Is Women’s Sport more accepting of homosexuality?
[First published in Women’s Web]
“Our warmest congratulations to Katherine Brunt & Nat Sciver who got married over the weekend” tweeted England Cricket, the official home of all of the England Cricket teams on Twitter. The two all-rounders who were a part of the team that lifted the World Cup in 2017 and reached the Finals this year, have been a couple for over 5 years, and announced their engagement before the pandemic struck and derailed their plans for a 2020 wedding.
While there were a large number of people who were genuinely happy for the couple, a large part of subcontinent Twitter, quite predictably, had a meltdown. Comments ranged from the innocuous sounding, “both got married on the same day? Where are the husbands?” to the “How they’ll have babies?” which presumes that the only purpose of marriage is procreation. There were comments which could have been just smart word play- “Please tell me there was a slip cordon for the bouquet” or “Well, someone certainly bowled a maiden over” (though technically both did)- or may have hinted at worse.
But a large majority of comments (thankfully hidden) were extremely homophobic. The couple were deemed “ugly” and their sex called “unnatural”. They were told that they were sinners and that they would go to hell. There were the comments on how they wanted to convert innocent children to homosexuality, and of how parents should be extremely careful before letting their young daughters play a sport. There were also the comments which spoke of how both of them needed a few nights with “proper” man to sort them out.
This, unfortunately, is the kind of hate all homosexual couples attract. Though homosexuality has been legalised in India, it is still frowned upon and common notion is that it is something that can be “put right”. Lesbian couples, particularly, attract a very different kind of hate from cis-het men who deliberately misconstrue it as “rejecting men”, and also secretly worry about how their position might be eroded if women band together and shut them out.
The subcontinent is known for its homophobia, so it is not a surprise that there are no openly lesbian cricketers from these countries. However, England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have a large number of openly lesbian or bisexual cricketers. It is hard to believe that it was barely a decade back, in 2013, that the Australian cricketing great Alex Blackwell became the first person to come out as openly lesbian. At that time, she had been dating England’s Lynsey Askew for several years, and they got married to each other in 2015.
Following Blackwell coming out as lesbian, many other cricketers did too, so much that senior women cricketers were accused of predatory behaviour, and the presumption became that if you played international cricket there was a high probability that you were either lesbian or bisexual. This, however, is just another manifestation of homophobia. You can no longer “convert” a person to homosexuality than you can “cure” a person of homosexuality.
While there are many lesbian couples in international cricket- Marizanne Kapp and Dane van Niekerk (South Africa), Amy Satterthwaite and Lea Tahuhu (New Zealand), Lizelle Lee and Tanja Cronje (South Africa), Maddy Green and Liz Perry (New Zealand), Rachael Haynes and Leah Poulton (Australia) to name just a few- there are no gay couples playing international cricket.
Football throws up similar statistics. In the 2018 World Cup, none of the players identified as gay. However in the 2019 World Cup, 38 of the 552 women identified as either lesbian or bisexual. Is this because professional sport is an attractive career for lesbians, or because professional sportswomen who are homosexual feel more comfortable coming out? People who have tried to study this say that it is more likely the latter. Homosexuality is frowned upon in male locker rooms, but not in female locker rooms. Heterosexual women cricketers have said, “I don’t feel uncomfortable walking into a change room knowing that most of my teammates are lesbians.” With men, however, there is the pressure to conform to the heterosexual norm, which could be the reason for the marked difference in numbers of homosexual and bisexual sportspersons in team sports. The fact that there is only one (retired) international level cricketer who openly identifies as gay might also be a factor in ensuring people who are bisexual or gay remain in the closet.
How will they have babies, is a question easily answered. Adoption is an obvious route that lesbian couples can take, but IVF makes it possible for them to have a biological child also. After New Zealand cricketers Amy Satterthwaite and Lea Tahuhu got married in 2017, Satterthwaite who always wanted to have a child chose to become pregnant. The couple welcomed their first child in January 2020, and in the process, she also became the first cricketer to benefit from New Zealand’s maternity leave provision which allowed her to earn her retainer without needing to train or play with the team. The baby travelled with the couple to the World Cup, where, in their words, the baby had “15 aunties” who were happy to pitch in with babysitting duties. All of this points to greater inclusion and acceptance of lesbian couples in the New Zealand team, which will hopefully percolate to other teams too.
Are we likely to see a lesbian cricketer come out about her sexuality in India? It is only recently that homosexuality has been legalised in India, and even today homosexual marriages are not allowed. More importantly, society does not accept homosexuality, and even people who have come out to their families do not talk about it openly. In such a climate, a cricketer could also legitimately fear that if she comes out as homosexual, it may affect her chances of being selected for the team. However, with athlete Dhuti Chand coming out about her sexuality, the conversation has started, and one hopes that in time, it will spread to team sports too. However, a lot of headway needs to be made in accepting homosexuality before that day will come.
One can hope that one day, an Indian will write a post similar to this one-
“Disgraceful, shocking & plain wrong! What self respecting cricketers get married during the season? Seriously though two England greats. Congratulations”
A couple falling in love and getting married is a wonderful thing. We should cherish that.