Tag Archives: gender

Box Out: On Brittney Griner and Women Who Ball (Better Than You)

17 Apr

Guest Post by Summer McDonald Cross posted from Black Youth Project.


I have beef with Brittney Griner. It’s not because the Baylor University women’s basketball team she leads beat Notre Dame in the women’s NCAA Division 1 championship a couple of weeks ago, and I like an underdog–even if it is Notre Dame. It’s not because my beloved Tennessee Lady Volunteers were one of Baylor’s casualties on its road to a perfect, 40-0 season. It’s not because she’s tall. Although I would have appreciated a few more inches, I’ve never wanted to be 6’8; just a 5’10 or so shooting guard with an Olajuwon-esque baseline fadeaway.  I have beef with Brittney Griner  because she can dunk. And I’ve always wanted to dunk.

More than hitting a home run, more than throwing (or catching) a perfect spiral, dunking a basketball is, to me, the ultimate sports feat. Perhaps only rivaled by soccer’s beauty, the dunk is arguably the most spectacular play in all of sports. A select few–and even fewer women– have felt the satisfaction of catapulting themselves above the hardwood towards the rim, often contorting their bodies in the most artistic of ways before (powerfully) stuffing the basketball through the hoop. I’m sure the joy I felt after slamming one home on a 9-foot basket back when I was  a Y-ball referee would have multiplied exponentially had the rim actually been at the regulation height. Of course, I’ll never know, as my vertical has diminished in the years since I taught 6-year-olds what traveling, in the basketball sense, was. So even though her team’s victory ensured that UConn did not cut down nets (and all is right with the world) I cannot help but throw Brittney Griner a side-eye as she swings from the rim. I have dunk envy.

Griner’s slams are noticeably unlike the women who have dunked before her. Although Michelle Snow, Lisa Leslie, and Candace Parker have all done it, Griner dunks with such spectacular ease, that one almost minimizes the feats of her predecessors.  A Youtube phenom before she became the most imposing force in women’s basketball since Cheryl Miller, Griner’s dominance through all of last season was awe-inspiring. Her 7’4 wingspan helps her dominate the paint; she runs the floor effortlessly. Griner is so impressively athletic we forget she’s doing all of this–things most of us average-sized earthlings cannot–at a height (6’8) many associate with a laborious clumsiness.

Where I see Griner’s blessings, though, others have found an opportunity to question her gender. Perhaps the only thing more jaw-dropping than Griner’s game is the frequency with which Griner is called a man, told that she’s not a “real woman.” For some, Griner’s aforementioned height, size 17 sneakers, deep voice, and athletic dominance firmly plant her outside of the box inside which we check, shudder, female. Notre Dame coach, Muffet McGraw did not help matters when she said that Griner was like “a guy playing with women,” after the championship game. Although Griner took McGraw’s words as a compliment, comments like that do nothing but reiterate and further inflame the idea that Griner is too tall, too athletic, her voice too deep to be a woman. And if she is a woman, well, she must be a lesbian.

As admirable as one might find Griner’s own coach’s efforts to call out hecklers for the way that they disparage her star player, their actions seem to be mere surface level antics to a more deeply problematic and narrow notion of womanhood. Despite light skin and what many would regard as a rather feminine-looking face, Griner more than likely will not appear in ESPN: The Magazine’s famed Body Issue, that features women with physiques considered acceptably traditional and more likely to please the male gaze. A more probable option would be Griner’s opponent on championship night, Notre Dame point guard Skylar Diggins who, a foot shorter and hair straighter, turned many a head during last year’s tournament. Even Lil Wayne tweeted about Diggins; another rapper wrote an ode to her. Both juniors, Diggins and Griner will likely turn pro together. And Diggins’ seeming beauty will inevitably put Candace Parker’s baby hair to shame. Assuming she succeeds at the pro level, Diggins is a likely candidate to become a face of the WNBA; she could get the men to watch. And although Griner’s dominance in the WNBA almost seems inevitable, she may prove a much more complicated sell. She’s too tall, her voice too deep. And if heterosexual men don’t think they can beat you at a sport, they at least want to think they can sleep with you after the game.

