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The Outfield: Fighting for Both the Crips and the Queers
The Outfield: Fighting for Both the Crips and the Queers
by Dan Woog - SGN Contributing Writer

We've heard the jokes. OK, we've probably made them ourselves. A female friend gets turned down for a job. "Too bad you weren't a real minority," we commiserate. "Maybe if you were a Lesbian in a wheelchair..."

Danielle Peers is that Lesbian in a wheelchair. But don't you dare feel sorry for her. She'll kick your ass.

Peers - called "Doc" for reasons explained below - grew up in Edmonton, Alberta. She played soccer, sailed, and high jumped, but basketball was her passion. She captained Grant MacEwan College to the national championship, and made the Academic All-Canadian team.

But throughout her life Peers had knee and leg problems. She was told it was because she was an athletic female, but after her second year in college, she could no longer play. A woman told her to take up a new sport: wheelchair basketball.

"I'm not in a wheelchair!" Peers protested. No matter, the woman said - half the wheelchair basketball players in Canada are able-bodied.

Her first time on the court was an eye-opener. "Compared to the disabled people, I was completely unable," Peers recalls.

But she loved the game and persevered. Three years later, her condition was finally diagnosed: muscular dystrophy (MD - "Doc," get it?). Finally eligible to try out for the national team - restricted to legitimately disabled players - she quit her job as MacEwan's assistant coach and trained 40 hours a week. She helped the Canadians earn a number-one world ranking (and was named Most Valuable Player in a recent tournament).

She joined the Alberta Northern Lights men's team, and became the first woman on the men's all-star squad. In 2006, a French men's team signed her to play in the only professional wheelchair league on the planet.

"When I wheeled in for the first time, the players were unsure about a female," Peers recalls. "They wondered if I could keep up, and what their wives would think. The captain told them, 'She's not a woman. She's a Lesbian.' That was the last I heard about it. They figured as a Lesbian I'd be tougher, more athletic - and there would be no issues with their wives."

Peers came out at the end of high school. During her first relationship, she vowed there would be no secrets, discomfort, or shame. She made a commitment to herself to always mention her Queer identity publicly.

"There are a lot of similarities between coming out as Queer and coming out as disabled," she says. "I pass as able-bodied, because I can still walk, and in some situations I pass as straight. I learned a lot about people's expectations of 'normal.'"

One day, Peers was asked to speak about the Paralympics movement. She enjoyed it, and talked to more groups. Today she speaks at high school graduations, conferences, and even to firefighters. She calls public speaking an "amazing" job. "I can be political - and it pays the bills.

"I use words like 'dyke,' 'Queer,' 'crip,' and 'gimp' a lot," she says. "People feel uncomfortable at first, but hearing it from me allows them to discuss their fears about sexuality and their bodies. They end up asking lots of questions."

Peers talks often about failure. "Failing to meet 'normative standards' is seen as shameful," she says. "People freak out that I chose to play wheelchair basketball. They asked why I chose to do something that's seen as 'failure.' Choosing to be out and Queer plays into feelings of failure, too."

Her audiences struggle to understand, she says. But in the end, their reactions are "overwhelmingly positive. That may be because I don't tell them what to believe. I just relate my experiences. I start with my preconceptions as an able-bodied athlete, when I lost the ball to a quadriplegic."

The first time she spoke about her sexuality to a firefighters' group, she worried about taking a risk. "But they didn't feel threatened," she says. "Some of them cried. They told stories about Gay people they know. One guy e-mailed me later, and said he'd asked a cousin about his partner for the first time in his life."

Between speaking gigs, Peers is working on her master's degree at the University of Alberta, in Gay and disability studies. She is studying "reverse integration as a tool of social change." She explains: "People who are disabled want to pass as more able, so they get a fake leg. But that says there's something wrong with having a disability. As we age, everyone has something go wrong physically.

"A lot of Gay people want to do the same thing - pass as 'normal.' My goal is to make the experiences of being Gay and being a crip very positive, in sports and all areas of life."

Another goal is to compete in the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, immediately following the Olympic Games. Qualifying is taking place at press time, at the Parapan American Games in Rio de Janeiro. Playing on the top team in the world, Doc Peers should roll through the opposition.

Dan Woog is a journalist, educator, soccer coach, Gay activist, and author of the "Jocks" series of books on Gay male athletes. Visit his website at www.danwoog.com. He can be reached care of this publication or at OutField@qsyndicate.com.

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