Straight Talk Advice

Monica Lewinsky’s “industry of shame” affects girls’ sports

Mar 24, 2015

Girls’ sports a hotbed for gay shaming

Dear Straight Talk: My twin sister and I play basketball. Two teammates are openly gay and rumor has it the whole team is gay and we have sex with each other. We have no problem with our gay teammates in the locker room and have never sensed any interest in our bodies. That said, we are not gay and we resent being stereotyped just because two teammates are. Even though we love playing basketball, we've seriously considered quitting the team over this. Your thoughts? —17, Santa Ana, Calif.

Ryann 18, Tustin, Calif. Ask me a question

I also play on the girls' basketball team and acknowledge the struggle for a separate identity from the team. In high school, kids are extremely insecure and make other people feel bad to ease that. Talking to an administrator or parent could help. Don't let these people matter to you. You know who you are and that's ultimately all you can control. God is giving you obstacles knowing you'll overcome them and be better for it. Trust the bigger picture.

Samantha 23, Toledo, Ohio Ask me a question

Whether it's school, job or church, some people treat the “different” badly — and because you don't, you must be “different” too. Keep playing basketball and interacting with your teammates. The second you stop, the haters win. Chances are, people don't believe the rumors, they're just too insecure to say so.

Meghan 20, State College, Penn. Ask me a question

Use your team structure for support. Join forces with other teams. Notify the administration, distribute flyers, hold a demonstration to get sex out of athletics.

Brandon 23, Mapleton, Maine Ask me a question

The worst thing about this question is that many people — not just you — are horrified when someone assumes they're gay. While there are still trolls who bash people for having a gay friend, this isn't the 1950s. Your resentment fuels the fire that being gay is something shameful. The best treatment for trolls is to ignore them. With no reaction, they go away. Prediction: In a few years, being called gay won't be considered such a bad thing.

Maddie 16, Cotati, Calif. Ask me a question

Honestly, this stereotype in girls' sports is just plain stupid and I would tell them off.

Lisa 23, Eugene, Ore. Ask me a question

Society makes women's sports more about sexuality than athletics. I saw so many ridiculous half-naked photo shoots of female athletes during the Olympics. Even women devoting a lifetime to their sport are rewarded mostly for sexiness. Female athletes can be intimidating so insecure people label women lesbian rather than accept that women can enjoy being strong and powerful. How frustrating. In high school, this guy insisted I was a lesbian because I was quiet around guys and often talked to an openly-gay girl. At the time, I was offended, as you are, but for your gay teammates, the hurtful comments might never go away.

Dear 17: I'm sorry for you, your teammates — and girls' sports. That only one panelist suggests telling the administration (saying they “could” help) speaks of most schools' utter failure in preventing bullying. As Monica Lewinsky said in her March TED talk, “Public humiliation is a commodity and shame is an industry.” Just as politicians and the media profit from it, so do high school students reap popularity from shaming others — even though it only serves to stunt their individual freedoms. There is a solution. The program that corrects bullying from within is the Safe School Ambassadors program. The program trains the most popular kids in a school in compassionate engagement and the other students naturally follow suit. It's a proven success in over 1500 schools. Bring info about it to your school board and demand they “get with the program” before someone less resilient than you quits more than a sports team.

Editor's Note: Anytime the subject of bullying comes up (which includes cyberbulling, shaming, or excluding), I can't help but mention the only truly effective solution for it — the Safe School Ambassadors program. There is no other program nationally or globally that is like it, nor are any others anywhere near as effective. The solution to bullying is here now. Bullying is no longer an inevitable "fact of life" that we shake our heads and say, "that's just how humans are." The program demonstrates that that's simply not true, it's just that most humans are followers.

The evidence-based, widely-successful Safe School Ambassadors program is genius in that it works by enlightening and training, say out of a school of 800, the 40 most popular kids from every clique on campus, as well as popular teachers. Once these kids are awakened and trained, they know what to do and when to seek a teacher's help, and everyone follows them because they're the social leaders and that's what humans do. The program makes it cool to be a great person. The Safe Schools Ambassador program works with the human propensity to follow and imitate popularity instead of a top-down authoritarian approach which is cool to resist. If you are a student or parent, talk to your school about this program through www.community-matters.orgThey have systems in place to help schools acquire funding.