The response to Griner highlights, yet again, a problem much older than Title IX. Which is to say that women (athletes), especially those who do not fall into traditional boxes of female beauty, have to contend with the way they make others, namely men, uncomfortable. My father refused to buy me black sneakers because he said they were for boys; though he signed me up and helped coach my AAU team, my stepdad required that I wear a skirt to school twice a week. As my aversion to stockings suggests, none of this was done for my comfort, but rather theirs. (And it didn’t quell my gay, anyway.) Just as athletics allow men to be affectionate with each other in ways they otherwise would not, women’s athletics and other, similar homosocial spaces, work differently and thus engender a pressure not to violate or offend male gazes.

At its most innocuous, this pressure results in what I call over-heteroing, wherein women who congregate in spaces where their femininity and/or sexuality may be questioned seem to overwork their appearance so that they appear to unequivocally desire the attention of men. I speculate that this is why some women play sports in makeup, or why women assistant coaches and graduate assistants occasionally look like they’re about the hit up the club after the game. At its worst, though, it goes beyond heckles and courtside stilettos. And women can’t just be like Brittney, brush their shoulders and wave to the haters. When such pressure is linked to power, what results are situations like what happened to Caster Semenya. And it goes beyond the unfortunate. Such acts are not simply disparaging, but go beyond the continued violation and marginalization of women to a level that endangers them.

And that’s how hecklers answer their own speculation about whether or not Brittney Griner is a woman. Of course she is. Otherwise, she would not have to withstand their continued verbal assaults. Word to Mike Tyson.

Summer McDonald is an explicitly queer Black Daria with better clothes.

From Margin to Center: Health for Brown Bois

29 Sep
Image cover of the Brown Boi Health Guide. Black Person in shadows looking into the camera.

As a graduate student, I elect to receive health care through my school (because they pay for it). Student Health Services has its pros and cons and my experiences have been, to put it nicely, mixed. My experiences with health care providers are what motivated me to think about the hierarchical relationship between doctors and patients in my dissertation. My providers have routinely presumed straightness, a feminine gender identity, and a certain class background. I was telling a friend about another less than awesome experience with a doctor and they joked, I could put my own experience in my dissertation. If only autoethnography was one of my research methods.

Health care providers have got to do better. Disparities in access to care are a major concern but once you are in the doctor’s office it doesn’t necessarily mean that service provision is equitable, particularly if you are are already marginalized in greater society. That’s why I was so happy to hear that the Brown Boi Project had created a resource guide for Masculine of Center (MOC) people of color and its available now.

The Brown Boi Project “is a community of masculine of center womyn, men, two-spirit people, transmen, and our allies committed to transforming our privilege of masculinity, gender, and race into tools for achieving Racial and Gender Justice.” In that vain, they set out to create a health guide that would help brown bois advocate for better health outcomes for themselves when interacting with health care providers, friends and family.

The six chapters of the guide provide an introductory look at different components of health beginning with spiritual, mental, and emotional health, concepts that western medicine steers clear of all together or brackets as somehow separate from physical health. Additional chapters provide an overview of health concerns specific to MOC folks including “holistic care through gender transition” and issues of body taboo in relation to menstruation, pregnancy and sex.The narratives of real self identified brown bois provided regarding their own journeys and processes around health were the most compelling element of the book. It is in these personal accounts that you really see the intersectional nature of health, the ways in which structural forms of oppression like queer hatred, racism, and other forms of discrimination impact people’s health on all levels.

Images from open pages of  the health guide
The photography and illustrations in the book are amazing as well. Non-normative bodies of various races and shades help to provide a much needed shift in the way patient bodies are represented. The images do work that words can not.

