Drew Cordes

Boston Herald sportswriter comes out in column

Filed By Drew Cordes | January 07, 2011 8:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Living
Tags: sports, steve buckley

A sportswriter for the Boston Herald, Steve Buckley, came out as gay in a recent column. steve_buckley.jpgNear the end of his piece, he says:

But during this same period (of planning to come out), I have read sobering stories about people who came undone, killing themselves after being outed. These tragic events helped guide me to the belief that if more people are able to be honest about who they are, ultimately fewer people will feel such devastating pressure.

In the wake of the It Gets Better Project, we've recently witnessed similar scenes of people in the public eye addressing their sexuality/gender, most notably Fort Worth city Councilman Joel Burns' moving testimonial. It's easy to lump Buckley in with this recent movement, but his position in the world of sports adds another level to his declaration.

In American culture, the world of sports, male sports in particular, is among the last areas queer openness and acceptance has yet to penetrate. Considering the thousands upon thousands of professional and high-profile collegiate athletes, those who have come forward are few and far between.

There's the tragic case of another sportswriter, the Los Angeles Times' Mike Penner/Christine Daniels. Former journeyman NBA center John Amaechi was the first in his league to come out. His book Man in the Middle about his closeted life in the league was published after he retired. Former Major League Baseball player Billy Bean also came out in a book after retiring. With women's sports recently, we've had the stories of runner Caster Semenya's gender confusion and Kye Allums taking the court as a man with his women's NCAA basketball team. And we all know the trailblazing Renee Richards did on the tennis court in decades past.

Considering how huge a role sports plays in our society, I shouldn't be able to list its queer ambassadors and their stories in one short paragraph. Obviously, there are countless queer athletes, past and present, who prefer to live closeted. The resistant culture of the sports world is undoubtedly among the many rationalizations they cite to justify that decision. If living a lie is preferable to being oneself, well, the logical conclusion is that there must be some harsh consequences that accompany the latter option.

That culture is not going to change overnight. The only way we'll see a shift is for more people to do what Buckley, Amaechi, Bean, Penner/Daniels, Allums and Richards did. One person at a time. Like Buckley says "if more people are able to be honest about who they are, ultimately fewer people will feel such devastating pressure." Right now, it seems like he's just one person, but every person matters.


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And of course, hours after I write this I hear that Johnny Weir came out publicly. Not one of America's major sports, but he's a high-profile Olympian. A notable addition. I love him.

There are a number of trans sportswriters you've left out of this. Perhaps the reason you can count them on one hand is you didn't bother finding out about them. Sportswriter/baseball book editor Christina Kahrl (who posts on Bilerico) came out as trans years ago. A sportswriter in Canada just publicly came out as trans last month. There have been a number of gay players from the NFL: Esera Tuaolo, David Kopay, and Roy Simmons. Kopay came out in the late 70s, wrote a book about his experiences and is a real trailblazer.

And btw, I have an issue with you calling people "queer ambassadors" unless they ID themselves that way. There are

Gina, why is that when trans issues are interjected into a post like this, it's always with such a mean tone? It's one thing to say, "I wish you'd included..." as versus "you didn't bother finding out about them." One claims your own wants and needs and the other just seeks to belittle the writer. I don't mean to single you out - you're hardly the only culprit and a good portion of the time you don't do it (which is why I'm asking you versus some of the other commenters). Religion seems to be the only other topic that brings out the worst in commenters automatically - and I mean the lack of professional courtesy and goodwill that's usually given to anyone. This makes it seem as if you're accusing Drew of leaving out trans folk entirely while she included several. I don't know. I'm rambling. I'm just curious. Feel free to respond off the site if you'd like; you know my e-mail. It'd be an interesting conversation to have with you.

I'm not only complaining about her 'leaving trans folks out.' Bil, did you actually read what I wrote? I mentioned Dave Kopay and Esera Tuaolo both of whom are gay, non-trans men. Yes, I am accusing her of lazy research (ie Renee Richards is basically media source #1 for quotes which rag on and disparage trans athletes... if you're going to bring her up you should know this). No, I don't like her applying the term 'queer' to people who haven't publicly identified with that term. Yes, I think it's interesting how you left out these aspects of what I wrote yet immediately jumped on your "mean trans" rant.

Nor do I think calling someone out for their lack of thoroughness is "bringing out the worst." You don't like my tone... that's your preference and right, dear. I'm not liking Drew's pieces (most of which I don't comment on) So, more to the point of your question, I do think you have a number of writers (both trans and cis) who write about trans issues with much sloppiness.