Check out our interviews of Ambassadors from several inner-city schools who marveled at their own school's transformation in our column of APR 27, 2011

Top-down punitive measures against bullying generally don't work and just add more trauma to the mix. "Once-and-done" anti-bullying assemblies might assuage an administrator's guilt, but they don't begin to dent the problem — and they cost money, too. We must wake up to the fact that schools are societal incubators and that programs like Safe School Ambassadors need to be part of our education budget. A society-wide effort is needed to rein in the "industry of shame" and teaching our children compassionate empathy and engagement is the best landscape of all for this to take root. —Lauren

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  1. By S.H., age 17, from Walnut Creek, California on 03/24/2015

    My best friend and I have become labeled gay because we’re on the girls’ basketball team, have a close friendship and are frequently together, and aren’t too attractive and don’t have boyfriends.  Some (but not even a majority) of the girl athletes are openly gay which compounds things.  It’s kind of strange as its the guys who aren’t good at sports who are the ones who are labeled gay. 

    My stepsister who goes to the same school also got labeled “gay by association” because of me and I feel terrible.  She shares a room with me and undresses in front of me every other weekend during visitations and knows that I’m not gay and that I’m not the least bit in her body when I see her nude.  She tried to help me by telling eveybody that she knows I’m not gay because she shares a room with me and undresses with me, but her defending me caused the rumor to start that she’s also gay and that her and I have sex and even that her and I and my best friend have “threesome” sex!  It’s TOTALLY untrue, but once these rumors start they don’t go away.  I can’t wait until I graduate and escape this, but another year of this is going to be hard to take.  I’m not saying that there’s something wrong with being gay, but I resent being labeled this way when I’m completley straight.

    Anybody who thinks these problems can be solved by the school administration is living in Fantasy Land!  Our school boasts about having a strict Anti Bullying Policy and its meaningless.  It doesn’t stop rumors like this that ruin our lives while were in high school.  I don’t know if there is a solution and there may not be, but these Anti Bullying Policies that are becomming so popular are not the answer!

    S.H.

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  2. By Lori, age 16, from Carmichael, CA on 03/25/2015

    I’m labeled gay even though I’m terrible at sports and playing basketball is the last thing I’d ever try to do.  However, my BFF ever since second grade is a basketball and softball player and also comes across somewhat masculine,so it’s assumed that she’s gay and as her BFF I’m also assumed to be gay and everybody thinks we have sex.  However, she’s not gay and neither am I, but as S.H. says, once the rumors go around this is what everyone thinks and there’s not much you can do about it.  However, I’m NOT going to abandon my BFF because of this!  It even causes problems for my sister also by “association.”  Her friends won’t come for sleepovers any more because we share a room and they’re no longer comfortable sleeping in the same room and undressing in front of me now that they assume that I’m gay.  These same girls slept in our room many times and undressed in right front of me and there never was any problem, and their shouldn’t be since I’m straight.  My sister and I are close and she doesn’t hold it against me, but I still feel very bad that this has also caused problems for her.

    Lori

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  3. By Shelly, age 17, from Seaside, CA on 03/25/2015

    I am openly gay and not ashamed about it in the least.  I’m also on the girls’ basketball team as is one other girl who is openly gay.  The other girls on the team have no problem with our sexual orientation and are totally comfortable changing with us in the locker room and showering in the nude right next to us in the communal showers after games and practices.  However, a small minority of kids at our school who don’t really even know any of us have started the rumors like “17” describes that all of us are gay and are having sex with each other, but we do our best to just ignore it, although it’s not always easy.  They also just assume that the other gay girl on our team and I are “lovers” who constantly have sex.  In fact, we’re not even especially close friends.  We both have other girlfriends and there is nothing sexual between the two of us.  Those who know us best know that we have no sexual interest in straight girls and don’t “get off” seeing straight girls’ bodies.  My sister with whom I share a room with is totally comfortable undressing in front of me and with my seeing her nude.  The same is true for my straight girl friends when we have sleepovers and slumber parties.  It is those who don’t even take the trouble to get to know me who start these rumors and make assumptions.  Yes, some girls like I who are on athletic teams are gay, and some are straight, just like everywhere else one goes.  However, assumptions should not be made just because someone engages in a sport.  Also, it should not be presumed that those of us who are gay are any more promiscuous than anyone else.

    Shelly
    Gay and Proud

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  4. By Barb, age 16, from Anaheim, California, U.S. on 03/25/2015

    I don’t just assume that the girls on the sports teams are gay and don’t understand those who do, but these kinds of rumors also go on at my school.  But even if they were all gay and having sex with each other, so what? Who cares?  Their not trying to have sex with me, so why should I worry about it?  I also don’t understand girls who worry so much about the gay/straight undressing issue.  My sister and I have a gay cousin who has always shared our room when her family comes to visit and we share her room when we visit their home.  Undressing and being naked in front of her has never been an issue and is no different than when we undress in front of each other in our room as we do every day.  Why should it be any different?  Were still all girls and all the same. 

