The Amazon Trail

 Softball Memories

Lee and her pinkie ring go to PTown

Lee and her pinkie ring go to PTown

We’re glazed in, said a neighbor. Ice, freezing rain, snow, winds. The streets are sheathed in a thin, treacherous layer of ice. In the yard the fat little dog crunches through the ice, then sinks into snow, one paw, two paws, three paws, four. In Sochi, Russia, the Winter Olympics go gayly forward. Heck, they could luge down our hill. “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.” Olympic Charter I don’t remember sports quite like that. Here’s what The Federation of Gay Games writes on their web site about gays in sports. “The best gay and lesbian athletes in the world already do compete in the Olympics (with a large majority of them in the closet). But the Olympics, and mainstream sport in general, remain a very difficult place for homosexual athletes to compete, and certainly to compete without hiding their sexual identity. There are countless potential champions who under-perform, or simply don’t participate, in mainstream sport because of homophobia.” When I was a kid, girls couldn’t use the gym very often. Our P.E. teachers taught us demure dances in a classroom, while the boys shouted in the gym, feet and basketballs pounding the wooden floors. I remember once playing baseball in the junior high playground, but never got to bat. Girls who played tennis walked over a mile to courts at a public park and used our own rackets. The gay teachers were, of course, closeted. The straight girls made fun of them. I hero-worshipped them. We got more space and time to do sports in college. We even had a women’s sports association. Again, the teachers were closeted. They had to be in order to get that space and time for women students. As obvious as some of the phys ed students were, they played straight or they left school. Pretty clever, to get a lesbian department head to weed out any gay girl whose profile wasn’t low enough. The male phys ed chair tried to lure me away from the English department, but the pays ed majors avoided my eyes. I stuck with the avant-garde English majors where I felt safer. Later, in my late twenties, I discovered women’s softball. Not to play, but to be a fan at Raybestos Stadium in Stratford, Connecticut where the greatest women’s softball team was located and where the greatest women’s softball player wowed the crowds. Joanie Joyce played with the Raybestos Brakettes, a legendary fast pitch team that won state, national, and international championships. Look up Joan Joyce on the internet; she’s had an amazing career in golf and basketball as well and few people have ever heard of her. I don’t know how I lucked out to live in the same state as The Brakettes and Joyce, but I got to see her play and win there and during the brief professional women’s softball league days in the 1970s. I’d go to those games with a mix of gay and non-gay women co-workers. The small stadium would be half-filled with blue collar straight couples and wildly crushed out gay women. It amazed me that most of the Brakettes’ followers were straight and considered the games family outings. This was a new world for me. I came to enjoy the relaxed late afternoon games and to admire powerhouse player Joan Joyce enormously. She’s 72 now and coaching at a university in Florida, as competitive as ever. She’s still completely gorgeous, a fitting idol for any young athlete. You knew you were in the presence of greatness when you followed her team off the field. The women’s movement came along and proved, once everyone settled down a bit, to have an interest in sports beyond passing Title IX in 1972. Suddenly, we were watching or playing softball instead of talking and talking in consciousness raising groups. The softball fields of the U.S. proved fertile ground for a meshing of lesbian feminists and bar dykes. I went to those games to be part of something. When the lesbian team in New Haven played the straight girls, the dykes could count on  posse of both head dykes and bed dykes to be raucous fans in the bleachers. Head dykes, back then, came out via their feminist politics. Bed dykes just came out. Softball, so to speak, leveled the playing field. Each side had something to teach the other.

Irish Hat

Irish Hat

Today, it’s astonishing for me to see the “free” world taking up the cause of gay Olympians and gay Russians. We haven’t been free about anything gay for very long. Is this just another way of condemning a Communist country or have we at last melted the ice of repression in America and embraced the Olympian tenet of fair play?

Copyright Lee Lynch 2014

14 Responses to “The Amazon Trail”


  1. 3 Denna February 17, 2014 at 10:39 AM

    I was lucky 10 in 1972 I was 10 years old and if it weren’t for Title IX and softball I’d probably be dead. I too idolized Joan Joyce and strived to be a professional softball player. I made it on to the farm team of the San Jose Rainbow (formerly the Sun Birds) in 78. Physical Ed teachers and softball really did save my life. Thanks for staying in the English department Lee and saving me in a different way, with your stories.

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  2. 5 S.A. February 17, 2014 at 5:20 PM

    While it’s clear we’re making progress on the gay rights front (e.g., the changing attitudes nationally about gay marriage), we still have a long way to go (with respect to sports, it will be interesting to see how Michael Sam’s career develops or not, for example). Women’s sports seem to be more accepting of homosexual athletes, while men’s sports are still notoriously homophobic. Russia’s law re: gay “propaganda” flies in the face of much of what we believe here in the States – although your question is a prudent one: are we as sensitive to it be/c it’s Russia, or is our sensitivity a sign of greater progress at home? I think it’s some of both, but am hoping that it’s more heavily influenced by the latter than the former… Thoughtful blog as usual, Lee, thanks!

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  3. 7 lynettemaeauthor February 17, 2014 at 9:27 PM

    Lee, I agree, progress may be detoured or slowed from time to time, but the march is ever forward. As always your thoughtful insights read as a lyrical tale, transporting me to the events as you observed them. You, my friend, are amazing. Thank you for sharing your visions of the world and teaching us a thing or two along the way. Hugs.

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  4. 9 Kim February 18, 2014 at 8:57 AM

    Like so many others I’m thankful for the female athletes who paved the way for the rest of us. I’m also thankful to you Lee for sharing your many insights and stories along the way.

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  5. 11 Devlyn February 19, 2014 at 6:41 AM

    Lee this is another fabulous blog from you, very thought provoking. I too was saved by softball and later field hockey, the friendships made on the sporting field stood me in good stead for the rest of my life. I will always treasure my softball days as some of the happiest of my life. I think there is still a lot of blissful ignorance in the case of most people. When discussing whether I was going to watch the Winter Olympics with friends and family very few of them knew about the atrocities in Russia toward homosexuals and others. This may be because our free to air tv is so sensored and a lot of things are being hidden from us, sweeping it under the rug if you will.

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    • 12 Lee Lynch February 19, 2014 at 4:36 PM

      I love the responses this column has evoked, including yours of course, Devlyn. Also, today a friend sent me a link to Google News. She said it was film of Pussy Riot being kicked and whipped by police at a protest. When I clicked on the link it had been taken down. Censorship is alive and well everywhere. I wish I could beam those brave women back to softball days.

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  6. 13 Lee Lynch February 20, 2014 at 2:39 AM

    Joanie Joyce fans, there’s a video available of her explaining her pitches here: http://www.epochalips.com/?p=1044#comment-22366
    Lee

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