The misgendering of Brittney Griner
You’d think I’d have learned by now, but alas, I have not. I go onto Twitter for just about every major national event, and every time I am astonished by the things I read and see. Why should the NCAA women’s tournament be any different?
I’m not going to repeat the things I saw about Brittney Griner; I’ll leave that to your imagination. I will say that I find our culture’s ongoing obsession with policing gender completely baffling, and the misgendering of Griner is no exception.
In case you are not familiar with Griner, she’s the totally sensational junior who plays for the Baylor Bears. She’s 6’8″, has a wingspan that is wider than most people are tall, she dunks hard and blocks like a wall, and has been noted for her androgynous looks. She also happens to have a pretty deep voice.
Thus, her detractors say, she must be a man!
Of course, you don’t have to have a long memory to recall just how many times a similar criticism – that a woman is a man, is a lesbian or is a doper or is just a plain freak – has been leveled at a woman who dominates her sport. As Everett at I Fry Mine in Butter notes, it’s also been said about Caster Semenya, Dara Torres, the Williams sisters and Martina Navratilova.
Everett goes on to write:
The female body in sport is a contradiction for a culture used to plopping gender into neat, tight boxes. It is sweating and contorting in the way that any body does when exposed to physical stress. Looking at muscles up close—and these women have them some muscles—one wouldn’t know what kind of body is doing what action.
Our culture expects women’s – and men’s – bodies to be a certain way. People are very invested in the idea that Men Look Like This and Women Look Like That and Never the Twain Shall Meet.
Well, guess what? Nature doesn’t give a fuck about your sexual binary. Nature puts us together in a million different ways – actually, about seven billion, give or take a few hundred thousand – and a lot of us are going to walk that imaginary line. There are going to be short, hairless men with high voices and tall women with deep voices and people who are intersexed in a bunch of different ways, and here’s the great thing – it’s all okay. Every single one of us. There’s not a thing wrong with any of us.
Yet so many disagree, and they are not shy about making it known. In the particular case of Griner, I’ve seen people say they worry about her potential “unfair advantage.” I say that if we are suddenly in the business of weeding out people with biological advantages, then we need to get rid of Lance Armstrong and his preternatural VO2 capacity, we ought to not allow seven-footers to play in the NBA and we we should start testing to make sure all athletes have a similar ratio of slow twitch to fast twitch muscle fibers. I mean, since we are so concerned about people having biological advantages and all.
Not all of her haters even bother with the facade of concern trolling. Some of the things I read were just downright revolting. I don’t just mean they misgendered her, but they totally dehumanized her. And according to her coach, people actually say things like this to her face.
Griner knows what people say about her and she doesn’t care. “I know things they say aren’t true,” she said. “They are trying to get into my head and try to stop me. It’s not going to work.”
Griner is as classy as they come. Too bad we can’t say the same about her haters.
Here’s a really excellent article I came across while reading up for this post. I couldn’t work it in but I wanted to share it anyway: Not Entertained: Brittney Griner continues to challenge expectations” by David L. Leonard at SLAM. Leonard drops some seriously excellent analysis not just from a sex/gender perspective but also a racial one, and in the context of the sex-drenched marketing of women’s sports. SO GOOD. And by the way, can I cosign his call for a touch of Britsanity? I am so on board with that.
Edited to add that I am moderating every comment that goes through from now on and I will not hesitate to trash comments that either attack me or are hateful/transphobic/crude (and there have been several of those). Disagreement and dissent is fine and welcome but I will NOT tolerate anything that does not meet that standard. Consider yourself warned.