Stereotypes in sports have always been confining — for instance, if one plays football, they are dumb from all their head injuries; if one plays basketball, they have to be outrageously tall to reach the hoops. For womens’ softball, players are assumed to be lesbians for simply playing in comfortable attire and being friends with their team. Like all stereotypes, the lesbian label deeply affects both non-LGBTQ+ and LGBTQ+ athletes alike, and it is clear that people do not understand the extent that its negative influence holds over these players both internally and externally.
Such assumptions can be traced back to 1943 when Philip Wrigley created the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Historically, sports were regarded as masculine due to their rough and aggressive tendencies. As a result, women who competed in the sports were seen to not fit the commonly held notions of femininity, which demands them to be soft, delicate and passive. By violating such gender norms, society had placed the lesbian label upon female athletes as a means to delegitimize their identity as a woman. That is why now years later, the lesbian label still survives.
After ditching the flared skirts of their “lipstick league” uniforms, female ballplayers soon dressed for athletic performance, not sexualization. This dismissal of appealing to the male gaze led to the implication that players are now appealing to each other — ergo they must be lesbian. The close dynamics that softball players display also reinforce such ideas.
Looking back on my years playing travel softball, I finally notice the extent to which the lesbian label had restricted my teammates — more specifically, those who identified as straight. As we got older, it became more disempowering to be put in a box and categorized so superficially. Bonds between girls were no longer platonic but rather romantic or sexual. Their femininity was erased if they did not have their hair braided with a bow on top and their identities rewritten if they had a bare face and fingernails. Straight players have the mentality that not following these supposed codes of conduct would force them to rebrand their image to reflect the stereotype.
In my experience, sexuality in softball was a paradox — though it was generalized that softball is full of lesbians, the environment itself was a breeding ground of heterosexual imposition. Team moms would ask who is dating who, and coaches would tease that the team would only play well if there were cute boys in the bleachers.
It took time for me to accept that I had been sexually labeled before I even knew what to label myself. The lesbian label had validated the idea that I was attracted to not only men but also women, which did not seem like an option for me at the time. I simply wanted to be a ballplayer, nothing more and nothing less. The situation was emotionally burdening. I felt that I was caught in a crossroads of needing to choose who gets to be happy: my team or myself. Would I rather maintain the team dynamic and hide or ruin it entirely because I cannot control who I want to love?
The notion that playing softball had a defining role in female athletes like myself in embracing our sexuality is wrong. Lesbian, bisexual and pansexual women have existed and always will exist inside and outside softball, much the same as straight women. I am as much of a softball player as I am a bisexual female. Neither affects the other, but both are who I am.
Contact Kiana Thelma Devera at [email protected].