and mannerisms.
athletes must constantly monitor how they are being perceived by
teammates, coaches, endorsers and the media in order to avoid
suspicion. They are expected to maintain a public silence and decorum
so that their identity does not tarnish the rest of the team.
example, tennis great Martina Navratilova, who is a lesbian, was
publicly taunted for not bringing femininity and beauty to her game.
Her muscular physique and supposedly masculine appearance killed not
only sponsor endorsements but also attempted to kill her spirit in
playing the game.
Women’s physiques have always suggested a norm of beauty and femininity that “supposedly” many female athletes don’t meet.
a professional tennis player, when I came out, my focus wasn’t on
things like losing endorsements or handling the press or even
sacrificing personal privacy. The biggest thing on my mind was being
true to myself: I realized that I couldn’t go on being a champion on
the court if I was leaving half of myself off the court,” Navratilova
wrote in Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America .
question of who’s a “real” female and who isn’t will persist as long as
lesbian-baiting continues to be part and parcel of the world of sports.
example, Olympic basketball player Lisa Leslie was perceived to be a
“girly- girly;” therefore, not a lesbian, but certainly a weak and
non-aggressive player. Tennis phenoms the William Sisters are aggressive players but too muscular, especially Serena, to be seen as feminine.
programs are a particular challenge when attempting to make schools,
playgrounds, and locker rooms safe of our LGBTQ children. And as long
as young women will be stigmatized as lesbian it will control women’s
sports can also provide innumerable opportunities to teach valuable
life lessons and can be a powerful influence in addressing myriad
social issues. Eliminating LGBTQ- baiting can be one of them.
Hopefully, the London Olympics will model an example of it.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist, the Rev. Irene Monroe, is a religion columnist, theologian, and public speaker. She is the Coordinator of the African-American Roundtable of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry (CLGS) at the Pacific School of Religion. A
native of Brooklyn, Rev. Monroe is a graduate from Wellesley College
and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and served as a
pastor at an African-American church before coming to Harvard Divinity
School for her doctorate as a Ford Fellow. She was recently named to
MSNBC’s list of 10 Black Women You Should Know. Reverend Monroe is the author of Let Your Light Shine Like a Rainbow Always: Meditations on Bible Prayers for Not’So’Everyday Moments. As an African-American feminist theologian, she speaks for a sector of society that is frequently invisible. Her website is irenemonroe.com. Click here to contact the Rev. Monroe.