Op-ed: Will Suspicion of 'Gender Fraud' Police LGBTQ Olympians?
With 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.
LGBTQ 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.
For 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.
“As 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 the book Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing The Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing up Gay in America, published in September 2008.
The question of who is 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.
For example, Olympic basketball player Lisa Leslie was perceived to be a “girly-girl,” 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.
Sports 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 participation.
But 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.