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Behind the lesbian culture in women’s sports — and why it matters

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Alyssa is courting DeWanna who was married to Candice; Jasmine and Natisha are engaged, and Natisha and Courtney used thus far. Allie and a distinct Courtney are married, whereas Diana married her former teammate, Penny. No, this isn’t an episode about Alice’s chart on “The L Phrase”: It’s the WNBA, the place romances amongst teammates and league rivals are as anticipated as a deadly three-point shot.

And it’s not simply the WNBA that sees intracommunity romance: NWSL stars and teammates Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger are married, whereas Australia-U.S. nationwide soccer workforce rivals Sam Kerr and Kristie Mewis are dating (made well-known by the “They’re lesbians, Stacey” meme). In ladies’s hockey, three completely different pairs of former Staff USA and Staff Canada gamers are married — Meghan Duggan and Gillian Apps; Julie Chu and Caroline Ouellette; and Kathleen Kauth and Jayna Hefford.

It’s a dynamic that’s unique to ladies’s sports activities tradition, generally making workforce dynamics difficult. Nevertheless it’s not simply gossip that makes these romances of curiosity — this sort of insular, interconnected relationship net is quite common in lesbian and lesbian-adjacent tradition at massive.

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To place it into historic context, it’s necessary to grasp the evolution of lesbian subculture. “Within the late Nineteen Sixties and into the Nineteen Seventies, lesbian feminists had been actually robust advocates of non-monogamy — and we are likely to affiliate non-monogamy with homosexual males, however as a result of there was a lot overlap between lesbian activist communities and socialist politics and feminist politics, there was a strong ethos of non-possession,” explains Jane Ward, professor of gender and sexuality research on the College of California at Riverside and the creator of “The Tragedy of Heterosexuality.”

“To essentially love somebody meant to provide them their freedom — and that included their sexual freedom — so that you couldn’t personal somebody’s sexuality, you couldn’t possess somebody,” she says.

Persevering with into the Eighties and Nineties, Ward says, there was an emphasis on chosen households, as a result of so many queer individuals had been alienated and ostracized from their households of origin.

“This complete mission of care and family-making meant there was a norm in lesbian subculture the place simply since you break up doesn’t imply it is best to take away that particular person out of your life,” she says.

Mixed with the small neighborhood creating a way of sexual shortage and a notion that the universe of prospects is smaller for lesbians than for straight individuals, these elements have all converged to form the dynamic we see within the ladies’s sports activities neighborhood.

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It’s simply one other means that ladies’s sports activities areas are reflective of queerness: They middle sure points of queer tradition, making them safer locations to be out, and making them distinctive amongst an often homophobic and heteronormative men’s sports culture — even because the media and tradition at massive desires to heterosexualize ladies’s sports activities. For a few years, ladies’s sports activities has struggled towards the stereotype that every one ladies athletes are lesbians, whereas additionally going through the truth that a lot of them are.

The intra-league romantic relationships aren’t a brand new phenomenon, even when they’re extra seen now than they’ve been prior to now. The All-American Ladies Skilled Baseball League, the World Struggle II-era league that impressed the 1992 movie “A League of Their Personal,” did every thing they may to ensure that their players were perceived as straight, together with implementing a “no fraternization” coverage designed to discourage participant relationships. Even nonetheless, they existed, and ladies had been despatched residence from the league or traded away if these relationships had been found.

Within the Nineteen Seventies and ’80s, the Nationwide Ladies’s Soccer League boasted quite a lot of teammate romances, locker room hookups and flings amongst rivals. As I found whereas reporting “Hail Mary,” my guide on the league, lots of the gamers on these groups would depart follow and hang around with one another at their native lesbian bar; they had been teammates, but additionally pals who existed in shared neighborhood. On the time, although, it wasn’t secure to be publicly out, so many of the ladies by no means mentioned their sexual orientation within the media.

Right now, queerness is way more socially accepted, and folks’s livelihoods aren’t threatened in the identical means. In leagues just like the WNBA, the place there are such a lot of queer gamers, the sheer numbers make it a lot safer — and inevitable — for a lot of athletes to not conceal their relationships from the general public.

These seen relationships serve to normalize queerness on a big, public scale. They usually additionally introduce mainstream tradition to a distinct mind-set about relationship and neighborhood, one the place exes steadily coexist and work together with each other — one thing acquainted to any one that has ever walked right into a lesbian bar and seen their pal making out with their ex whereas one other ex is sipping a drink on the subsequent desk.

“One of many hallmarks of heteronormativity is that possession piece, and folks typically have actually acrimonious separations the place they go from loving somebody to hating them, completely eradicating somebody from their lives,” Ward says. “If straight persons are going to glean one thing from this, it’s: What’s happening in straight tradition that stops straight individuals from having the ability to be pals with somebody after a separation?”

However the advantages of queer existence shouldn’t simply function instructing moments for straight followers; these relationships are, at the start, a beacon to queer followers. Sports activities — notably males’s sports activities — is usually a spot the place queer people don’t really feel secure. However when you already know there are massive numbers of athletes on the sector who’re homosexual, it alerts to queer followers that the house is for them.

In truth, there are some ladies’s sports activities followers who acquired into the league as a result of of how overtly and visibly queer the gamers had been. A kind of followers was Mari Vázquez, who began following the WNBA through the 2020 season after studying a post on the queer women’s website Autostraddle concerning the gayest groups (disclosure: I wrote that publish).

“I didn’t have a robust sense of neighborhood. I felt disconnected from queer areas,” Vázquez explains. “I needed to discover a neighborhood once more, and since I encountered it on Autostraddle, it gave me an entry level into those that had been focused on the identical issues that I used to be.” Vázquez says she doesn’t simply observe the on-the-court motion, but additionally retains up on who’s courting whom.

The dynamic, after all, isn’t with out problems. Knowledgeable athlete can also be at work when they’re on a workforce, and so they’re courting their co-workers, making for office dynamics that may be difficult.

“There was some hesitation, as a result of anytime you’re courting individuals within the office, it doesn’t matter what occupation it’s, there’s clearly some issues that include it,” Jasmine Thomas, who’s engaged to her Connecticut Solar teammate Natisha Hiedeman, told Sports Illustrated. “You don’t need to mess up chemistry. You don’t need to mess up something that has to do with what’s happening on the court docket.”

It’s a dialog that Vázquez says she’s had along with her companion, who’s a cisgender man who grew up taking part in sports activities.

“He’ll be like, ‘I don’t perceive why you’ll need to date somebody in your workforce or how that impacts workforce dynamics or from a training perspective,’” Vázquez says. “However that’s so normalized in queer ladies’s areas and that component of the tradition has emerged within the league, which is unsurprising, as a result of it’s a queer house.”

And that, for followers like Vázquez, is a big a part of the enchantment: “There’s a component of that that’s a enjoyable second of recognition for me.”

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