    I just don’t understand people who worry so much about what others might be doing in private when it has no effect on them.  To them, I just want to say “get a life and find something better to do with your time than worry about others!”

    Barb

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  5. By Kay, age 18, from California on 03/26/2015

    You have to stop caring. High school doesn’t last forever, and I think you’ll really regret it if you let what these people think about you make you quit something you love. What happens if someone assume you’re gay in the future? Will you leave or quit just because they make the mistake that you like girls? No. You don’t need to say anything, I wouldn’t recommend it, because it could just make matters escalate. Just ignore them. And if a friend assumes you’re a lesbian, politely correct them. If they continue, find new friends.

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  6. By Sarah, age 16, from Lodi, CA on 03/26/2015

    It’s really easy to say “just don’t let it bother you” when you’re not the one being presumed gay just because you’re on the basketball team and some members happen to be gay.  It pisses me off when people try to tell me that when they are not the one who it’s happening to!  Even my own mother and sister are telling me things like this, and it is no help to me whatsoever!  I also agree that these antibullying policies are worthless.  They really do more harm than good because it gives the schools an excuse not to really do anything by saying “We have an antibullying policy.”  And a “policy” isn’t going to stop cruel rumors like this.  Now that I’m presumed gay (which I am not!) I get dirty looks from girls who change by me in the locker room and sometimes even in the bathroom.  Unlike many girls, it never bothered me to take showers after gym class, and I willingly did so because I want to wash away the sweat and smell, but now I can’t even do that without getting accused of being in the shower because I want to see the other girls naked!  I also rarely get invited to slumber parties anymore due to the rumors and the others don’t want to undress in front of me.  My sister who I share a room with and my best friend know I’m not gay and still have no problem undressing in front of me, but everybody else has a big problem with it.

    So, just saying “don’t let it bother you” is not the answer when it’s ruining your high school experience.

    Sarah

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  7. By Sam, age 16, from Petaluma, California on 03/27/2015

    Similar things also happen to guys at my school.  Not the guys on the sports teams, of course.  I’m one of the few guys in the school choir.  I love being in the choir, but the rumor has started that the guys in the choir are gay just because we aren’t “macho” like the jocks on the sports teams.  It’s compounded by the fact that I’m smaller than average and terrible at sports.  My best friend is also in the choir and since we hang out together, the jocks say that we’re queers and that we give each other blow jobs.  It’s all a total lie, but that’s what everybody says about us.  Like the others say, the shool’s antibullying policy that the principal is so proud of is worthless to stop these rumors. 

    Sam

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  8. By N.C., age 16, from Salinas, CA, United States on 03/27/2015

    I lost my BFF since elementary school over this issue and it really hurts, so it also angers me when people say “just don’t let it bother you.”  Rumors started that I was gay because I was on the basketball and softball teams and some of the girls on the teams were openly gay.  They never showed any sexual interest in me, so I was totally comfortable in the locker room with them and even being nude with them in the showers that have not privacy. We were still all girls, so I didn’t see anything to worry about. 

    However, when the rumors started my BFF dumped me.  She knows I’m not gay as we’d had sleepovers literally hundreds of times where we shared a bed and undressed together and were totally comfortable with nudity in front of each other and there was never anything sexual whatsoever.  However, she gave into peer pressure from those who believe the rumors and didn’t want to become labeled gay herself by continuing to be my BFF and have people think that we are a “couple” who have sex, as has happened to other girls even though they aren’t gay either.

    But people say “Just don’t let it bother you.”  Sure.

    N.C.

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  9. By J.G., age 15, from Sylvania, Ohio, USA on 03/28/2015

    I played basketball in middle school and looked forward to playing on high school.  However, I was afraid to try out for the team because everybody said that all the girls on the team were gay and were having sex with each other.  I don’t know and don’t really even care if it’s true, but I was afraid of being branded gay when I’m not.  Maybe I’m a coward and “shouldn’t let it bother me” like those who aren’t facing the situation find it easy to say, but that’s the decision I felt I had to make.

    I’m not anti-gay.  In fact, I have a close friend who is secretly gay and has only confided in it about to me and a few other close friends as she is afraid of the bullying and also has to keep it secret from her family who believe that it is a “terrible sin.”  Having sleepovers with her and undressing in front of her is absolutely no problem and she has never shown any sexual interest in me.  However, I have to keep it a secret from my sister who I share a room with and is homophobic.  Little does she know that my friend who she undresses in front of and sees her nude with no problem when we have sleepovers in our room is gay!  When she makes homophobic comments, it’s sometimes hard to hold my tongue and not tell her about my friend, but I resist the temptation to tell her.

