In the middle of sending a friend literally 23 text messages about gay athletes in the Olympics, and trolling the Wikipedia lists for other gays who have competed, I realized that I had enough passion about this subject that for the sake of my friendship, it probably needed to just be a blog.
The Winter Olympics are coming up, and for the first time in history, the United States is sending out LGBTQ athletes to the games. Adam Rippon and Gus Kenworthy will be the first American men (and actually the first gay men ever) to participate in the Winter Olympics. Rippon will be competing in figure skating, and Kenworthy will be doing something called slopestyle, which appears to be skiing with flips. Neither athlete is a fan of Mike Pence, who will be leading the US delegation.
I am unbelievably excited about this. A year ago, I didn't really know what slopestyle was, but this year before Kenworthy made the US team, my most googled question was "is gus kenworthy in the olympics yet?" I willingly watched footage of past free skates and short programs by Adam Rippon. I now know the difference between a free skate and a short program, and this from someone who believes all winter sports were invented by a drunk Northeasterner with a death wish. Who looks at a mountain covered in snow and thinks "man if only I could get down that as FAST AS POSSIBLE on two sticks THINNER THAN MY FEET?" Only drunk people from New Hampshire probably.
I think it's obvious that I've never been skiing. Or snowboarding. Or even ice skating really, unless you count remaining upright at Rockerfeller Center while pulling myself around the rink by the rail. Then I've been ice skating. But I'm not a winter sports gal.
My general distrust of winter sports is why my all consuming obsession with Rippon and Kenworthy is such a surprise to me. Of course, part of the obsession is because they're gay. Rippon and Kenworthy are not just the first openly gay Americans to compete in the Winter Olympics, they're also the first openly gay men to compete for America in any Olympics ever.
But they're not the first openly gay people to compete for America. In fact, openly gay and bisexual women have been competing in the Olympics since 2008. There may have even been an openly gay man from American competing, equestrian Robert Dover, but gay athletes were so rare prior to 2008, that no one was keeping strict records.
Starting in 2008, the United States has consistently sent gay and bisexual women to the Summer Olympics. Many of these women have won gold medals, including three time gold medalist Seimone Augustus who plays basketball and gold medalist Megan Rapinoe, who plays soccer. The United States also sent women to play rugby and softball, participate in the high jump, and sent one woman who participated in the kayak whitewater slalom. Yes! That's a sport!
So why wasn't I as excited about Ashley Nee, whitewater slalom racer, as I am about Kenworthy and Rippon? Why don't I follow Seimone Augustus on instagram, or chart the progress of the US women's softball team?
The answer to this, and many other things, is sexism. As an American, I'm steeping in a culture that elevates men's sports and barely pays the women in the WNBA enough to make a living. I care very little about sports, but even I grew up going to men's baseball games, watching men's football and generally only exposed to men's sports.
On top of that, at least in my experience, gay men usually get more media attention than gay women, especially when they are the purported "first" to do something. Not to mention that there's a strong stereotype of gay women playing softball, and a strong stereotype against gay men in sports. And as much as I like to pretend I'm enlightened, above sexism, and above internalized homophobia, I grew up in it just like everyone else. I still fall victim to sexist and homophobic patterns of thought.
Why write a blog post admitting that my all-consuming obsession with two winter Olympics athletes is the result of sexism? Because I think there is value in showing that sexism can happen regardless of whatever good intentions a person may have. I see so many people trying to convince others that they are not sexist or racist when they have done an obviously sexist or racist thing. You don't have to believe in your heart that women are weaker than men to realize that our society is incredibly sexist and you may have picked up on sexist behaviors without even realizing it.
Even if it's something as small as being way too invested in the career trajectory of two Olympians, I think there's value to admitting that I too, even as a gay woman, fall victim to sexism and homophobia. Maybe it will help other people examine their own small prejudices, and be a little more willing to listen when marginalized groups tell them their behavior is sexist or racist or homophobic. You don't have to be Fred Phelps to take stock of your own prejudices, be conscious of them, and try to do better in the future.
But that all being said, if Kenworthy and Rippon don't medal I will be furious, so jot that down and prepare yourselves.