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Robbie Rogers was no Pied Piper for gay male athletes, so what now?

Under ordinary circumstances, the retirement of a physically broken-down defender who never set foot or wonky ankle on the pitch this season would be filed under ho-hum.

The thing is, Robbie Rogers wasn’t your ordinary soccer player.

Robbie Rogers

He was gay, out and proud, the sole openly gay man among the approximately 4,350 athletes listed on the 145 rosters that represent five major men’s professional sports organizations in North America. One in 4,350. So, yes, Rogers’ retreat from the LA Galaxy and Major League Soccer this week warranted more than a line or two among the transactions noted on the agate page of a newspaper’s sports section.

But what did we learn from Rogers’ time as an out athlete in MLS, and what does his departure mean in the grand scheme of things? What does it tell us?

Well, on the positive side of the ledger, Rogers’ tour of duty in Los Angeles became a myth-busting exercise, in that the notion that a professional men’s team could not achieve success with a gay man in the lineup was laid bare as a misguided and completely false narrative. The Galaxy, with Rogers an every-day contributor, won the MLS Cup in 2014.

But we also know that Rogers was no Pied Piper.

Since he came out in 2013, only two other openly gay men have surfaced—Michael Sam and Jason Collins. Neither lasted much longer than a hiccup. Sam was on the field for the grand sum of 12 plays with Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, while Collins finished the dog-eared days of a 13-season NBA career with the Brooklyn Nets.

At its basic, most-simplistic level, Rogers’ retirement means there are now zero openly gay men among the approximately 4,350 performing in the National Hockey League, National Football League, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and MLS. Zero.

There are, no doubt, gay men in all five leagues, but they remain closeted. And that’s what Rogers’ retirement confirms for us—homosexuality in professional sports remains strictly a male issue.

Women don’t have that gay hangup.

Amanda Clifton and Elena Delle Donne: I do.

You’ll find open lesbians in the Women’s National Basketball Association (Elena Delle Donne of the Washington Mystics married Amanda Clifton last week); in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League; in the National Women’s Hockey League; in the National Women’s Soccer League (Megan Rapinoe of the Seattle Storm is dating WNBA veteran Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm); and at the Olympic Games. And it extends beyond team sports. There are out lesbians on the pro golf and tennis tours. There have been for decades, dating back to Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova and beyond.

Here’s what LPGA tour pro Christina Kim says about lesbians in her 2010 book Swinging From My Heels:

“Because there’s never been an honest, open discussion about lesbianism on tour, it has become a source of fascination among many golf fans and especially male reporters who have only heard various rumors and innuendo. Contrary to what many people think, we are not the Lesbians Playing Golf Association. By my count there are no more than two dozen gay women playing the tour right now. Considering there are 230 active members, you’re only talking about 10 per cent of the players, which from everything I’ve read is in line with the population as a whole.

“To every player I know, the issue is just not that big a deal. There are no super-freaky homophobes out here or militant man-haters. At most, a player’s sexuality may be an occasional practice-round conversation piece: ‘Hey, did you hear that so-and-so likes girls?’ ‘Really? Huh. So, did you hit an 8-iron or a 9?’ ”

Men’s sports, with their culture of machismo and misogyny, can’t get to where the women have been for more than 40 years. Often, the male jock’s go-to taunt for an opponent is a gay slur. Still. In 2017.

“My only regret in my 11-year career are the years I spent in the closet,” Rogers said in his parting comments on Instagram. “I wish I could have found the courage that so many young individuals have shared with me in the past five years to live honestly and openly as a gay person.

“To all the women and men who are still frightened to share their truth with the world, I’d encourage you to come out.”

Should we care if athletes in the five major men’s team sports leagues come out in numbers? Absolutely. We should all feel comfortable in our own skin, and it shouldn’t matter with whom we share our bedrooms.

The playing fields of North America (male division) remain anti-gay, despite Robbie Rogers’ and the LA Galaxy’s best intentions, and that’s not only wrong, it’s shameful.

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Coming out is hard enough without being told how to do it and how to act afterwards

Life is full of little surprises that sometimes feel like an ambush. Like when you realize you’re gay or transgender. What do you do now?

patti dawn swansson

Coming out is seldom, if ever, easy.

It’s like there are two of you, one sitting on each shoulder, and both are engaged in push-me-pull-you mental gymnastics that can be crippling, if not paralyzing.

The positive of the two yous is determined to push you out of the closet, trying to sway you with comforting assurances that family, friends, co-workers, classmates and everyday acquaintances will welcome and embrace the gay you with inviting arms and adoring smiles.

“It’ll be safe,” she whispers. “You have nothing to worry about. You’ll be free and the world will finally see the true you. They’ll love you.”

