Sheryl Swoopes’ engagement draws out our bi-phobia

To some in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities (LGBTQ), three-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time MVP of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), Sheryl Swoopes is a “lie-sexual.” She’s just another sister-girl on the “down low” announcing the incredulous news that she’s now engaged to marry a man.

To incurable homophobes, especially of the fundamentalist Christian variety type, who pedal their “nurture vs. nature” rhetoric that homosexuality is curable with reparative theories, they see Swoopes as the prodigal daughter who has finally found her way away from homosexuality and home to Jesus.

To many of my heterosexual African American brothers, Chris Unclesho, the man Swoopes is engaged to marry, is the MAN! A bona fide “dyke whisperer” who has turned Swoopes out to the sexual joys of what it is to be with a man.

Depending on which of the above groups you identify with, Swoopes’ news 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 with thunderous applause proves to folks like Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann that our ongoing struggle for LGBTQ civil rights is nothing more than a politicized hedonistic gay agenda to upend traditional family values.

“It is amazing to me that after all the HOOPLA surrounding Sheryl Swoopes “coming out” …. her recent marriage to a MAN gets virtually no attention. Is she now UN-GAY?… Why is the fact that this woman went through a period of “trial” in her life NOT getting any press? It is obvious that the woman just like every other gay or lesbian man or woman in the world had at that time made a CHOICE to entertain the idea of being with someone of the same gender. Sheryl is just more proof that no one is born gay, it is a learned behavior brought on by experiences and circumstances in ones life. I am very happy for Sheryl – but the “gay agenda” driven PRESS can bite it,” an ESPN.com blogger wrote.

My head spins at the thought of how Christian “de-gaying” counseling services, like Dr. Marcus Bachmann’s, Michelle Bachmann’s spouse, coulc politicize Swoopes’ seemingly sexual flip-flopping as their poster-child.

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 as a lesbian, becoming the second out lesbian in the WNBA. She endorsed the lesbian travel company “Olivia.” Swoopes was parntered 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 (there has been a lot about God posted on her Facebook page) 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 folk’s) understanding of the scope of heterosexism.

Just lollygagging on the phone last evening to a dear friend, who’s lesbian, 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. The Kinsey scale, developed out of Alfred Kinsey’s research on human sexuality in the 40’s and 50’s, explains the fluidity of sexuality ranging from 0 to 6, meaning exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual, respectively, and where a bisexual is 3.

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.

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