The screams of the crowd of 200 are piercing. The drizzle falls on us. We barely feel it.
It’s her. It’s her. I’m closer to her than anybody else, except for a couple other team members and some reporter who’s trying to coax an interview from her.
Lauren Jackson. It’s really, really her. Red hair pinned up and a bit untidy; lips pouty; eyes tired from the flight, the fight, the victory. Now the reporter has given up and turned to another player. Lauren is holding a phone to her ear. On and on she’s talking on it. Who on earth is she talking to? How on earth can she hear what they’re saying? The fans are chanting “Put down the phone!” but somehow, she’s managing to chat away to someone in the midst of the din.
This hip young dyke, Suzanna, who I met a few minutes before has squeezed in next to me. Suzanna, who just became a Storm fan a few weeks ago, has her knee up on the bench in front of us. She yells, “Look! I’m shaking all over!” and indeed, her knee is jiggling. She looks bemused. I’m shaking, too.
"I admire them as athletes but I’m no more interested in who they sleep with than I am in who George Clooney is dating," my girlfriend said last night. I gape at her as if she had just started speaking in Romanian.
My partner of 13 years is a solid Storm fan. Last Tuesday, we went to the brutal game two of the championship series against the Dream. We cheered and winced side by side. But she simply does not understand why I have been up late at night, this week of the WNBA Finals, scouring gossip sites, trying to figure out from rumor and hint which of the team members are lesbians. And I can’t understand why she’s not interested. Simply can’t fathom it. A gulf we didn’t even know was there opens up between us. I feel possessed by the need to know. (Is she? Isn’t she? And how about her?)
Maybe it’s because I’ve been out as a lesbian for such a long time and my GF hasn’t. Maybe it’s possible for a lesbian to see the Seattle Storm players as just athletes. Maybe I’m being weird to be obsessing like this, not just being a fan but fantasizing, seizing greedily on every scrap of innuendo. Why is it so important? Does it have to do with our long history of being excluded and shunned? Or is it something simpler, earthier, more primitive?
My cheeks hurt from grinning, my throat’s sore from shouting. Lauren is still talking on her phone and the word that pops unbidden into my mind is “goddess.”
That’s the only possible word. Larger than life, incredibly talented, celebrated, powerful, beautiful, unattainable…and yet with something dark and poignant in the mix -- a shadow.
She has an unmistakable aura of the tragic lurking about her, failures peppering the endless string of triumphs. The two years of standing forlorn, injured, in civilian clothes while the Storm went down yet again in the first round of playoffs. As a leader of the Australian national team, the failure to beat the U.S. in three successive Olympics. The perception that despite what must surely be her delight in playing and living all over the world, she always seems homesick. And of course, underlying all that, the sense of mortality, of finitude, that accompanies every young athlete, underlined by the stress fractures, the ankle, the back pain. She, too, is earthly, finite.
But standing there, off the phone finally, and taking her turn to brandish the trophy, she doesn’t seem entirely mortal. Perhaps if we wear a T-shirt with her number on it, perhaps if she hears us cheering her in a game, perhaps if she touches us, even fleetingly, we too will assume an aspect of the divine.
Sue Bird is standing even closer to me. She has finished her interview. Someone hands her a bullhorn and she yells through it incomprehensibly for a minute, and then it is taken away. Then, with a tiny resolute shrug – how many hands has she touched in the past week, year, decade? – she takes a quick look around and her eye falls on me, I’m the closest, over here by the pole.
Sue Bird. She’s so…so…glossy. She makes me feel genuinely proud to be part of the same species. I stand up a little straighter as she approaches. She radiates health, brilliance, a cheerful embrace of life. I’ve never really thought she was gay, she seems so much the epitome of the tomboyish but straight girl-next-door.
But it is in this moment, right now, this terrifying, heart-stopping moment as she turns and saunters towards me (me!) with a friendly grin and a direct look from her brown eyes (yikes!) that I realize, “well, of course she’s a lesbian.” It suddenly just seems the most obvious fact in the world. Not because she’s smiling at me. Please. No, I suddenly know beyond all shadow of doubt she’s a lesbian because of the way she’s smiling. It’s a lesbian smile. I never perceived that, in all the hundreds of hours I’ve spent watching her play, all those dozens of press conferences. But now, as she walks toward me, I see it. It’s a cocky grin, saturated with that sexiest of qualities, self-confidence. It’s a lesbian smile if ever I saw one.
I raise my hand to her, a supplicant, and she slaps me with a solid high-five. “SUE! SUE!” the crowd cries. She moves on. My hand is tingling. I can scarcely breathe. If Sue Bird is indeed a lesbian, I’m not just part of the same species as she is, I’m part of the same sub-species, the same clan. If Sue Bird is a lesbian, if we share the same desires, if she too has moaned in ecstasy in a woman’s embrace (and I’m moaning now, with the crowd – “SUE! SUE!”) – then deep down inside, in the most secret and sacred, hot and damp part of ourselves, there is a shared sisterhood…a sameness…even, in a manner of speaking, dare I even think it? -- a joining.