Totally separate from my response to Drew.... some of the non-trans contributors mention trans issues in an altogether less thoughtful way than they discuss non-trans gay or lesbian issues and show a real lack of trying to understand and research trans-related topics. You have a non-trans writer talking about trans people, then in the same breath talking about gay people or lesbians as though they're totally non-overlapping entities with the trans community... that's a problem. When you have a contributor who regularly suggests frat boys in drag or Moose Lodge members doing their dress-up show are somehow trans... that's a lack of thoughtfulness, almost like seeing a photo of an a-hole doing a "fairy hand wave" and assuming that person is gay. And I do repeatedly call out people here who talk about how something represents the LGBTQ community (like many of the 'It Gets Better' videos) but there is, in fact, zero mention or representation of trans people within. Talking about suicide, violence or bullying as it relates to LGBTQ people yet not connecting any of that to gender expression is tunnel vision. It's called "what's missing from this picture." Just like when media represents Americans and shows a bunch of white people... yes, that's a problem.

Believe it or not, learning about the transcommunity isn't akin to brain surgery... if you keep your ears and eyes open and ask questions for which you're actually listening for an answer and drop some of your assumptions one can learn a lot in a very short time. But when people are a stuck record (I'm dating myself) which repeats, "you people are too complicated and too pissy to ever understand or please" ... yes, you're going to get frustration and attitude back.

You have some non-trans writers, like Alex, who I've never, ever had an issue with how he writes about trans topics... he is always excellent. Tobi is an outstanding, thorough, thoughtful writer on all manner of trans issues... an example of a trans contributor here who I greatly appreciate. Others... feh. GIve me credit, I didn't even once mention R*n G*ld.

Yes, it's interesting how that most of the time hearing a non-trans person talk about trans stuff reminds me of upper-socioeconomical-class ppl of European descent expounding on lower-socioeconomical-class ppl from ethnic minorities, often *to* ppl from the lower-socioeconomical-class ethnic minorities. It can be pretty eye-opening to hear your life explained to you by ppl who read *an* article somewhere.

As you say, Alex is pretty much sets the standard here, and seems to be a deep, true ally of trans ppl.

And yes, *that* contributer seems to be willfully obtuse about trans issues, at the least. I try to avoid thinking that she is consciously doing the trans equivalent of blackface, but it does often cross my mind.

PS: I know this is severely OT; I would have preferred to send this to you privately. Is there a way I can reach you through your website, or could I get your email? If you wish to stay private, I understand! :)

Readers often fail to distinguish between news and opinion. Most of my pieces are my opinion/experience. If you don't like my opinions, that's fine. This post is only partially a news piece. I cranked out this post based on Buckley's coming out 1.) because the story had JUST broke that day and I didn't see it represented on Bilerico anywhere, and 2.) because it triggered some thoughts about queer presence in the sports world. Perhaps I should not have gone with such a newsy headline.

I'll admit my error in writing "Considering how huge a role sports plays in our society, I shouldn't be able to list its queer ambassadors and their stories in one short paragraph." That was a dumb sentence. Trying to crank this post out quickly since it was breaking news caused me to overlook the painfully obvious fact that my short list was by no means all-inclusive. I should've made my point about the scarcity of queer sports figures differently.

As for calling them queer ambassadors though -- if you come out publicly to the press, write a book, go on TV, etc., you're an ambassador. It's a public declaration from a now public figure.

And yes, I'm well-aware of Renee Richards' odd stance on trans issues. I touched on it in a previous post about Kye Allums actually. I listed her precisely because she's high-profile. High-profile sports and athletes is what this entry was about.

Sure, the sentence was dumb, but the problem is that you walked into this conversation with baggage--your expectation of the kind of reception openly queer people get in sports, and an expectation of conflict and drama.

In contrast, I would suggest that all of us are better served to just walk in to do a job, because if that's what people see you're there for, you'll be treated as what you are: a working professional. That's what I did, and that's how I've been treated.

Admittedly, I come at this as a writer, not a player, and that is a much more stark divide. It pales in comparison to what Kye Allums is doing, being both out and active. His example is the one I find that much more compelling, because it goes to the heart of what's great about sports, that teammates bond and play together, and win or lose together.

