10 Things We Learned From Brittney Griner’s Very Gay, Cathartic Press Tour

Brittney Griner’s memoir Coming Home came out this week and in anticipation of its drop, Griner has been doing a lot of press with legendary queer journalists and athletes — including last week’s 20/20 interview with Robin Roberts, a profile in The New York Times by J Wortham and then, on Monday, a cover story for The Cut in which she is interviewed by esteemed lesbian soccer player Megan Rapinoe. (At the end of the interview, Griner, Rapinoe and Sue Bird all make plans to hang.) Here are some of the many things we’ve learned about Brittney Griner’s life and her detainment in Russia from this emotional and remarkable press tour.

Brittney Griner Overslept and Packed Quickly, Thus Forgetting About Her Doctor-Prescribed Marijuana Oil Cartridges

In the aftermath of Griner’s arrest, I was shocked by how many people spoke harshly of Griner’s alleged carelessness bringing CBD oil into Russia — and not only ’cause I’ve also accidentally done the same pre-legalization, although luckily I did it in Indiana, not Russia. But when you’re in a routine of traveling abroad as often as BG was, you go through the motions, you know?

Usually, her wife Cherelle packed for her trips, but Griner overslept that morning and packed her own carry-on in a hurry, nearly missing her flight. BG told Robin Roberts that her “whole heart fell out of [her] body” the minute she pulled the pen out of her bag. “My life is over right here,” she remembered feeling. Griner had been prescribed marijuana for the chronic pain she experiences as a 6 foot 9 basketball player who played year-round for years and has endured injuries including a cracked ankle and a lack of cartilage in the knees.

Still, even knowing deeply in her bones that she’d made an innocent mistake, she was plagued by guilt. When Roberts asked how Griner got through the guilt she was feeling about her arrest, Brittney teared up. “I don’t think I’ve gotten through it, all the way. I let down everybody in my family and I think I’m still trying to get through that part. Still, to this day.”

Brittney Griner Became a Political Pawn For Putin, Had To Write Him for Forgiveness and Participate in Staged Photoshoots

Griner plead guilty in hopes that “an American humbling herself before Putin would get her home faster.” She wrote a letter to Biden, begging him not to forget her.

Joy Reid said on MSNBC that she thinks “the Putin regime understood that they had not just a Black celebrity, but a Black queer celebrity, somebody who could be used internally as a pawn, somebody who they could sort of internally mock and hold hostage, knowing the trauma it would cause back home.” Putin knew that however Brittney’s release was negotiated, it would be politically controversial.

In order to secure her release and the prisoner swap, she actually had to write a letter to Putin directly asking for forgiveness and then participate in a propaganda photoshoot, showing Griner eating in the cafeteria and making her bed to show that she was “reformed” and “the system worked.”

She Barely Made It Through Her First Few Weeks In Prison

With Robin Roberts and J Wortham, BG recalled the filthy prison cells where she was detained, where she was too big for her bed, and her mattress was bloody. Their toothpaste had expired 15 years ago and was more often used to kill black mold. Their daily recess, between 15 minutes and two hours a day, often occurred in freezing, blizzard conditions. She shared that she considered suicide multiple times, but feared Russia wouldn’t release her body to her family if she died there. At the penal colony, a notorious work camp, she shared a room with 50 other women, where there was no hot water and they shared one toilet.

While in Russian Prison, BG Made a Few Friends

Griner told Rapinoe that she made friends with three different English-speaking inmates; Alena, Ann and Kate. “I wouldn’t have made it without them,” she explained. She recalled that Alena, her bunkmate, “put me on game to a lot in the prison world, how it works, how it works in Russia, which guards are okay, which guards are not okay, the inmates, who did what.”

In November of 2022, she was moved to “a repurposed Soviet-era gulag in Mordovia,” a journey that took eight days of traveling in cages in the dark. She was separated from Alena and other English-speaking prisoners. That began the process that eventually led to her finally going home. “I found out that I had made $10 out of all that time working in the penal colony,” she told Rapinoe. She signed her $10 over to Alena and got the fuck out of there.

