Swoopes, of course, made headlines in 2005 when she announced her relationship with a woman. So Swoopes’ news last month that she is engaged to a man sends seismic shock waves to those of us fighting the de-medicalization and de-stigmatization of queer sexualities.
Those cheering Swoopes’ news of straight marriage believe it proves that folks like Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann are right, that our ongoing struggle for LGBTQ civil rights is nothing more than a politicized hedonistic gay agenda to upend traditional family values.
Take this typical comment from an ESPN.com blogger:
“Sheryl is just more proof that no one is born gay, it is a learned behavior brought on by experiences and circumstances in one’s life.”
My head spins at the thought of how Christian “de-gaying” counseling services, like that of Dr. Marcus Bachmann, Michelle Bachmann’s spouse, could politicize Swoopes’ seemingly sexual flip-flopping as their poster-child.
Gay, straight — or bi?
In 1997, a pregnant Sheryl Swoopes was the heterosexual face for the WNBA. She was the cover-girl for the premiere issue of “Sports Illustrated Women.” At the time Swoopes was married to her male high school sweetheart.
In 2005, Swoopes came out about her relationship with a woman, becoming the second out lesbian in the WNBA. She endorsed the lesbian travel company “Olivia.” Swoopes was partnered with Alisa Scott, an assistant coach for the Houston Comets (Sheryl played for them from 1997 – 2007).
And now, in 2011, she’s with a male.
While some of her Facebook followers may suspect Swoopes has indeed found Jesus in a Bible-thumping homophobic church, Swoopes has neither renounced homosexuality nor retracted her 2005 “coming out” statements about being a lesbian.
“There is nothing I’ve been through in my life that I regret, or that I would go back and change. I feel like everything that happened — personally and professionally — I went through for a reason, and I learned from those things,” Swoopes just recently told ESPN.com reporter Mechelle Voepel.
What lies at the center of various reactions to Swoopes’ announcement is not her seemingly duplicitous sexual flip-flopping, but rather our ignorance and phobia about bisexuality that complicates our (straight and LGTQ folks’) understanding of the scope of heterosexism.
Lollygagging on the phone with a friend, who is lesbian, talking about Swoopes, she said, “Well, I kinda could see how a sister might be bisexual, but there’s no such thing as a bisexual brother. Girlfriend, he’s really on the ‘down-low.’”
Bisexuals are an underrepresented, if not invisible, group. Most (again, straight and LGTQ folk) can only conceive of a gay/straight binary paradigm. Bisexual women are between a rock and a hard place within gay and straight circles.
Within bi-phobic lesbian circles, the place of bisexual women within the queer women’s community is, sadly, still marginal, if it exists at all. Some lesbians believe that any woman who has the ability to sexually love another women also has a political obligation to identify as lesbian.
Others believe that the compulsory nature of heterosexuality in our culture precludes all possibilities of women freely choosing a heterosexual relationship.
And within homophobic straight circles, the place of bisexual women is a push toward them as devout heterosexual Christians.
Who Swoopes is partnered with or married to is really none of our business.
But this fact is for sure:
If you are in the straight camp cheering Swoopes for “crossing back over” or in the queer camp castigating her for “flip-flopping,” you share a bi-phobic reaction to Swoopes’ choice of spouse.
Rev. Irene Monroe is coordinator of the African-American Roundtable of the Center for Lesbian & Gay Studies in Religion & Ministry at the Pacific School of Religion. She can be reached at www.irenemonroe.com.