Wednesday, September 06, 2017

For Many She Is Someone From History

But for many of us she was a pathfinder that gave many of us hope  that someday we may be able to live our lives as our truesleves.
By Steve Tignor
July 28, 2017

As Renée Richards walked through the winding, Tudor-lined lanes of Forest Hills, people from the neighborhood gathered around her to wish her luck. After seeing the ophthalmologist’s picture in the newspapers for months, the locals of Queens knew where she was going—the West Side Tennis Club—and the magnitude of what she was about to do.

It was August 1977, the closing weeks of the notorious Summer of Sam in New York City. Over three harrowing months, the crumbling metropolis had been rocked by terrorizing riots, a chaotic blackout and the frantic search for a serial killer. As autumn mercifully approached, though, tennis became the talk of the town, and Richards was, for the moment, the world’s most talked-about athlete.
Richards’ walk through the gates at West Side was the culmination of a 12-month whirlwind that had upended her life and her sport, and left her playing, as she put it, “tennis in a fishbowl.”
In that fishbowl she had her supporters and distractors, among her supporters were  Billie Jean King and tennis promoter Gladys Heldman.
Despite being certified as a woman by the state of New York, though, Richards was forced to take a chromosome test. She refused to take it at first; when she did, the result was ambiguous. After being denied entry into the 1976 US Open, Richards countered with a lawsuit.
Help came from an unsavory, if effective, corner: Roy Cohn. The legendarily vicious consigliere to Joseph McCarthy and Donald Trump took Richards’ case. The tennis authorities never stood a chance. With a supportive affidavit from King, Richards won her suit.
For me back in the seventies I was deeply in the closet but I read everything that I could get about her and worried that someone would question my fascination with Richards. However, at the same time I didn’t identify with her because of the way the news media portrayed her as a mental illness and I knew that was me, but in some deeper level I did know that I was like her.

Looking back I now realize that the media was gaslighting us, saying how brave she was and a pathfinder but at the same time with a wink and nod saying that she was okay as they patted her back.

1 comment:


I, too, could sense the condescension of the media back then. Of course, I was in the middle of my big denial-of-self period in 1977, which spanned the years, 1968 (when I was 17) to 1985. I was trying so hard to not identify with Renee Richards at all, let alone that cross dresser I saw walking across the street with her panty hose matting down her bounteous leg hair. "That's not me," is what I would tell myself - even to the point of disgust with them, and myself for even thinking about it. It took many more years before I figured out that it's not about being brave at all; just about being confident in who I am (and not what I am).