I could seriously not love this woman more. In an ESPN profile, basketball phenom Brittney Griner, who recently became the first openly gay athlete to sign with Nike, talks about the bullying she experienced growing up and the more recent pressure she faced to keep quiet about her sexuality as a college player at Baylor.
“I am 100-percent happy. When I was at Baylor, I wasn’t fully happy because I couldn’t be all the way out. It feels so good saying it: I am a strong, black lesbian woman. Every single time I say it, I feel so much better.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about gender, sexuality, and sports lately for this Atlantic piece. As I mention there, when Griner “came out” oh-so-casually a couple months ago, it didn’t create the splash as Jason Collins’ announcement a couple weeks later, because it just confirmed the stereotypes people have about pro female athletes. But, as Jessica Luther explained, that’s not to say there isn’t a lot of homophobia in women’s sports. Griner’s experience at Baylor is a good illustration of the kind of backlash these stereotypes can create.
And that’s why it’s so inspiring that Griner consistently demands to have both her gender expression and sexual orientation recognized and respected. While her coach, Kim Mulkey, defended Griner in the face of insults about her gender, Griner said she felt like Mulkey was only sticking up for part of her. “If you’re up here protecting me, then protect all of me,” she says. “We can talk about gender, but we can’t talk about the fact that I’m a lesbian?” Meanwhile, outside of the sports world, she resists the pressure–felt by so many female athletes–to adopt a more feminine image. In fact, she’ll be wearing both men’s and women’s clothes for Nike.
But what I love more than anything is how fully Griner embodies the huge gap between mere acceptance and celebration that Alexandra recently discussed. Griner hasn’t just come to “accept” herself after years of struggling with others’ judgements–she’s grow into her own identity, and she knows she’s the shit. “So many people exist between the two ends of the spectrum, but no one wants to admit it,” she says. “If you’re in between, they say something is wrong with you. ‘We can fix you.’ Well, I don’t need fixing.”