Yet, just as you are about to step out, the other you pulls you back with words of caution, if not scare tactics: “Leave this closet,” she says, waving a red flag, “and you will be rejected, degraded, humiliated, bullied, sullied and maybe even beaten up. Is that what you really want your life to become?”

It is as I have written: Discovering yourself is the interesting part, accepting yourself is the hard part, revealing yourself is the frightening part that goes bump in the night.

It would be helpful, of course, were there a How-To Manual for Coming Out. We could simply turn to the appropriate chapter and, presto, we’re out and we’re proud gay, lesbian and transgender women, men and children. Life goes on tickety-boo. Except it isn’t quite as simple as picking up a copy of Popular Mechanics to learn how to change the oil on your SUV.

There is no right way to come out. There is no wrong way, either, although my personal experience taught me that the right and wrong of coming out is very much left to interpretation.

I advised those closest to me in a lengthy late-night email and, as I was to discover from a dear friend who has since basically disappeared from my life, it was callous, insensitive, hurtful and ill-timed. How dare I not advise her before all others, and how thoughtless of me to dump such naked honesty on her when she was dealing with her own level of personal strife.

“We had a special relationship,” she reminded me in an accusatory tone a number of years later, at our first get-together after the fact. “You should have told me first.”

“We have to do this in our own way and on our own timetable,” I tried to explain in an unflinching way that, I suppose, might have come across as clinical and unfeeling. “Each of us is different. We find our own way. We feel when the time is right, so we do it and expect the worst but hope for the best.”

Is there an element of selfishness in all that. By definition, absolutely. You are foremost and uppermost. Yet you also acknowledge that others might be wounded, which only adds more uncertainty to the original, push-me-pull-you pile of confusion.

It doesn’t end there, either.

Now that you’re out, are you supposed to behave and talk a certain way? That is, do you now immerse yourself into the gay collective and become a mouthpiece and advocate for the gay rights cause? Or do you simply go about the business of being you? Again, that’s an individual choice.

Shawn Barber

This past April, world champion and Olympic pole vaulter Shawn Barber came out in 54 words on his Facebook page. He was gay and he was proud. Nothing more to see here. Let’s move on.

“A person has the right to say as little or as much as they want about their orientation,” observed Jim Buzinski on the website Outsports.

Agreed.

But wait. Here we are three months later and the other main scribe at Outsports, Cyd Zeigler, has scolded Barber, who, at the recent Canadian track and field championships, told the Toronto Star that his being gay is “something that shouldn’t be a big deal.”

“Declaring to the world that you’re gay—even if it was in desperately early morning hours—then going into hiding is hardly the behavior of a champion,” Zeigler wrote in a gratuitous bullying, attack piece. “Barber, instead, has cringed. For whatever reason, he has decided that the whole ‘gay thing’ isn’t a necessary part of his identity as an athlete. So he’s pulled back. He’s stayed silent. No, even worse, he has belittled his own coming out.”

Zeigler has since softened his stance and rewritten the article, but his original remarks make it abundantly clear that Barber has let down the team, so to speak, and they serve as a classic example of not only a writer going well over the line of fairness in commentary but also of gays eating their own.

Coming out is hard enough and Shawn Barber is doing it his way, same as Zeigler did it his way and I did it my way. Expecting us to be anything more than who we are is not only unfair, it flies in the face of what gays desire more than anything from society—to be accepted for who we are.


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Ol’ Maggie Court’s crazy ramblings a reminder that the LGBT collective still has plenty of work to do

Margaret Court says tennis “is full of lesbians.” As if that’s a bad thing.

patti dawn swansson

Moreover, ol’ Maggie informs us that there were a couple of devil lesbians on the professional tennis circuit back in her day and, get this, they would take young players to parties. Imagine that. Young women partying. With lesbians. The horrors.

Ol’ Maggie has been saying a whole lot of oddball things lately and, if we are to believe the preacher lady from the Land of Oz, civilization is caught in the grip of a global plot orchestrated by the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender collective. Those pesky gays are stealing the minds of our children, don’t you know?

“That’s what Hitler did, that’s what communism did—got the mind of children,” she advises us. “And it’s a whole plot in our nation and in the nations of the world to get the minds of the children.”

Hmmm. Kind of reminds me of what the Roman Catholic Church tried to do to me when I was a sprig.

The nuns, when not whacking us on the knuckles with a yardstick, would regale us with far-out tales of fantasy gardens, poisonous fruit, hell fires, voodoo antics like turning the rib of a man into a woman and, best of all, talking snakes in a magical tree. Their stories were better than anything we watched on The Wonderful World of Disney. But apparently Margaret Court believes all the Bible-based, brainwashing blarney that my receptive mind was force-fed, and it’s quite clear that the great Australian tennis champion is convinced that gay and (especially) transgender people are the spawn of Satan.

