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Liberty
Liberty
by Jennifer Vanasco - SGN Contributing Writer

For my first WNBA game ever, I went to see the New York Liberty.

They lost.

But it didn't matter.

Because I rediscovered something I had half-forgotten while living in New York, so, so far from my former sports-crazy hometown of Chicago: When you are a woman, it is amazing to watch other women play sports.

In Chicago, I played football and volleyball in the Lesbian league; most of my friends played softball in the spring and summer, and a few also played basketball or tennis. So I did a lot of sports-watching (and some playing), and even more cheering.

Now, my friends mostly do yoga. As do I. And while yoga is centering and relaxing and strengthening and beautiful, you don't really watch others doing yoga. It's all about your own body, your own experience.

But it is an inspiring thing to watch women move well, play well, and show the kind of physical courage and intelligence that 30 years ago was thought of as something only belonging to men.

The women of the NY Liberty and the Detroit Shock weren't just inspiring to me. They were also inspiring to the two small girls sitting behind me, chanting "Go, Liberty!" with enthusiasm and identical lisps. They were inspiring to the two (straight-seeming) men across the aisle who were arguing about tactics and strategy. They were inspiring to the pack of Gay men waving those air-filled noisemakers to distract the free-throwers.

And they were absolutely inspiring to the other Lesbians all over the arena, the Lesbians sitting in twos and threes and eights who were wearing Liberty shirts and shouting at the players like they knew them, like they were old friends.

There were Lesbians in the seats, but not on the court. At least not any out Lesbians, though there was one woman on the Liberty who made me sit up and whisper to my (Gay) friend, "I think she plays on our team."

Sheryl Swoopes came out a couple years ago, but she plays for the Seattle Storm. Latasha Byears is an out Lesbian - she plays for the Houston Comets. Michele Van Gorp and Sue Wicks both were out Lesbian players, but both have retired.

So, that's two. Two out Lesbians in the WNBA, which has a ferocious Lesbian fan base. Admittedly, that's more than the number of Gay men out in the NBA (zero, plus the retired John Amaechi), but it still seems absurd. Would coming out really hurt the careers of these women? After all, conservative dinosaurs tend to believe that female athletes are all Gay anyway.

But whether they're out or not, there are some Lesbians that make your Gaydar ring, and when I saw that certain player on the Liberty, I was happy. I immediately felt a bond; I felt like I could be her, flying across the court, taking elbows to the gut without wincing, dribbling with grace and agility.

Of course, to be her I'd have to A) grow a foot and B) learn to play basketball, but you know what I mean.

Yet I don't feel like Lesbians need to come out in the WNBA the way I feel men should come out. The Gay men hiding in the NBA (or the NFL, or in hockey or baseball) are hiding because they don't want to lose the privileges they have.

But WNBA players aren't privileged. They play in the off-season. The first draft pick gets a salary of about $44,000 - less than a fourth of what their drafted brothers make.

I bet that the Lesbians who are closeted are worried that if they come out (and are not superstars like Swoopes, the Michael Jordan of the WNBA), they might not find a team to let them play at all.

WNBA players are already breaking barriers, just by playing as women. They are winning fans, male and female, because they are so good, because they are doing things that once women weren't allowed to do.

Someday, all the Lesbians who play for the WNBA will be able to be out. Someday, they will be able to celebrate their marriages the way their straight colleagues do - with press releases. Someday, they will stop trying to camouflage themselves by dressing especially girly, or by using a good male friend as a beard.

But until then, we can just watch them. We can watch them fly through the air toward the net, the ball tracing an arc through the sky.

Jennifer Vanasco is an award-winning, syndicated columnist. E-mail her at jennifer.vanasco@gmail.com.

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