Recommended Reading: Brittney Griner and the Quiet Queering of Professional Sports

I have to admit that, prior to this week, I had never given significant thought to the WNBA; the players, games or the association as a whole. Watching NBA games with my family was a large part of my childhood and so of course I supported and saw the necessity for a female counterpart. But there was often no ready opportunity or interest in watching a WNBA game. Recently, with the advent of the professional draft, I began to hear rumblings amongst my queer online contingent and in major news outlets of number one WNBA draft pick Brittney Griner.

brittney griner

Upon a quick Google search, I discovered that Griner was worth my consideration for *ahem* aesthetic reasons and more importantly because of what seems to be the casual and powerful way that she carries and displays both her queerness and gender identity. Her usual attire of menswear and nail polish combined with her striking 6’8″ stature and 7’4” wingspan represents a beautiful departure from societally accepted norms of the performance of womanhood. In our explorations of feminism and feminist and queer critique, it is important to focus on a field that does not usually gain much attention: sports. Here is an insightful interview and opinion piece written on Griner and the queering of professional sports.

Last week was a pretty good one for Brittney Griner. She got a job playing for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury. A few days later, she sat down alongside the nos. 2 and 3 draft picks — Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins — for a round of interviews, including a six-and-a-half-minute conversation with, during which Griner casually included herself as a gay role model for girls. If a moment could be both amazing and utterly “whatever,” this was it. Maybe it was amazing for its utter whateverness. It was news, of course, and yet it wasn’t. Birds didn’t fall from the sky. Commissioner Gordon didn’t need to flash the Bat-Signal. And no one even did that nervous-cough, “ahem” thing people do when they’re mildly embarrassed or pleasantly surprised by a guest’s lack of decorum at an important social function. It was as if Griner had answered a question about homosexuality in sports by saying, “Sporty was my favorite Spice.”

Honestly, the most amazing thing Griner did last week wasn’t even that visible. For both the draft and her interview — during which she wore glasses, a blue gingham shirt, and a dotted, ivory bow tie — Griner did something lots of women do, something that bestowed a bit of glamour to basic grooming. Brittney Griner painted her fingernails. In fact, she painted them a shade of orange that might have been awkward had she been picked up by, say, the Atlanta Dream instead of the Mercury. Doing your nails is one of those superfluous cosmetic flourishes that, on most women, is purely fun — if you’re an American sprinter at the Olympics, it’s the most fun of all.

But with Griner her orange nails were playful in a different direction. They feminized her menswear — she wore a fetching white tuxedo on draft night (the vests, the neckwear, the dress shirts, the slacks) — but they didn’t sell it out. They defused her look, they delivered Griner’s masculinity from drag, from performance, from posing into nature. They told you she’s not playing or pretending with these clothes. She’s just being. In 10 years, the suits and shirts won’t change, they’ll just be made of nicer fabrics and fit better. On the one hand: They’re just fingernails! On the other: Even as an evanescent acknowledgment that Griner’s going to play basketball for a team that uses a lot of orange, the nails altered the perception of her personal properties, softening a hard (and seemingly hard-luck) woman. They also get at the current political complexity of sexuality in sports.

You can read the rest of the article here at Grantland.

-Patricia Ekpo, Blog Editor

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