“That’s all the devil,” she says of transgender kids.

Ol’ Maggie Court

Poor, ol’ Maggie. There’s just no escaping conniving gay men and (especially) lesbians. We’re always shoving ourselves in her face, so to speak. Why, it’s gotten so bad that she can’t even travel hither and yon on Qantas anymore because the airline’s CEO, Alan Joyce, is a gay man who, not surprisingly, promotes same-sex marriage, which is, in the world according to Maggie, “alternative, unhealthy, unnatural.” The right to wed is “not theirs to take.”

“I believe marriage as a union between a man and a woman as stated in the Bible,” she harrumphs.

Well, it’s about your Bible, Maggie: One person’s truth is another’s fiction.

The prune-faced preacher lady has been battered fore and aft for her Bible-thumping bleatings, which included a disapproving and extremely tacky tsk-tsking of Aussie tennis pro Casey Dellacqua and her partner Amanda Judd following the birth of the lesbian couple’s second child, a joyous event that Court greeted with “sadness” because the newborn has two mamas and zero papas.

I’d rather not join the Maggie-bashing chorus, though, because I think she’s unwittingly done the gay community a small favor.

The hell, you say. How can that be so?

Well, to be clear, I find her drawing a parallel between the LGBT collective and a mass murderer, Adolph Hitler, repugnant. It is not only offensive in the extreme, it shows she clearly has lost both the plot and the argument. She appears to be totally off her nut. But…I also think ol’ Maggie has provided us with a reminder, albeit appalling—at the top of Pride Month, no less—that we still have work to do. The fight for acceptance and equality continues. It has not been won. We must keep society’s feet to the fire.

I suppose we really shouldn’t care what comes out of this nutter’s mouth, but Court is a legendary sportswoman. No one has matched her two dozen tennis Grand Slam singles titles. One of the playing venues at the Australian Open in Melbourne is named in her honor (for now). And she is a pastor (the argument could be made that she’s more of a cult leader given that she created her own church, the Victory Life Centre in Perth). Thus, her voice carries some degree of heft. If not, the pushback from gay, transgender and, indeed, straight people against her homo/transphobic tripe wouldn’t be so robust.

I’ll just say this about that: Freedom of speech is a beautiful thing, but so is the freedom to shut the hell up. Ol’ Maggie might want to give that a try.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m stepping out to party with some lesbian tennis players.


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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and there isn’t a gay soul to be seen

I’m a sucker for Christmas movies. I watched two more yesterday, which brings my tally for this holiday season to about two dozen.

santa patti

patti dawn swansson

Yes, I’m overdosing on ho, ho, ho and I’m full of fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la. Some, of course, might suggest that I’m full of something else, but don’t be an old grumpy-pants. It is, after all, the season to be jolly.

Anyway, although the faces are (mostly) different and the places (mostly) change, there are common themes to each of these movies. To wit:

  • Pretty girl from a one-horse town meets hunky boy from the big city. Or vice-versa.
  • One of them is a Grinch who says bah, humbug to Christmas and all its trappings (usually due to the death of a loved one or the breakup of a relationship during the festive season), and the other can’t get enough tinsel, bright lights, cookies and egg nog.
  • They are complete opposites, one a workaholic and the other forever stopping to smell the coffee.
  • The sourpuss of the two eventually experiences an epiphanical moment and discovers the true meaning of Christmas, which has nothing to do with crass commercialism and everything to do with family and/or the nativity scene.
  • They, naturally, fall in love after considerable time denying and fighting off their true feelings, then have a spat/rift over a deep, dark secret that really is a silly misunderstanding. They kiss, make up and head to the altar. They have babies and all live happily after. The end. Next movie, please.

Sure, it’s sappy stuff, but I fall for it every time, hook, line and Santa.

It occurred to me yesterday, however, that there’s something missing from all of these warm-and-fuzzy, flicks—gay men and lesbians.

These Christmas feel-good films feature old people, young people and middle-age people of varying skin hues and physical definitions. There are Catholics and Protestants and Jews and Muslims and Baptists and Buddhists and the odd atheist tossed into the blender. There are the filthy rich and the painfully poor. Some of the characters have powerful, high-paying jobs, others are stay-at-home moms or volunteers. There are creeps and crooks who spend the night in jail. But there are no gays. Not once in two dozen yuletide films have I seen a gay character. Or heard mention of a gay character.

What, gay people don’t do Christmas? We don’t fall in love? We don’t have families? We don’t have jobs? We don’t live happily ever after?

Well, I have it on reasonably good authority that LGBT people do all of the above, yet it has somehow excaped the notice of Christmas film-makers both north and south of the U.S.-Canada border. It is an astonishing omission. I mean, come on. Two dozen movies and not one gay man or lesbian?

Remind me again what century this is.