Sexual Orientation and Tennis

Congratulations to gay and lesbian couples everywhere – and to the Supreme Court (1). And what does that have to do with tennis?  First, I need to say that this feels like life in a time warp. Not 35 years ago in my home state of Massachusetts I knew a lesbian couple who were really in love, but never lived together because one of them had children and knew that if they did live together, her ex-husband would have sued for full custody and never let her see her children again. And no court in the Commonwealth would have ruled otherwise. Now, no court there would rule in his favor and they could be celebrating their 9th wedding anniversary in the fall.

What does that have to do with tennis? In the early 1990s there was a rash of research (or is that rash research?) done by people like Simon LeVay, PhD who stated at the time that he was aligned with those who supported the notion that being gay is all a matter of genetics and biology (Marshall, 1992). The reasoning was that if it were all biological no one could discriminated against gay people. (A dubious thought). My position at the time was that biology does no more to protect people from discrimination than does choice, and that the matter is not that simple. Researchers like LeVay posited that being gay was just like being left handed. A simple matter of genetics and nothing more. An interesting analogy. People once discriminated against left-handers, but then it was proven to be all biological and so the discrimination stopped. Right?

But that is not what happened. If you look at the research literature about left-handedness you find that leftyness and rightyness fall on a continuum

(with those ambidextrous folks in the middle), and that researchers do not agree about whether or not there is a genetic component to handedness. If there is a genetic component, they say, it contributes only partially.

So why don’t we discriminate against left handers anymore? Because we have come not to care. We all know people who are left handed. Most of us have someone in our families who is left handed. We find that our left handed co-workers are as good at their jobs as the rightys. And we all admire left handed athletes of all sorts. There are even lots of TV shows with left handed protagonists now!

And what on earth does this have to do with tennis?

I had to grin this weekend when I (not normally a follower of tennis) saw a news report about the identical twins who had just won the doubles title at Wimbledon. Identical twins. Genetic copies of each other. Total look-alikes who, it is said, play tennis together as if they were one. And one is a lefty and the other a righty.

(1) This article was written in July of 2013 after the Wimbledon Tennis matches and shortly after the June 26, 2013 Supreme Court ruling of Windsor v. United States. The decision overturned the Defense of Marriage Act and held it unconstitutional to limit marriage to couples of opposite sex/gender.


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