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MARTINA NAVRATILOVA & AMELIE MAURESMO.

THE LONG JOURNEY TO COME OUT MADE MARTINA NAVRATILOVA A SPECIAL CHAMPION--AND CLEARED THE COURT FOR ALL-OUT COMPETITOR AMELIE MAURESMO

Here's the difference a lesbian trailblazer makes: When tennis player Martina Navratilova began to come out in 1981, she did so slowly and tentatively. She felt betrayed by the reporter to whom she first disclosed her relationship with Rita Mae Brown. Later, when Navratilova lived with basketball player Nancy Lieberman, the two identified themselves only as friends. Even in her autobiography, written when she was with Judy Nelson, Navratilova tried to make herself seem bisexual. Given the fact that Billie Jean King had been quickly dropped by sponsors when she was outed, one can understand Navratilova's hedging a bit. Even so, her commercial endorsements plummeted.

Eighteen years later, when French tennis sensation Amelie Mauresmo came out in a blaze of press at the Australian Open in January 1999, she opted for full disclosure. Yes, she was a lesbian; yes, that was her girlfriend, Sylvie Bourdon, cheering her on from the stands, and yes, she would be as openly affectionate with Bourdon as she pleased. Make something of it! Mauresmo, who was just 2 years old when Navratilova revealed herself, said about sponsors, "If they want to set me aside, there will be dozens more who will take me ... and if they let me go [because of her sexuality], they are jerks anyway."

Rude remarks about Mauresmo's muscularity and affectional preference backfired on those who made them. Lindsay Davenport, who lost to the unseeded Mauresmo in the Open semifinal, apologized profusely after blurting, "I thought I was playing a guy, the girl was hitting it so hard." The eventual tournament winner, Martina Hingis, who said of Mauresmo to the German press, "Sie ist ein halber Mann" ("She is halfman"), was raked over the coals for her homophobia.

Here's the difference a lesbian trailblazer doesn't make: Very few women have followed Navratilova from the closet. Besides Mauresmo, only golfers Muffin Spencer-Devlin and Patty Sheehan and a few women in extreme sports like mountain biking and boxing have taken the plunge.

Navratilova, who at 43 is playing in top-level doubles competitions again--and who this year signed her first major non-tennis endorsement contract, with Subaru--surveys her experience with both frustration and a sense of good fortune. "If I had come out 50 years ago, they would have put me in a straitjacket," she says. "So I guess I didn't have it so bad, after all."

And if Amelie Mauresmo had come out just 20 years earlier, she couldn't have looked to Navratilova's exemplary courage as a model. Both women have used their muscles for much more than just hitting a tennis ball.

Kort is writing a biography of Laura Nyro for St. Martin's Press.
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Article Details
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Author:KORT, MICHELE
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Aug 15, 2000
Words:460
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