    J.G.

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  10. By Allie, age 19, from Rohnert Park, CA on 03/29/2015

    I did not experience this at all when I was on the girls’ basketball team in high school.  If any other the girls were gay, they were not open about it, and I never got that feeling from any of them even at such intimate times as showering next to each other nude in the communal showers. 

    However, it was different when I got to college and tried to play basketball.  Most of the girls on the team were openly gay and just assumed that I was gay and some showed sexual interest in me.  I therefore found it necessary to quit the team as I did not wish to be stereotyped or receive sexual advances from others.

    I am not anti-gay, and believe that those who are gay have the right to be that way and I totally support the right to gay marriage, but I am straight.  There is an openly gay girl on my dorm hall and she and her straight roommate are close friends and it does not appear to be a problem for them.  There’s not too much privacy in the shower room and I’ve never been uncomfortable when I’ve been in there at the same time with her and she’s seen me nude, as she doesn’t seem to have any more interest in my body than anyone else.  However, the basketball team was different with everyone assuming that I was gay and the fact that I was likely to become stereotyped because of this.

    Allie

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    1. By Sherry, age 20, from Irvine, California on 03/29/2015

      My experience has been the opposite.  In high school the cruel rumors and stereotyping described by 17 and several others went on.  I can understand the concerns of her and the others who have written.  However, personally, I did not let it bother me or keep me from playing basketball and softball.  My friends and my sister with whom I’m close and share a room knew I wasn’t gay and had no problem undressing in front of me.  I also had a steady boyfriend the last 2 years in high school which made it very hard for most kids to believe the rumors that I was gay and having sex with the others on the team.  Some of the girls on the team actually were openly gay, but it didn’t concern me, even in the locker room and showers.

      However, in college I have found that nobody even worries about this issue.  Yes, some female athletes are openly gay, but the majority of us are straight, and whether someone is gay or straight is simply not an issue.  There are no rumors that all of us are gay and/or having sex with each other.  The same in the dorm.  Some girls are openly gay, but again, nobody worries about it and as Allie says, using the showers with them is no different than with anyone else. 

      Sherry

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      1. By Corrine, age 19, from Davis, CA on 03/29/2015

        I am gay and my experience is similar.  Gay bashing and stereotyping of both guys and girls who weren’t even gay as being gay were rampant at my high school, but I see very little of it in college.  I let my roommate know right away to get it out of the way and so that she could seek a change if she wasn’t comfortable as I didn’t want to live in the same room with someone who wasn’t comfortable with me.  However, she responded with just a shrug.  We have become good friends and she has never mentioned the subject and was totally comfortable undressing in front of me and being casual about nudity in our room right from the start, which is the way it should be since we’re both females and I have no sexual interest in her, since I know that she is straight.  The other girls in my dorm are also comfortable with me, even when using the showers together. However, being openly gay in high school was horrible and many girls made no secret about being uncomfortable around me in the locker room and showers and undressing at slumber parties the rare times that I was invited.  Straight girls who were athletes and guys who weren’t “macho” and were stereotyped as being gay also had a terrible time.  As others have said, the school’s No Bullying Policy was worthless. 

        While I can’t say that prejudice against gays and stereotyping is non-existent in college, the situation is MUCH, MUCH better.

        Corrine

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  11. By Chandra, age 16, from Lodi, CA on 03/30/2015

    I have a somewhat different but also similar issue.  I am one of the very few African Americans at my high school and am also the tallest girl in the whole school.  Because of this, I’m constantly told that I should play basketball, just assuming that because I’m tall and African American, I would be a great basketball player!  The fact is, I don’t have good coordinatntion and am terrible at sports and have absolutely no interest in playing basketball.  I bugs the s*** out of me to have to constantly hear this.  I’ve tried to think of a good comeback when I’m told this, but I haven’t come up with one.

    As with some of the gays and those accused of being gay who aren’t even gay who have written, many girls are also uncomfortable undressing in front of me in the locker room, and I’ve heard that it’s because I look “different.”  Well, if they took a close look they’d see that I’m still a female just like they are and have exactly the same body parts, so there’s nothing to worry about!  In the hot weather when they make us take showers, the white girls avoid being near me like the plague and I have whatever part of the showers I choose to myself.  It doesn’t bother me to change and shower with the white girls, and I’d take showers in the hot weather even if we didn’t have to since I don’t want to stink, so I don’t understand why they have a big problem with me.  I come from a large family where there was no privacy and even had to share a room with my brothers until I was 13, so having other girls see me naked is nothing to me. 

    This is just one more example of the unfair stereotyping that goes on in our schools.

    Chandra

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