Last month, former All American Girls Professional Baseball League player Maybelle Blair became the toast of the Tribeca Film Festival when she appeared on a panel to discuss the upcoming “A League of Their Own” original series and came out publicly at age 95.
Blair revealed to the audience, “I hid for 75, 85 years, and this is actually basically the first time I’ve ever come out.” When the crowd realized what it had just witnessed, they broke out in a loving burst of applause — exactly the kind of response every LGBTQ person wants to hear upon revealing their true self.
If it seemed like Blair’s public coming out happened on the spur of the moment, there was a good reason for that. As she acknowledged on “The 3 Strikes, You’re Out” podcast, the moment was spontaneous.
“Well, it hit me all of sudden,” she recalled, “After the filming of ‘A League of Her Own,’ we had a little panel up on the stage. And somehow, I looked at [co-creators] Will Graham and Abbi Jacobson and I don’t know what hit. And I said, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m gay! 95 years old and I’m gay!’ And I’m telling you, it just came out of my mouth because I’d been in that closet for so long, I didn’t know how to come out!”
As 1,400 Twitter likes on Blair’s coming out video would attest, she figured it out.
Acknowledging that she kept her sexuality secret because “in my day, if you were gay, you were ostracized everywhere,” Blair mentioned that she assumed she’d keep that part of herself hidden for her entire life. She described her coming out moment as both a burst of energy that she had never felt before and a weight finally lifted off of her shoulders.
“It was the strangest thing,” she reflected, “I felt like I had high blood pressure or something. And my whole body just seemed to drain. And I just felt free and I was so happy that this had happened.”
Like everyone who comes out, Blair then became concerned about how her family would respond to learning about who she was. Thankfully, her loved ones gave her as much positive reinforcement as the Tribeca audience.
After video of her coming out went viral, numerous family members called Blair with messages of love and support. The whole experience left her profoundly moved, as she exclaimed, “I am now the happiest person in the world! I don’t have to hide anything. It’s amazing — people can’t realize what a free moment I feel today.”
Blair pitched for the AAGPBL’s Peoria Redwings in 1948. Although she kept her sexuality a secret from the public during that time, her experience playing professional baseball affected her life significantly because it was the first opportunity she had to meet other LGBTQ people:
“It was like a party when we went to play ball because I realized I wasn’t the only gay girl in the world…there were quite a few of us that were gay on all of the teams. And it was like a big party for us. We came from farms, we came from cities, we came from everywhere and a lot of us did not know there were other gay people but yourself.”
From the way Blair described the league, it appears we should start change our conception of the AAGPBL a bit. Because in addition to being a unique opportunity for female athletes to play professionally, it was clearly also one of the few places in the 1940s where LGBTQ people could meet and discover that there were others just like them.
With Blair serving as an advisor to the new “A League of Their Own” series, she mentioned that the TV show will address this aspect of what life was like for gay and lesbian athletes in that era. It will premiere on Aug. 12 on Amazon Prime.
In addition to her work with the series, Blair dedicates her time today to serving on the board of the International Women’s Baseball Center in order to promote female participation in the game and honor its history. The center will be located in Rockford, Illinois, (home of the AAGBPL’s Rockford Peaches) and she hopes it will be completed within five years.
The baseball center will be a major part of Blair’s legacy — along with the moment when baseball fans everywhere found out that she was gay.
She spelled out what she hoped the popularity of her coming out symbolized: “What I really want to do is let all these little girls and little boys know, ‘Hey, there’s people behind you. We understand. And it’s OK to come out and don’t hide your feelings towards people.’ So if I can accomplish helping [even] just a very few, I think I’ve done a great deal.”