I’ve been thinking a lot about the responses to Jason Collins, especially in contrast to Brittney Griner’s non-event public statement that she is queer. There’s a tension between the acceptance of queer identity and acceptance of non-normative gender expression; while they are separate concepts, there is a lot of resistance to separating the two since the expectation is that queer identity causes non-normative gender expression. Thus, the common wisdom that “of course” a sporty, aggressive, athletic, self-assured woman like Brittney Griner is queer – she’s already openly displaying non-normative gender expression. The fact that Jason Collins’s behavior is so normative and so thoroughly documented operates contrary to that expectation, and the reactions to this have been interesting and frustrating in measure…

A gender-normative gay man has come out and declared / owned queer identity in a very visible way — this is something that voices within the LGBT community have been calling for for years. It matters that it’s basketball because basketball is highly visible, and visible and normative hew closely together – the most visible positioning requires the most normative behavior. That importance has to be acknowledged as to take nothing away from Johnny Weir or Matthew Mitcham or any other openly queer athletes – they also faced incredible resistance within their own milieus, but the public expectation is different. And yet, I’ve heard several voices from the LGBT community (most recently on Talk of the Nation and I apologize for no citation) express disappointment that Collins is such a “safe” (read: gender-normative) “type” of gay man. It’s intensely frustrating in two big ways:

  1. There’s still a LOT of work to be done in deconstructing the idea that queer identity somehow causes non-normative gender expression, and a gender-normative gay male athlete provides a visible counterexample.
  2. Even allies are interpreting Collins’s owning of his queer identity as an invitation to critique his gender performance.

It’s hard to read these interrogations of Collins’s normative gender performance as anything but “you don’t act gay enough” or an implication that Collins is suppressing some aspect of himself which straight athletes are not required to suppress. That ultimately boils down to an understanding of gender non-normative behavior as being essential to queer identity, which is super problematic! That argument reinforces the judgments laid upon Brittney Griner from the opposite end, i.e. that her non-normative femininity is an “obvious indicator” of her sexuality.

Advertisement

And that’s as far as I’m able to coherently pull the thread, but my brain is still chock-full of other tangents on this and am really curious to hear what others have been thinking about it. I keep coming back to the thought that our society broadly privileges normativity over actual sexual identity (which is largely invisible), and especially to the fact that womens’ gender performance is automatically up for critique in a way that mens’ performance often is not. Jezzies, what’cha think?

(Hopefully this comes out readable. Go go Kinja magic!)