The last few months have been awesome for queers in sports. Starting in February with Robbie Rogers announcing he was gay and then promptly retiring from soccer, sports stories have taken a turn for the queer. Fallon Fox came out as a transwoman MMA fighter in March after being threatened with being outed. The biggest news of course was Jason Collins outing himself in a Sports Illustrated cover story. These stories are all interwoven in that queers in sports have become more talked about in the last few years. From straight allies like Chris Kluwe and Scott Fujita to the tragic story of Brendan Burke, we have seen LGBT athletes thrust onto the national media stage.
Growing up in the sports culture, I never thought I would I see out athletes in the major pro team sports. Even as a child, it seemed that coaches would infuse a masculine air into the event. I had a few coaches even use the word “fag” or “sissy” to describe certain players in middle school. By then I had discovered that some athletes were out like Martina Navratilova but no male athlete had come out while still active. As someone struggling with gender issues I had also discovered that there had been an out trans athlete named RenÃ©e Richards. This was a shock to me knowing that someone in the ’70s had transitioned and competed with their correct gender. Richards actually sued to compete and won in a landmark decision for trans rights.
I stopped playing sports in high school because by then I had become too awkward and disillusioned with my body to want to compete. I then became a fierce devourer of sporting news and an avid sports watcher. I am still that avid sports fan today which is why it was such a shock to wake up two different times this year and find out athletes I had heard of in major sports had come out.
When Robbie Rogers came out, he retired on the same day citing that he did not know if he could play still while dealing with finally being his true self. There was a round of dismay that he would not continue playing after his bold coming out.
Most people had never heard of Fallon Fox before. I hadn’t because I am not a hardcore MMA follower. Fallon should have only become famous if she became a great fighter and made it to the UFC. Instead, because of the Florida Athletic Committee releasing findings that her “paperwork” didn’t quite add up right, MMA news publications picked up on that Fallon was transgender. Right away the slurs started coming: “He’s a man, he’s not a woman. He will have an unfair advantage over ‘real’ women, etc.” I always try not to read the comment section on trans articles because of the misgendering and hatred that tends to come up for people. It should be noted that the International Olympic Committee allows for trans athletes to compete in their correct gender if they have had surgery and have been on gender correct hormones for a certain amount of time. I realize the problematic nature of the surgery requirement but its a start. Fox’s April 20th bout was then canceled because of the outcry against her competing against cisgender women.
I had always assumed that a hockey player would be the first to come in North American team sports. After the death of Brendan Burke, there was outpouring of support for ending homophobia in hockey. Numerous players stood up and said they would have no problem playing with a gay player. In fact a whole organization was created to end homophobia in sports called You Can Play in Brendan’s honor.
So to find out that the first active athlete was Jason Collins, an NBA player, myths were shattered across the board. Most people assumed that players in the NBA like players in NFL would have a hard time coming out do to the supposed masculine culture of the sport. They were wrong. Jason has received almost 90% positive comments from his brethren. I was so happy that day. I kept retweeting Jason’s supportive teammates, friends, and colleagues. What really made me emotional was finding out Jason wore 98 this year as a tribute to Matthew Sheppard because 1998 was when Matthew was tragically killed. Jason is a free agent this summer but I am almost positive someone will re-sign him. He will be a good bench player for someone. I am excited to see what happens this summer.
This past weekend proved to be a good new beginning for both Robbie Rogers and Fallon Fox. Fallon won her appeal to compete against her correct gender with the Florida Athletic Commission. Even better, on Saturday she won her first bout since coming out. I would like to see Fallon become good enough to get a contract with the UFC but that remains to be seen. She did break the barrier for transwomen in combat sports and that in and of itself is a great accomplishment.
Robbie Rogers unretired on Wednesday and played a competitive soccer match on Saturday, something he had done a hundred times before. What made it remarkable was that of course he now became the first male athlete in a major American sport to do so while being openly gay. He received a mixed reaction but nothing overtly homophobic.
These are certainly amazing times to be a queer sports fan. I am so happy that my children will grow up in a society where being gay or trans will not prevent someone from participating in sports. My six-year-old self is jumping for joy knowing that she can be who she wants to be.