James Joyner notes that Brittney Griner, perhaps the greatest women’s basketball player in history, recently mentioned that she is gay and the response was a collective yawn. At the same time, amid reports that as many as four NFL players may come out as gay together soon, gay male athletes face a much different reaction.
Brittney Griner, just picked first overall in the WNBA draft, nonchalantly mentions that she’s a lesbian. Why are female athletes able to do so without controversy but not males?…
Part of the answer is the intermixture of sexuality and gender are different. We’re just barely at the point where extreme athletic prowess—especially in a body that’s unusually tall or muscular—in a women is compatible with general notions of femininity. Indeed, not all that long ago, women who were particularly strong and engaged in traditionally male activities like basketball were presumed to be lesbians. Conversely, while our notions have thankfully evolved tremendously, there’s still a widespread notion that gay males are less than manly. And, of course, male athletes are considered the height of masculinity.
I think this is exactly right, but it’s also part of a broader reality that men and women alike just don’t have as negative a reaction to gay women as they do to gay men. Almost all of the discourse on the anti-gay right about homosexuality focuses on men, not women. When the Bible mentions homosexuality, it’s “men lying with men,” not women. And I’m certainly not the first person to say this, but I think one of the key factors in all of this is sexism.
What is the most common stereotype and insult used to demean gay men? That they’re effeminate, that they’re acting like a woman, that they’re a “sissy.” That’s the way teenage boys taunt one another, by calling each other “pussies” and other such things. And the root of that is the misogynistic idea that there’s something bad about being a woman, that women are subordinate to men and that there’s a strict difference between being masculine and being feminine.