First off, I’m allowed to use the word dyke. Because I am one. It’s a process known as “reclaiming”. We are reclaiming that word so it cannot be derogatory any longer. If you have never been called a slur as part of a minority, you don’t get it. That’s okay. You don’t have to, you just have to know lesbians can say dyke, and you can’t. But I digress. This post is about making a foul shot in basket-ball. For those of you who have watched or are familiar with the game you know a foul shot is taken when a player is fouled. They get two shots, one point each, and they take it at the foul line. Not rocket science.
My high school basketball coach was…I don’t want to say insane because he wasn’t actually clinically mentally unstable…let’s say extremely intense about winning. My sister and I were both on the team when I was a freshman and she was a senior. My sister and I are very different people. At the time she was “out” and I was not at all even thinking about being gay. I was actually very much into boys. We lived in a small town, and she and I both faced discrimination because she was gay. As I said, we are very different, and her way of handling discrimination is very different than mine. For example, if some one muttered a slur like “dyke” under his breath within our hearing my sister would likely ignore it and move on with her day completely unaffected. I would turn, look at this person directly, and in front of every one present ask him to repeat himself and then likely engage in some verbal argument. I confront directly whereas my sister is more indirect in her approach. And I have to say that her approach is awe-inspiring at times. Because literally without saying a word she puts people in their place, and it is stunning to watch.
The one time I remember her doing this quite vividly was at the girls basketball state finals. Life leading up to the state finals was chaotic. We shouldn’t have won all the games we did to make it there, but miraculously we did. We were then reminded at every practice in between by our slightly intense coach that we shouldn’t have won those games and that we likely wouldn’t win anymore. He meant it with love. Sort of.
I was on the bench, which as a freshman was an honor to have been picked to sit on the bench with the varsity team and dress for the games. My sister didn’t start, but she definitely played. So we made it to the state finals, we were at a state university gymnasium and it was full. I mean completely full. Hundreds of people were there. Many who wanted us to lose. The opposing team’s fans were behind our bench, so that was fun.
We were down by a lot in the third quarter. Then some one made a 3-pointer, then some one made a lay-up, then we were only down by 3 or 4 and we were in the fourth and final quarter and my sister got fouled. She had a buzz cut at the time. So naturally about fifty of the fans behind our bench yelled “dyke” “butch” and “bitch” repeatedly before she had even placed her feet at the foul line.
We all knew these were crucial shots. We were running out of time, and we needed her to sink these shots. My coach knew it too, and for once he wasn’t screaming his head off. He actually came directly to me on the bench as I was about to turn around and give the finger to every one screaming “Dyke” at my sister. In a very not-insane moment he tapped my shoulder told me to turn my ass around, sit down and shut-up. He knew something I didn’t. My sister wouldn’t be phased by the jerks in the stand. She would be distracted if she saw her little sister upset or getting picked on. Smart man. I very angrily turned around and sat in the seat. I was hoping my coach would go back to the other end of the bench but he didn’t budge. He knew me pretty well at that point and likely knew I would eventually peel my ass off the bench and dive into the stands throwing punches.
The gym did not go silent when she got the ball. All she could have heard were guys yelling “dyke” “butch” and “bitch”. My sister didn’t even look over. She did her routine at the foul line that I had seen hundreds of times before, she bent, released, and freaking sank that first shot. My coach, my team, and I went wild. The jerks in the stands didn’t stop for the second shot.
“Dyke” “butch” “bitch” “dyke” “butch” “bitch”
She was only seventeen. She bent, released, sank it a second time. Again she didn’t even look at the fans in the stands. She just slapped her teammates high five, and jumped into her defensive stance.
We won the state finals. My sister got to cut a piece of the net. There were a lot of clinch moments in that game, and I know for a fact my sister’s foul shots were one of those moments. She helped our team turn it around and regain the lead. She kept the momentum going, and in her own way she gave all those discriminating jerks the finger. She also taught me something.
What’s interesting is I’ve never talked to her about those foul shots. Because I know her, and she would just shrug and laugh and say, “No big deal,” but it was a big deal. It was a big deal to our team and it was a big deal for her as a lesbian. It was a moment when she could have gone low but she chose to go high. In going high she taught everyone in that gymnasium what it looks like to go high. It looks like someone poised in the face of jeers, hatred, and intolerance. It looks like someone who doesn’t have the time of day for ignorance because she was going to win the game. It looks like someone who practiced thousands of foul shots over the years and she wasn’t going to let anyone or anything interfere with her regimen.
Her grace under immense pressure at age seventeen has clearly stuck with me, because now almost twenty years later, I can still see her at the line, staring intently at the basket. I can hear the guys behind me “Dyke, butch, bitch” and I can see her stance and when she bent her knees and released and then the swoosh of the net…it was a beautiful moment.
For lesbians something as simple as taking a foul shot can turn into a statement for our sexuality. Everything we do is suddenly defined not just by our ability to do it, but that a lesbian did it. We represent a minority at all times, and in that moment her representation for lesbians was perfection.