(This story was published in 2002).
By: Jen Moore
I've run the circles. I know for a fact that there are more than just me in all of varsity athletics at Penn. I've run into them at bars, seen them with their partners, had my friends tell me they've met so-and-so from this team. Why, then, was I the only one earlier this year, and am now only one of two in all of Penn's varsity athletics who chooses to be out?
Last year, I wrote an article for our newspaper's yearly queer supplement that was passive and compassionate, and though I still believe that we all need to be comforting to people who are possibly questioning, I am not writing this article for them. Unfortunately, considering the audience, I'll be preaching to the choir or the closeted athletes and people in the community will probably be the only ones to read it and jump further into the closet. Guys, it's deep and dark, and you're already backed all the way into the corner.
I am writing this for those who create a hostile environments we've been kind enough to label as "heterosexist," when, in fact, they are "homophobic" and even worse, homo-haters. With this article, I've put away my usual euphemisms and let my compassionate personality take a back seat. I am about to leave the University that has structured my life for the past four years, and I refuse to have any regrets.
I am proud of who I am. I hope that you are able to look yourself in the mirror and say the same thing. There are many people, however, who are not able to be fully proud of who they are; who are condemned to this deep, dark, hidden closet to live in pain, depression, fear and self-loathing. As many aspects of life, only the individual is in control. However, there are social factors that give people reasonable clues to encourage them to sustain this private life, and it is no secret that these social factors are more prevalent in certain mini-communities within Penn. Athletics is certainly one of them.
When I came to Penn, I had been out to myself for two years. Most of my friends knew, and my parents knew, as well. However, given that I was an athlete, thrown into a huge, intimidating environment, I jumped back into the closet and lived my first year in secrecy. Trust me when I say that this is no fun. I had to worry about many thing. Who I told, if anyone. Who I was seen with. What buildings and rooms I was seen walking into. What I said. How I said it. Who I hugged. How I hugged them. Who I talked to. Not to mention my attitude in my locker room. I didn't want to tip my teammates off or make them feel uncomfortable around me. We were in this together. I tiptoed around this University, worried about every move I made, feeling isolated and often put on the spot to either lie or face the music, divulging my personal preferences.
Sophomore year, I opened up. I lived life as I am. You know what? No one cared. Why, then, did I spend my entire first year denying myself those "unalienable" rights? Just so everyone around me could be comfortable? I was a martyr . . . no longer.
But why am I one of two, along with another softball player, Lindsay Wagner? Am I truly an anomaly?
There is a reason that there are not more out athletes than there are. There is a reason there are not more out members of the media than there are. There is a reason Rosie O'Donnell has held out until now. There is hatred out there; you may be a hater, yourself.
It is a fact that homophobia runs rampant in athletics. Take the instance of the WNBA, countering the perception it is loaded with lesbians by listing boyfriends and husbands of the members of the league in a PR move. Take Alissa Wykes, a player for the National Women's Football League Liberty Belles who was chastised by the league's president for coming out. Take Rene Portland, the coach of the Penn State basketball team who refuses to recruit "those people," regardless of their skill level. Take the pitches that some coaches give to recruits, that they have a "straight" coaching staff, and are the only one in their league with that "straight" member or members of their coaching staff. All of this tells me, and questioning athletes, to be martyrs, to "take one for the team" . . . that it is not OK to be queer.
But it is OK to be queer. It is OK to live your life. I have been a figure on this campus that has hoped to get rid of this hatred and fear simply by being who I am. I have been out and active in the queer community, now, since the end of my sophomore year. I am a person, and what my sexual preference is has no bearing on how beautiful of a person I am, nor how I will treat you or how you should treat me. All of us, as people, have the same capacity to be kind as we do to be cruel. We are all people; we all have our faults, and sexuality or gender identification is not one of them.
`I Have a Right to Complain'
I have a right to complain. I haven't simply sat on my ass and sulked. We have made attempts to reach out to athletics, to make sure they're more open-minded and accepting. Events have been organized; athletics has been invited. We have attempted to open the dialogue.
Yet, there still only remains two out varsity athletes at Penn, and we're both graduating this year. Perhaps athletics is happy to get rid of us. Perhaps they feel I'm trying to push them out of the closet. Trust me, that's the last thing I'm trying to do.
I know what it's like to be in there, to live in fear, to walk around feeling like I was a marked woman. I simply want to continue to push open the dialogue, to invite athletics to engage in conversations with our community, to make their community more accepting as opposed to tolerant and "yes, but they aren't on my team" or "as long as they keep it out of this atmosphere." I want the LGBT and athletic communities, prominent communities on this campus, to come together and make Penn a better, more open and comfortable community. Both wield noticeable influence but currently pull in opposite directions.
My softball team, I must admit, is different. I've had members come to Queer Student Alliance dances, socials and ALLIES (Penn's predominantly straight organization that supports LGBT causes) events to show their support for me. I will never, ever forget when I made a speech at the HRC's National Coming Out Day Rally in 2000. My whole team was standing up, in my view, cheering for me as I approached the podium, when I mentioned the team and in those awkward moments of silence when I lost my place on the page to make me feel more comfortable. They supported me and continue to do so today.
Support From the Team
They allow me to realize that I am not an anomaly. I know that I am doing what's right, despite the vibes many people get from athletics as a whole. It is my team that is the anomaly, but it certainly shouldn't be that way. Within athletics at Penn, and nationally, the Penn Softball team has accepted me for who I am as a person and therefore remains the non-conformist. Thanks for sticking your neck out there, guys.
Now its time for the rest of athletics to stand up and cheer for me and the closeted coaches, administrators and athletes. The athletic department needs to stand up for themselves, against their homophobic label, to the rest of the university. They need to be proactive in ridding themselves of that label and prove the remainder of us wrong.
Penn softball remains the exception within the athletic department. We don't garner the same respect or produce the same results monetarily or through winning percentage as other teams at this university. We aren't high profile. As Division I athletes, we garner respect of many of our friends and peers who chose not to take the athletic route, but within the department, we aren't necessarily the focus of policy or development. But we can be proud that we are doing something right and sticking to a commendable moral ideology when so often, athletes may be underestimated when it comes to "honor" and "pride" outside of the field or court or mat. Penn athletics needs to look at itself and its attitude, especially in an institution that
so highly values diversity. Penn athletics, open your eyes and welcome to the gayborhood.
Since originally writing this article for the school paper, nothing has changed. Some people commented about the article to me positively. Most were teammates of mine; none were athletic administrators or coaches. The relationship between athletics and the LGBT community here at Penn awaits a ground-breaking. The out athletes here are on their way out. Where is the relationship going, if anywhere, when we leave?
We finished my final season with a 14-33 record. Stepping onto the field those last few times was difficult for me, because so much of my life has revolved around softball for so long. Part of me just wanted it to be over,
so that no one could catch me crying, so that we wouldn't lose anymore games, so my injuries could heal, so I could move on. Most of me wanted to keep playing . . . for the love of the game. For no other reason than to get up in the morning and look forward to the smell of the grass and the glove, the sound of the bat and the ball.
I also want to continue being "in the loop" of athletics to keep them on their toes. I want to continue pushing the envelope. I want to make sure my softball team stays the exception--open-minded and questioning the way they and others think. So many people follow sports that it is a venue in which I believe a lot can be done, despite its frivolity within the big picture as "just a game." We need to continue working hard within the areas of our lives that we love and depend on so much to make them not simply more comfortable for ourselves, but for those who follow.