An online space for queer, questioning, lesbian, bi, trans and everything else in between women at Yale

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Tell me that is not one of the cutest things you've ever seen?

Anyhow, I'm excited. As awesome as I thought this was going to be when the page was empty but for a banner, now its 7x more awesome.

This is kind of a warm-up for me, so I'm writing about one of the easiest things for me to talk about at all times...rowing.

Yesterday was the first day Yale Women's Crew was back on the water. Thank God. The winter is extra cold and extra long when you're a rower. The jubilation was palpable. It was cold, but it was awesome.

I've had a very interesting experience (so far, still have a few months) as a varsity athlete at Yale. I started rowing in high school after giving up on tennis and softball. Oh the cliches. Anyhow, I was an okay rower, but I'm small for the sport. I wasn't even sure I was going to row in college, but it did look sparkling on all of my applications. Sure as day, I got into Yale. Once I got here, I got snapped right back into the fray as a freshman with experience. There were actually quite a few of us that year, which made the transition easier. Still, YWC was full of surprises.

Oh the shock I had when I discovered there were not shower stalls in the boathouse but just a room with tons of shower heads. "I'm fucked" I thought, followed by "what is this the military?" The answer to the later turned out to be "Yes" in quite a few ways, mostly the physical demands. But it turns out I was fine. I've now got something like 60 sisters in addition to the 2 biological ones.

At Athletes and Allies this fall, I got asked, as the sole representative of my team and one of the few female athletes not playing rugby or fencing, what the culture on YWC is like. Still unclear on whether I was more embarrassed for myself or my teammates in absentia, I stuttered out what was probably a totally incoherent response with the bottom line of "we're all repressed as hell".
So now, I will take some time to clarify that statement, and amend it somewhat, given the events of the past four months.

The culture on our team has changed year to year. It's created very heavily by the senior class. My freshman year, the seniors were incredibly stand-off ish to the rest of the team which created a tension. On the upswing, one of the seniors was just out of a relationship with a recent alumna, so the reality of queers on our team was readily apparent. I was far too terrified of the upperclassmen to have it effect me one way or the other, but I did come out to my class.

My sophomore and junior years were both dominated by the Class of 2009. They were bitches. So much so, that in their absence, even our coach recognizes it. I came quite close to having a physical altercation with one of them after she made a snide remark about another teammate who had quit being a "fat dyke". It didn't help matters that this particular teammate of mine was a close friend and a huge crush of mine, but that is a story for another day.

Fast forward to Athletes and Allies. It's my senior year, and I figure its time for me to be the change I want to see in the world, or on my team. So when it came to be my turn to speak, I said whatever I did, and for the most part I stick by it. Rowers are all nuts. All of us. It's a full time job you don't get paid for. It hurts like hell. It eliminates your night life for the last three months of school. It will occasionally force you to miss things you really REALLY want to do (bad romance...). But its awesome. Racing is awesome. Being jacked is awesome. the NCAA paying for my printer ink is awesome. But we get so wrapped up in the pursuit, and in our ability to talk exclusively about rowing, that we're practically strangers. That's been my big realization of the term.

I got in so much trouble after Drag Ball in the fall because only two of the kids in my class knew it was happening. After my scolding, I responded honestly, "I didn't realize you guys would care". I didn't mean it to be brazen, or rude. But it changed things. It's like everyone woke up and realized how far we'd come from freshman year, and how far apart we'd come.

I would point fingers if I could. I was the outcast because I'm bi (also a discussion for another time, but trust and believe, it is coming) so on and so forth. But everything in life is a two-way street. I'm a naturally private person, my teammates sometimes really piss me off, and I wasn't going to force a discussion where there wasn't one already. Though if these past couple of months are any indication, some people may have really wanted to talk, but I came off as stone-walling them, which in part I probably was.

It's apparently not a problem limited to sexual orientation, gender preference and all that jazz. Everybody feels isolated. Even people I assumed were deeply snuggled in the web of our team felt isolated. And through whatever confluence of forces, I became the center of this surge in interest in having more meaningful interactions with each other. Everyone came and talked about their isolation with me, that and to quiz me on girls.

So, what's the culture on YWC like? It's like the hugest, longest lasting family reunion you'll ever see. There are nuclear families who are tight, and distance relatives who you can barely recall any meaningful details about. There are those I wish I knew better and those I wish didn't show at all. But at the end of the day, given a little initiative, we're all closer. More relaxed. More person, less rower.

And so I go into this spring more excited than I've ever been to be on this team. Because I'm building my own friendships, and I see the same thing happening everywhere. And we're going to fast, which always helps.

It occurs to me that might not be any more coherent, just longer. I'd fix it, but you'll never guess where I have to run off to....

Also, what the hell everybody posting? Now I want a cool alias too. Any ideas?


Anonymous said...

SOOO awesome, Ryan!! I love hearing about your experience with crew, and good for you for making connections with your teammates. Yay!

wondering... said...

Do you think there is anything that can be done to increase lgbtq awareness in other sports teams?? or i guess more specifically, any suggestions as to what we can do?

Do you think more teams have a similar situation as what the crew team had??

Ryan said...

Thanks guys. I realized that I am full of stories. Just wait until I finish my senior essay...

now to questions..
tackling the 2nd one first. I think part of what creates our team dynamic is its size. We push 50 every year. I don't expect us all to be best friends, but its certainly a different environment than a smaller team affords. We also split into crews makes for built in subdivisions. So if I were to guess, I'd imagine track would come the closest.
That said, the presence of the occasional homophobe or general absent minded insensitivity is something i doubt any team is immune to.

now question 1:
I think the issue of raising awareness on teams is sort of weird one. Everyone at Yale (more or less) has a gay friend. I think what gets forgotten is that it can be hard when its only one voice to jump into a typical conversation and add "yeah, and I met this girl over the weekend and damn.........". I'm sure none of my teammates plotted making our socializing really heteronormative for my disadvantage. So, I'd say step one is empowering queer athletes themselves to be comfortable being a part of whatever non-athletic dialogue their team has. And you've got to start with your friends. I had the idea in my head that the only way to make things better was for me to wear a pride flag to practice every day for a week. That might have worked too. But it was way better for me to start with my classmates and work from there.
If your teammates are worthy teammates, they love you, they're just a little absent minded/self-absorbed.

that was really long. i hope it helped. i think you can e-mail me from this thing, so feel free if you want to talk more about this.