An advice column about sexuality, gender, dating and overall queerness
By Mollie Whuppie /// Staff Writer
What is it like being queer in athletics?
Being queer and participating in athletics (especially varsity sports) leads to a particular kind of intersection, and the experience tends to be a little different for everyone. The change in experience can be due to age, area, race and identity (to name a few). Coming out to my team was probably the hardest part of being a queer athlete. You’re constantly together eating, changing and traveling.
When I did choose to come out I was worried that the community I had built would react badly and cease to exist. Thankfully, I was very fortunate and my team and my best friends all accepted me. Due to my own bravery, many of my best friends were influenced and came out right after I did (who knew!).
However — and unfortunately -— the athletic world is not all peaches and roses with a happy ending. Instead, there’s a side of athletics that is not so good: hyperfeminine and hypermasculine sports remain very gendered. So, when someone comes out as anything other than heterosexual/cisgender it’s very easy to be mislabeled or othered. Despite Lewis & Clark Athletics having a very accepting community, often there is a sense of otherness that comes with being part of such a small community. This could mean being a more masculine woman in a stereotypically feminine sport or a more feminine man in a hypermasculine sport. Because of the nature of participating in a sport, people’s experiences are necessarily complicated. Athletes are expected to be strong, competitive and aggressive (all traditionally masculine traits). For a woman to play a high level sport, she has to deal with societal ideas that she is, as a result, a “masculine woman” (which as can you imagine has all sorts of labels). Gender expectations, combined with the sports world, leads to a constant navigation of your own gender identity.
To me, though, the best part of being a queer woman in athletics is the amount of lesbian and bisexual visibility in mentors, coaches and administration. The realm of athletics has been leading the charge for lesbian visibility. Brittney Griner is just one of many “out” players that began to challenge gender binaries. For example, she is the first woman sponsored by Nike to model male clothing. Watching women challenge the norm and be proud of their identity within their sport, and seeing how positive the response to their identity was, helps tremendously. I think what many people forget is that coming out is a long process and for many LGBTQIA people you have to come out over and over and over again (for further insight on this process, see my Nov. 6 “Coming Out” article). Hence, finding the strength to do this continually can be hard. But seeing men like Michael Sam come out shortly before the NFL draft, or your LGBTQIA coach have supportive families and fans who adore them, makes it easier to keep coming out to every new person in your life.
Mollie Whuppie & Friends