Like attending a women's college, drinking beer from the bottle, and having sex with other women, softball has long been recognized as a sure sign of homosexuality. "If you play, you're probably gay," clarifies the L.A. Times.
When the Wall Street Journal published the front page picture of Elena Kagan about to swing at a softball game during her U Chicago days, the question was not is softball gay?, but rather is this former player gay? The former was simply assumed, while the latter was coyly batted about; few respectable journalists (i.e. not cable news anchors) wanted to come out and say Kagan was gay, but the question simmered slowly, to the point where people were asking for proof that Kagan was what she said. Not that anyone is homophobic, mind you, they just wanted this key issue cleared up, once and for all.
In the gay witch hunt to locate Kagan's sexual orientation, the question of is softball gay? was never even raised - instead, it was accepted as an indication, even by those who rejected the rumors, a well-known signal of Here there be Lesbians. In an article for today's L.A. Times, David Wharton and Melissa Rohlin discuss softball's ongoing struggle with the gay reputation. They write:
The situation gets even trickier because somewhere amid the chatter lies a kernel of truth: Softball has long held a special status among lesbians in America.
"It is one of those little touchstone things," said Rosalyn Bugg, an official with the Greater Los Angeles Softball Assn., founded as a slow-pitch league for gays. "Softball has always been a safe place."
But once softball became recognized as a "safe place" for lesbians, the reputation began to spread, until many straight women felt tainted by the rumors of homosexuality. Straight women began worrying about being mistaken for gay because of their teammates, and several report feeling the need to preemptively declare their sexual orientation. A quote from a Santa Monica High student encapsulates the tension: "You see a lot of girls wearing makeup, a lot of girls with their hair really pretty because you can definitely tell they still want to look pretty and probably go against those stereotypes that were pinned against them."
Makeup and pretty hair mean you are straight. Short hair and softball mean you're gay. Once spelled out in such explicit terms, these rules are easily identified as ridiculous. Yet many people, desirous of a way to easily spot The Gay, still adhere to this kind of thinking. Even Mike Candrea, who coached player Jennie Finch at Arizona and on the Olympic team, reveals a certain level of homophobic fear in his thinking about the sport. He claims that the blonde, pretty Finch helped change the game's reputation, making it somehow straighter by her conventionally attractive presence. "There's no comparison," he said. "The faces of our sport are Jennie and people like that … c'mon."
Which leads to the real problem with the question Is X gay?: it can create a spiral of denial and rebuttal, which, even when the thing X has no problem with homosexuality, sends the message that gayness is something undesirable. Often, when the answer is a straight-forward No, the questioner persists, refusing to accept the fact that X did not come out. This process relies on the assumption that, even if X is actually gay, that is such an undesirable thing that they probably wouldn't admit it. Continuing to speculate over Kagan's sexuality is not only sexist, but it also reinforces the idea that homosexuality is something to be denied, repressed, and rejected. Lauren Lappin, a professional softball player who came out years ago, says she is offended by the entire discussion of whether softball is for homos. "I think it implies that, No. 1, most softball players are lesbian, and that being lesbian is not as good as being straight, or that it's bad or gross or wrong."
Related: Softball Is For Lesbians (And Other Kagan Close Readings), Choosing To Be Child Free And The Kagan Rorschach Test, Friends, Peers Testify that Kagan Is Not A Lesbian, Elena Kagan And The Sexual Politics Of A Private Life