Growing Up, Brittney Griner Was Bullied For Her Deep Voice and Size and Used Writing To Cope

In her interview with Robin Roberts, Griner talks about her childhood and Wortham wrote that BG has “always relied on writing for her sanity,” starting in middle school when she endured so much bullying. She was teased for her size, her deep voice and her undeveloped chest. In fact, her parents took her to doctors to see if she had a tumor on her pituitary gland, but eventually, Griner put a stop to it — “I felt like a lab rat a little bit.” She’s very used to being mistaken for male. “You’re the biggest person in the room,” she remembers. “But you’re also the loneliest.” But in basketball, she could be herself — “big and different.”

Griner’s More Famous Now Than Ever — Which Has Its Downsides

“It is crazy with some of the stuff I get in the mail now from people with their little bully fingers, their little bully thumbs,” Griner told Rapinoe. She’s recognized way more now. Her home address was leaked and she had to move into a safe house. She was exposed to massive amounts of vitrol on social media and elsewhere, and was even accosted in the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. But she also had so much support. Megan Rapinoe told her, “Everybody who knows you just loves you. So many people rocked so hard and used whatever lever they could pull to keep your name in the news, writing you letters and wearing your jersey all around.”

Griner Struggled When Returning to WNBA Game Play

Diana Taurasi #3 (L) talks with Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury (R) before the first half against the Phoenix Mercury at Barclays Center on June 18, 2023

(Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

While in custody, Griner started smoking up to a pack a day, and loss muscle mass while gaining weight from “comissary staples” like noodles, muffins, salami and condensed milk. She struggled to do sit-ups, or play ball without getting winded. Wortham writes about how Griner put herself to work upon returning to the U.S., mapping out a 100-day conditioning plan, but her “lifelong struggles with body image resurfaced.” She felt disoriented as the season began, and the repeated video commemorations of her release were triggering. She realized she was suffering from PTSD.

But this season, Wortham wrote, “Griner is grateful to return to the game she loves.”

Cherelle and Brittney Are Expecting a Son

One of the most joyous elements of Griner’s interview with Rapinoe happens when Griner talks about the baby on the way, who they’ve already named “Bash Raymond Griner.”

“Screw the championships and all the trophies and all that; that’s going to be the highest peak of my life right there,” BG said of Bash’s impending birth. She can’t wait to take Bash fishing and off-roading and to teach him everything her Dad taught her. And, of course, she hopes he plays basketball.

Griner’s First Move Upon Landing In the U.S. Was Grabbing Her Wife’ s Ass

Upon arriving in the United States, she was firstly worried that Cherelle was gonna “bust her ass” running to meet her getting off the plane. Luckily that did not occur and Griner found time for a little squeeze, she told Rapinoe: “We were embracing, whispering back and forth to each other. I was like, “You’re going to kill me, but I don’t care. It’s been months,” and I got a little slight booty grab. [Laughs.] She was like, “Oh, my God, stop.” I was like, “All right, all right, all right.” That sums up our whole relationship. She’s like, “Stop, stop, stop. No, not in public.” I’m like, “Nah, whatever.” Squeeze squeeze!”

She’s Grateful to Black Women Who Advocated For Her Return

Los Angeles, CA - July 12: Guard Lexie Brown #4 of the Los Angeles Sparks where a t-shirt in honor of WNBA basketball player Brittney Griner who is in jail in Russia prior to a WNBA basketball game between the Los Angeles Sparks and the Washington Mystics at Crypto.com in Los Angeles on Tuesday, July 12, 2022. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

(Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

Robin Roberts interviewed Griner’s wife, Cherelle, in May of 2022, and Gayle King interviewed Cherelle that July. Cherelle crafted the hashtag #WeAReBG with BG’s agent to galvanize support. “I remember my lawyer showing me the photo of Steph Curry, Nneka Ogwumike, and Skylar Diggins-Smith at the ESPYs and the “We are BG” on the court, the patches, and it was amazing,” Griner told Rapinoe. “But my brain was all over the place. I was just like, Yo, normally you’d only see that on a court or a patch when someone is dead.”

Wortham writes that Griner’s “most devoted and persistent advocates were Black women, many of them arguing online that the government’s response felt muted, a continuation of the culture of neglect that fails to adequately protect them and gender-nonconforming people.” Wortham cites Roxane Gay and Kerry Washington as examples, just two of the many high-profile Black women who turned up for Brittney Griner while numerous Black writers kept her name in the press. In the acknowledgments of her book, Griner thanks Black women in the press for keeping her name alive throughout her detainment.

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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3202 articles for us.

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