Martina Navratilova on Megan Rapinoe and the Trajectory of Gay Women in Sports

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Megan Rapinoe, the co-captain of the champion U.S. Girls’ soccer group, is with a bit of luck and casually each person’s modern-day favored athlete, leader, and lesbian. As I watched her take the rostrum at the ticker-tape parade in New York on Wednesday, her gestures and posture unapologetically what a number of us watching would classify as dykey (others may also say, courteously, that her presentation became now not historically feminine), I wondered what this second felt like for another lady, the first American expert athlete to pop out. So I known as the tennis player Martina Navratilova, who is presently at Wimbledon, operating as a commentator however additionally playing—in legends doubles suit—and asked.
Navratilova’s very own coming-out, in 1981, changed into conflicted and mangled. Six years in advance, on the age of eighteen, Navratilova, who grew up in Czechoslovakia, had defected to the United States. At the same time that she made the choice now not to return to Czechoslovakia, she also realized that she became gay. Navratilova becomes then one of the global’s pinnacle two lady tennis gamers—the alternative becomes Chris Evert. She had to speak to the click lots, and the press became turning into an increasing number of interested in the situation of woman athletes’ sexuality.
Navratilova had a policy of deflecting the question. “I never said no, I wasn’t gay,” she recalled. “I just stated, ‘I don’t want to talk about it, it’s personal’—which I definitely experience it is, non-public. But they might never ask that query of a male athlete.” Sports turned into a manly enterprise: “Of route they may be direct, except they determine skaters or something. Female athletes had to show that they were instant. It’s no longer a girl activity.” There were, of direction, lesbians on the girls’ tennis excursion, however, Navratilova stated that the proportion turned into, “percent-wise, no longer that lots higher than the overall populace. There had been a lot greater lesbians at the golf excursion, however, they were more closeted.”
In 1979, Navratilova fell in love with the writer Rita Mae Brown, whose 1973 novel, “Rubyfruit Jungle,” stays the handiest American lesbian-themed massive great-vendor. (It was posted by a feminist collective and picked up by way of Bantam, a few years later, when it had bought seventy thousand copies.) Brown introduced Navratilova to the sector of politically active lesbians, in which she changed into a movie star, and Navratilova started out contemplating popping out publicly. The hassle turned into, her application for U.S. Citizenship turned into still pending and could be denied at the grounds of her homosexuality. (This provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act become dropped in 1990 when it turned into redrafted by Representative Barney Frank, of Massachusetts, who’s homosexual.) Navratilova advanced a new manner of deflecting the sexuality query: she would now say, “I can’t communicate about it now.” Privately, she instructed a few journalists that she couldn’t speak about it until she has become a citizen. She additionally informed some of the opposite tennis players that, once she had her passport, “If all people ask me approximately it, I’m simply going to mention, ‘Yes, I am homosexual.’ ”

In April 1981, a woman named Marilyn Barnett sued Billie Jean King, one of the exquisite lady players and the founding father of the Women’s Tennis Association. Barnett, who has been King’s lover for seven years, claimed that King had promised to support her for existence, and was traumatic reimbursement. Navratilova knew Barnett, who changed into a hairdresser and had traveled with King for numerous years. “She did my hair, too,” Navratilova advised me. King mentioned the relationship however stated that it becomes an affair she regretted, and affirmed her dedication to her marriage. “She changed into seeking to faux that she became nevertheless straight,” Navratilova remembered. “She wasn’t, however she didn’t come out until the past due nineties.”
The lawsuit brought about reporters to invite ever more questions on tennis gamers’ sexuality. Navratilova knew that she turned into about to be granted citizenship, which might have freed her to come out—besides for one aspect: “The sponsors had said to the human beings in the fee that if there has been another scandal that they would pull their sponsorship from the excursion. So first I become shielding my citizenship, and then I became protective the human beings I became with at the W.T.A. I felt I became liable for sixty to one hundred women.” Their livelihoods depended in big element at the sponsorship money that came from Avon, the cosmetics enterprise than in the back of the W.T.A.
In the summer time of 1981, Navratilova was given her passport. “And two days later this journalist calls me, in Monte Carlo. Now I can’t come out because I’m protective of the tour. So I said, ‘You aren’t going to jot down approximately it, are you?’ He said, ‘Not if you don’t need me to.’ I stated, ‘Of course I don’t need you to.’ He stated, “O.K., I gained’t, then.” And days later it became inside the Daily News.” The headline becomes “Martina Fears Avon’s Call if She Talks.”

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