Tales of a wandering lesbian

Why do lesbians like softball so much?

Ah, softball.  The great lesbian cliché, stereotype, and cultural experience.

Not all lesbians play softball.  Not all lesbians like softball.  But most lesbians have either played, watched from the stands, or been enticed to keep score for their girlfriend’s team.  Whether it’s cliché or not, softball is where a lot of lesbians find community.  It’s where I looked when I was feeling isolated, and where I’ve found an amazing family and support system.

Portland has a gay league.  55 teams of queers playing their hearts out every weekend for girls in bikinis and bears with travel trailers.  But even outside the gay leagues, softball plays an important part in lesbian culture.

It’s true that softball isn’t the only sport out there.  But it (aside from maybe rugby) holds the top spot as sports associated with lesbians.  Why is that?

Here’s what I think.  Boys like baseball.  It’s the great American pastime, after all.  They play it growing up, they watch it after they’re too old to play it.  It’s part of their psyche.  It’s part of the American psyche.  Until pretty recently, girls weren’t included in that culture.  The first opportunity we had to play something that looked like baseball was in Junior High or High School, when we signed up in droves for the softball team, eschewing the gender norms that pigeonholed many of us as “freaks” and “she-men,” to put on socks and stirrups like the boys.  No briefs like volleyball, or skirts like field hockey.

When you line up the traditional Title 9 sports, softball and baseball are the most similar team sports for men and women.  Through college, softball allows women to compete in a sport that is as understood and important to our society as baseball.   And it’s empowering to know that you can compete physically with top athletes of any gender.

Outside of the women’s studies, gender role stuff, in the recreational arena, softball is fun, and it’s inclusive.

While it requires a certain level of hand-eye coordination, and certainly rewards those who are physically fit, softball accommodates all sizes and shapes of players.  Whether you’re a super-fit sporty dyke, or a fluffier lady, there’s a place for you on the field.  There aren’t a lot of sports that have room for 250 pound women as starting athletes.

Softball is a team sport.  It’s a place where people can come together to play, to compete, and to socialize.  Unlike say basketball or volleyball, a lot of socializing happens DURING the game of softball.  Most of the team is in the dugout together for extended periods of time each inning while the team is batting.  That provides for great camaraderie around the game, as well as time to chat about what people did over the weekend, and how cute the shortstop on the other team is.

So there you have it.  Softball allows us to participate, to compete, and to socialize meaningfully in the context of athletics.  It allows for exhibitionists to perform for their ladies and for voyeurs to watch women of all physicalities giving their best.

And it allows us to dress up in uniforms.  Uniforms.  Let’s be honest.  That’s what it’s really all about.

FOR THE GAYS

Softball is so much a part of lesbian culture, that “softball lesbian” is a known shorthand for a certain type of lesbian.  It describes much more than the fact that she plays softball.  Are you an aspiring softball lesbian?  Here are some things to consider:

Dating team members – If you are going to play softball in order to find a girlfriend, think carefully.  I have a rule that I don’t play on the same team as someone I’m dating.  That also means I don’t date someone on my team.  I learned that the hard way after dating a teammate on my rugby team.  When we broke up I lost my girlfriend, and my team.

Softball girlfriend – If your girlfriend isn’t a softball player, she may or may not be interested in watching your games.  Find out up front.  If she doesn’t know the difference between practice and scrimmage, it’s likely she’s not going to understand why you want her to come to your games.  It’s best to manage your expectations early, or it’s going to be a rough season.

Drama free team – Many softball teams will advertise themselves as “drama free.”  Don’t’ be fooled!  This is the first clue that there have been many drama-filled incidents occurring on the team.  Likely, half of the team has dated each other and the other half is new players (read: “fresh meat”).  If the team has a new coach, and last year’s coach is now just a player on the team, or a player on another team, the team is not drama free.

Tokens – Not all softball players are gay.  Even in the gay leagues, we have straight players sprinkled in.  Whether they’re looking for a cultural experience, or playing with their lesbian sister, it’s important not to assume that they’re lesbians.  Because things that would indicate lesbianism in the outside world (like ass grabbing) don’t necessarily work the same on the field, it’s always safest to ask.

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