However, when I came out in 2003, I made a couple of strategic decisions. First, I rejected the notion of stealth in terms of being trans from day one. Since then, I've been going to MLB press boxes, locker rooms, press conferences, and more, without ever experiencing a problem. I have yet to be treated with anything but courtesy and professionalism by people in the industry. I was voted into the BBWAA in December 2008 with no fanfare beecause I'm trans, but plenty of congratulations because I was one of the first four columnists voted in from an online news site as opposed to a daily newspaper. When I asked the BBWAA if they had my back if I ever ran into any problems, I was told I was to be given the same courtesy and respect as any other member, and that I had their full support, and if I ran into any problem, I should immediately refer it to them.

Happily, I have yet to, but it's a credit to them that they took that stance from day one, with no press conference. It's every bit as much a credit to Major League Baseball that I have never had to take the BBWAA up on it. Think on that fact--a group of sportswriters, generally older white men, perhaps generally conservative, and what did they do? They did exactly the right thing.

I would suggest that all of us give *that* thought: that it was not a big deal, has not become a big deal, and frankly should not become a big deal. Trans woman goes to work, does her job, *no* film at 11.

The only reason to draw attention to this is to point out that this is life as it oughta be, that this is how employers should act, or industries behave. But that brings me to my second strategic decision: I turned away every media request in my first couple of years, and rarely agree to do them (the HBO "Real Sports" story being a rare exception). I did so because my sense was and is that doing my job is *not* a news story, but making it into one would be a great way to make doing my job more difficult. I am a sportswriter who happens to be transsexual; I refuse to be pigeon-holed as "the transsexual sportswriter."

When I'm not working, I'm always willing to talk about the fact that I'm trans--per my first decision, it isn't a secret, and I see no reason that it should be. I'm happy to answer questions about being trans if asked one on one, and I have been, by people within sports and the media, or former classmates and fraternity brothers. I still take in the odd ballgame with the latter for fun, while working among the former. The majority of my friends and colleagues are openly straight; they don't have a problem with the fact that I'm openly trans and openly bi.

So when it comes to sports, where some seek controversy, I would suggest that there is a deeper reservoir of moral courage and a larger number of allies than many in the queer community give credit to. Admittedly, that's my experience, not everyone's, and there remains a ton of progress to be made by us, as a society and as a nation.

It is with every confidence that I state that we will make it so, whether through the tireless work of transgender leaders (some of whom, like Monica Roberts or Jillian Weiss, are here on these pages), or those of the rest of us through our own volunteer efforts in our own cities and states. We are *all* ambassadors from the queer community to the rest of our countrymen, every single day, and in every single way.

"As for calling them queer ambassadors though"

Just an educated guess, but I think Gina was prolly referring to the 'queer' part rather than the 'ambassador' part. I for one like 'queer', and use it to describe myself, but it is kinda like 'tranny', with a lot of ppl reacting very strongly to it.

And by-the-by, you *did* say "the trailblazing Renee Richards did on the tennis court in decades past", which to me referred to original positive things she did. What she is doing now is a totally different thing.

And finally, I am like Christina in having mixed feelings about all the commotion about famous ppl coming out. Sure, it prolly helps a little when they do, but I feel they can do far more good by just being themselves in their daily interactions with other, not making a big issue of it, but just mater-of-factly talking about their lives with no more editing than str8 ppl do. Just my own personal opinion, doesn't make it the best! :)

Carol, I have zero issue with people calling themselves queer or tranny, just when it's used in a blanket way to refer to many who don't ID themselves as such or as a cheap shortcut by the media. Not cool.

I give a lot of credit to Renee Richards' gutsiness in the 1970s, but she's lost my respect many times over with her other statements, entitlement and arrogance. I have a lot more respect for Dave Kopay than her. I also want to make special mention of baseball player Glenn Burke who came out in the early 80s, took a huge amount of heat both as an out athlete (while still playing) and as a black gay man (who has since sadly succumbed to AIDS). He was a truly brave soul and I don't want his name to be forgotten or skimmed over.

And Christine is all around great!

Oops... I meant Christina K!

Thanks, Gina, much appreciated. And points to you for mentioning both Glenn Burke--who was reportedly treated really badly--and Dave Kopay, as admirable a person as he was for coming out. I wrote a profile about him for Pride magazine about him a few years ago, after his bequest to the Q Center for LGBT students at the University of Washington. His autobiography about being gay and an NFL player, first published in 1977, remains a compelling read. The bequest, to me, remains the most underreported sports-related LGBT story of the past decade, but that's because it represents (to me) a true act of leadership by example, instead of "just" coming out (hard as that is).