The need for such a resource is undisputed and as a first edition, it far outshines its limitations. I was left however, wandering about the margins within the margins. What of disabled brown bois? How do we simultaneously hold a desire for wellness without pathologizing people as carriers of STI’s or victims of impairments? What of the guide’s high gloss veneer and PDF format for folks with little to no web/computer access? It’s definitely an overview and they remind readers that it’s not an exhaustive look at health but some general information to help stimulate better communication with health care providers and loved ones.

This is a guide and not a zine. It is not an updated more specific Our Bodies Ourselves so it has a different end goal. This guide offers a more generous read of trying to work with health care providers as opposed to abandon the system all together. Each have there uses. I think it would be a great teaching tool for doctors and medical students who get very little if any training regarding folks on the queer and genderqueer spectra. In addition to educating the medical community, we need to have more access to health care information ourselves and this guide is a move in that direction.

On ‘The Mean Girls of Morehouse’

14 Oct

Having gone to Morehouse’s (unofficial) sister school I feel compelled to comment on this Vibe Mean Girls article and subsequent fallout. In fact it feels kind of good to once again put this “audacity of parenting” thing on the back burner. Y’all ain’t ready :)

If you haven’t heard, Vibe acknowledged the fact that there are queer black folks in the world (more than CNN could do), let alone at the elite single sex HBCU, Morehouse College. The article profiles queer students who actively blur the binary line of gender and look damn good doing it. They wear their fierce so loud, proud and unapologetically they were dubbed “the plastics” by an ostensibly straight Morehouse brother of theirs.

The article title, while again evocative of a favorite literary device of mine, is sensational. It conflates the appropriated “plastics” moniker to girl identity which none of the students interviewed do themselves. They articulate a reveling in androgyny and gender bending that makes a lot of “straight” dudes uncomfortable, even administrators, hence the infamous dress code barring students from wearing women’s clothing (Read my thoughts on the dress code here). One student is interviewed while shopping in a women’s boutique in Atlanta and a store employee makes her shock regarding his attire known, providing a little more drama for an article already doing a lot by acknowledging the harsh realities of these students. What we don’t learn is how they are treated in the classroom or how daily jabs impact their ability to concentrate on their school work. A lot of them leave. Despite President Franklin’s claim of a Morehouse that accepts all identities, students that too obviously flout gender conventions have a nearly impossible time of making it on campus.

Looking at the comments section made me swear off them for good as it was filled with the most hateful language and threats. I attended school when Gregory Love was attacked in the shower with a baseball bat for supposedly looking at another student. My then ally identified self went 30 deep with other feminist and queer sisters and brothers to a panel at Morehouse that disintegrated into violence when folks tried to discuss the issue. This reaction is not unique to black people but the costs of homophobia in groups that are multiply marginalized are so much higher. If we can’t be at institutions that are on some level supposed to be for us, where do we go?

Morehouse may tout itself as a single sex institution but it is not a single gender one, as much as it may want to be. If female-assigned-at-birth students in the AUC can take classes there, hang out there, spend the night there (covertly :) ) etc. why can’t male-assigned-at-birth students do the same in the same heels and make up? If any group should understand the fallacies of looking a certain way to be treated humanely its black people. And yet, black folks are determined to traffic in a politics of respectability that does little but make some of us tokens for a power structure that not all of us can access. People wonder why King’s beloved community has given way as we increasingly limit the criteria for admittance. If the people who decide who has access are middle class, straight, Christian, black folks, that leaves a lot of people out in the cold.

That said, I get the nihilism and “do you” mentality of so many black folks excluded from “proper” blackness. When you know that people think and treat you as though you are  less than human why continually try to convince them otherwise? Why not just go for self?

The cycles of violence created in the name of “uplift” never cease to amaze me. If we truly want a different world it’s going to take seeing people for who they are not what you want them to be. Morehouse has a unique opportunity to engage students around questions of blackness and gender identity, to craft new black men and more, poised to create a better reality for many communities. We can’t afford to hold on to antiquated notions of gender and blackness. The future is fierce.

Pic of three black men queering masculinity at Atlanta Black Pride 2009

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 124 other followers

%d bloggers like this: