if harry hay could see them now

In the news today, trouble in gay softball leagues: what to do with all the straights who want to play, too. Leagues have limits, either everyone who plays must be gay, or there might be a 2-hetero limit on each team. The question becomes how to tell who has too many straights. The blurry and fluid boundaries of sexuality that scholars have been loving to talk and write about for decades comes into stark relief as the shortstop married to a woman says he is bisexual, or the best slugger in the league claims to be both straight and gay.

This problem is inevitable for leagues that started in separate worlds from the straight softball leagues, battling stigma and exclusion at the same time they offered fun and community. As attitudes have shifted dramatically over the last 20 years, the social worlds of gay and straight softball players overlap much more. It is a real problem for the gay leagues, who want to continue their community building effort and know full well there are still many gay athletes who experience stigma and exclusion, but it can only be thought of as a good problem to have, one that only the great visionaries could imagine in the past. Of course, if Harry Hay were to imagine the social world sixty years from when he started the first U.S. gay activist group, he probably would have steered clear of the softball field and created a communal love-in surrounding a performance space, but I think he’d still like this.

If the gay leagues want to look to the social sciences for advice on how to draw these boundaries fairly, they will get little help. Building boundaries between identity categories has not been the focus of much research. However, I would argue that a focus on social practices, rather than identities and desires might be a starting place. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a minimum level of participation in gay community life that were the determining factor, such as attendance at gay community events or support groups. While there is not going to be a perfect way to divide gays from straights (we told you so!), this would at least emphasize building community rather than tearing gays and straights apart.

2 thoughts on “if harry hay could see them now”

  1. Interesting. Is this about “stacking” teams to win, or just about who gets to be in on the socializing and not wanting to dilute the “cultural” control of the group? I mean, in practice, in terms of who is doing it.

    My first thought was the Negro baseball leagues, which were destroyed when Blacks were finally “allowed” to play in the White leagues. But that was structurally a very different situation in many ways and isn’t really comparable at all.

    It’s also sort of like the problem of how transwomen are received at women-only events. But, again, not exactly.


    1. The article didn’t distinguish, but since the example was about one of the teams in the World Series, it stands to reason that it was about ringers. However, I imagine that in neighbourhood leagues, this rule might be more about community/culture of the game issues.


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