When it comes to soccer, I don’t know what an assist, or a free kick, or a square ball is. I had to ask my mom, who played soccer as a kid, what each penalty card meant and who it was for. It’s a miracle I can even keep track of which goalie was for each team. But as of Sunday, July 7th, and as of the US Women’s National Team’s grand win, I am officially and forever a soccer fan. Because there isn’t a gayer past-time out there in this world.
I am over the moon that the team was able to make it far enough into the World Cup to get to the final game, because if not, then I would have had to wait another four years to watch them. I had heard cheers as soon as they won while I was walking past a sports bar in Disney World in July 2015. And I hadn’t even known the game was going on. It really had been that long of a wait to see them play again. But it was something I had wanted to do since I saw all of the LGBTQ+ organizations I followed on Twitter post congratulations to team members like Abby Wambach and Megan Rapinoe. I had only been a baby gay for less than a year, so to see queer women celebrated on the national stage made my heart soar in a way it hadn’t before.
And I’ve got a good reason as to why I wasn’t able to watch any other 2019 World Cup game before the final one — I was literally in Barcelona, unable to be by a TV. But you already know I was glued to the Google Stats and to my texts from my mom who I made sure watched the semifinals. And when I came home from Barcelona on July 6th, I was not only on my way to my beloved family or beloved Wawa, I was on my way home to my couch, where I would watch the final game, no matter how frigging jetlagged I would be. Nothing was keeping this lesbian away from her beloved lesbians.
Watching the final game was one of the most stressful and exhilarating experiences I’ve had. As someone who loves women — in the activist way and the gay way — I just had a blast cheering them on, knowing that there were players on both the US AND Netherlands team that had something in their hearts that was like mine. And even though I miss a kick on a ball that is right in front of me, I was definitely able to appreciate how beyond badass they were on the field. When our team won, I jumped up and danced around and struck the Rapinoe Victory pose. I loved seeing all of the queer women posting on my social media about how in love with and in awe we are of every single athlete on this team. Seeing the USWNT celebrations on their Instagram stories was the greatest thing ever, and you already know that I watched every single moment of the NYC Parade on livestream.
I love this team’s positivity, commitment to excellence, and fight for equality. I’m not lying when I say my life feels sunnier now that I am following them more closely. Also, I cannot imagine more of a lesbian dream than freaking playing soccer alongside your fiancée. Krieger and Harris are winning at life.
But now it’s time to get serious for a minute about why I love the celebrated queer women on this team so much. The truth is that a lot of the time I struggle with my identity as a queer woman. I have been out for five years this coming autumn, and I still have baggage with using the word lesbian for myself even though it is one of the truest things about me. And I have so many privileges that make me practically immune to so many complications and forms of discrimination. I’m femme, so I’m not always coded as a lesbian by queerphobes, and I’m cis, so I automatically have cis privilege, and I’m white, so I carry that privilege too.
Acknowledging all of that, here’s just a quick look into what lots of sapphics struggle with on the daily. And while this is certainly not what every queer woman deals with, this is what I have heard from a lot of young lesbians, and it definitely aligns with my own experience too.
So many of us have very closely observed (and have even been subjected to) the objectifying ways a lot of men speak about women, either in our own lives or in the media. And a lot of the time, the disrespectful talk is not challenged. What happens is that many sapphics internalize this and fear that the way we feel about women is equatable to the treatment men give women. We fear that we are being predatory or dirty or unnatural. But the rude behavior of men is a changeable, correctable action. Our own love for women is a part of us and doesn’t need to be or should be altered. It is easier for us to make these distinctions out loud than it is within our own hearts.
So what do closeted sapphics of every age turn to when there is not sufficient positive representation of their people in real life? They go to the media, and sadly so many of our portrayals are turned into unfortunate tales, bordering on a cautionary tale, subtextually delivering a moral of “don’t be the lesbian.” There’s movies were both or one of the women die in the end, there’s stories in which one of the sapphics is pursuing the other in a preying nature. Yes, we know our history is full of a lot of sadness and secrets, but we should not be taught from right out the gate that what we are is bad luck. We have been turned into a melodramatic genre.
I grew up hearing the word “lesbian” used in a negative connotation by classmates. That’s something hard to unlearn and reconcile within myself that I was both the “bad thing” they spoke about and not at all. I spend as much time enjoying my identity and the joys it brings as much as I spend being inappropriately resentful of it. And this remains the same no matter how much I encourage young sapphics to love themselves and who they are.
I am basically entirely out both within my personal and public life. I have a multitude of role models that are queer women of every age. And with all of that, I still have these internal struggles.
But more and more, I am learning that my queerness is not the issue. The problem is the lesbophobia that is rampant in our society. Marginalized folks are conditioned to believe that who they are is flawed, but the truth is that the oppressors called that shot, and called it unfairly.
I learned who I was through the unfortunate reality in which my identity is perceived. Sapphics are considered unnatural, wherein reality the opposition against us is the unnatural piece of the puzzle.
So this is why I can’t stop watching every feature of the team. This is why I am looking forward to watching more national women’s teams play, no matter if I know their team or not, because as Rapinoe says, “you can’t win without gays on your team — that’s science.” I bet this team is inspiring to young athletes, especially those who are girls. But this team has another group that they are completely lifting up. And that is my people.
Seeing this broadcast in which the sapphics won at the end means more to me than I can describe.
They are queer — their style cannot be beat — their skills cannot be beat — their dancing is goofy and their love for each other is palpable. They are showing me that I can live a victorious life.
Just putting it out there into the universe that I’m taking applications for soccer girlfriends. Bonus points if you’re on a travel team. And can teach me what the heck an assist, or a free kick, or square ball is. I’m pretty sure I’ll know when to cheer for a goal, though. The USWNT has taught me well.
About the Author:
Alyssa Sileo’s Thespian identity comes first and foremost in anything she carries out. As a member of the Drew University Class of 2022, she studies theatre arts, women’s and gender studies, and Spanish. She’s a proud NJ Thespian Alumni and member of their state chapter board. She is the leader of the international performances network The Laramie Project Project, which unites worldwide productions and readings of the acclaimed Tectonic Theater Project play and encourages community-based LGBTQ+ advocacy. Alyssa is humbled to serve as the 2017 Spirit of Matthew Award winner and as a Youth Ambassador for Matthew Shepard Foundation. She believes there is an advocacy platform tucked into every piece of the theatre catalogue and intends to write outreach into the canon.