Is Tennis Full of Lesbians?

It’s that time of year when we all tune in to ESPN and watch our favorite live gaming event of the year, The French Open! And just in time, retired Australian tennis player Margaret Court has filled the entire world in on tennis’ greatest secret: tennis is full of lesbians!

A young Margaret Court, who is not a tennis lesbian.

I for one, was shocked—shocked—by this breaking news. Tennis? Full of lesbians? Absolutely not. Dana Fairbanks was the first tennis lesbian I’d ever heard of! Despite my love for field hockey in high school, though, I’m not the sportiest of queers, so I knew it was possible I was just ignorant about tennis lesbianism. As a Gemini, I felt it my duty to correct this lack of knowledge, and so I went digging.

Dana Fairbanks: professional tennis lesbian full of feelings

In an interview with 20Twenty Vision Christian Radio, Court is quoted saying, “I mean, tennis is full of lesbians[!]” As a younger tennis player, she remembers there being “only a couple there” but that they had tons of parties, and always brought the newer, younger tennis lesbians with them to parties so that they could be around their heroes. How thoughtful. Thanks older lesbian tennis players!

Martina Navratilova with perfect tennis face

Court also stated that more children are LBGTQ+ because of “communism”, saying that “there’s a whole plot in our nation, and in the nations of the world, to get the minds of the children.” I don’t disagree. Communism is a great way to reach children. Resource sharing? Into it. (Unfortunately, it’s actually not Communists or queers attempting to penetrate children’s minds, it’s folks with far more devious motives.)

Billie Jean King: power tennis lesbian who KaeLyn once saw speak at a YWCA luncheon last year where she hit signed tennis balls directly into the audience

As a serious investigative journalist, I knew I needed to do further research. After all, there’s only so much you can learn from a Buzzfeed news article and a 45 minute interview. Is tennis full of lesbians? The internet, and by “the internet” I mean my co-workers on Slack, had a lot more to say about this than I expected. Riese Bernard, Autostraddle’s CEO had this to say, “Tennis has been a longstanding situation for lesbians. Dana Fairbanks was based on a true story. Power lesbian tennis players cavorted secretly in Palm Springs in the 80s and 90s. These are all true facts I cannot provide sources for, but I’m confident about them. Also, Some of the first out lesbians ever, Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, were tennis players.” Kayla K, a Staff Writer, said that “Tennis is def full of lesbians!!” citing that, “There was sooooo much lesbian drama on my HS tennis team. My doubles partner was in a secret relationship with another girl on the team it was a whole thing.” Fascinating.

Can’t argue with sound logic and personal anecdotes, right? Some naysayers disagree. Molly Priddy, Autostraddle’s own Feelings Rookie said, “Sometimes I think the mandatory skirts deterred a good many of our more masc[uline] of center athletes,” while Erin Sullivan believes, “Tennis is not full of lesbians but I welcome an upswing!!” Perhaps tennis is full of lesbians who haven’t come out yet? Only time will tell.

Gaby Sabatini may or may not be a lesbian, but she is flagging for fisting.

I also conducted a very official poll on Twitter, seeking the public’s opinion on this vital matter, and just like the staff of Autostraddle, they’re split! As of the writing of this, 46% of poll takers believe that yes, tennis is full of lesbians, while 54% answered either “no” or “just Dana Fairbanks”. Still no straight (pun intended) answer.

According to one specific forum thread from the tennis side of the internet, which has apparently sat dormant since around 2002, while tennis may not be full of lesbians, there are definitely some out there. And according to Wikipedia’s dynamic list of LGBT Sportspeople there are or have been at least twelve non-fictional tennis lesbians in all of time. I’ve organized them all in a list for you.

Tennis Lesbians

  • Dana Fairbanks (fictional, but real in my heart)
  • Billie Jean King
  • Martina Navitalova
  • Casey Dellacqua
  • Amelie Mauresmo
  • Gaby Sabatini???
  • Beatriz “Gigi” Fernandez
  • Helen Jacobs
  • Ilana Kloss
  • Hana Mandlíková
  • Lisa Raymond
  • Renée Richards
  • Rennae Stubbs

Hana Mandlíková: the soft butch who just made me interested in tennis.

One of these lesbian tennis players, the legendary Martina Navratilova, has a very solid theory regarding Court’s statements: “It is now clear exactly who Court is: an amazing tennis player, and a racist and a homophobe.” Good point.

So, is tennis full of lesbians? The jury’s still out (another pun!).  If I’m being honest, I don’t actually know how many women tennis players there are right now, period. Can’t be more than like, what, 40? If my estimates are correct, then that means that at least 25% of women tennis players are lesbians right now at this minute. Maybe even more! And this is just the tip of the iceberg, and according to Margaret Court, “you know, what you get at the top is often what you’ll get right through that sport.” Seems clear enough to me.

Alaina is a 20-something working on a PhD in Performance as Public Practice. They are a mom to three cats, they listen to a lot of NPR and musicals, and they spend a lot of time on Pinterest lusting over studio apartments. They are actively trying to build A Brand on twitter @alainamonts. One day, they will be First Lady of the United States.

Al(aina) has written 247 articles for us.

52 Comments

    • Well if you count them over 60 years it is not that much consider it is sport but there were a lot left out but I am not going to give them, a lot are still in the closet after even 50 years.

  1. I have been waiting to see what your take would be on the whole Margaret Court thing, and this does not disappoint.

    FTR I am firmly on the side assenting with the assertion that tennis is full of lesbians, having been to watch several tournaments around Europe and regularly side-eyeing the incredibly lesbian walks of numerous players.

  2. congratulations on a v scientific and thorough investigation! I played tennis when I was little and had a crush on my teacher (who looked curiously like Anna Nicole Smith) so QED

  3. Other gems from Margaret Court:

    In 1970, on apartheid: “If you ask me, South Africa has the racial situation rather better organized than anyone else, certainly much better than the United States”.

    “Christianity is a way forward” for Aboriginal Australians

    She is right about the lesbians tho.

    Source: https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/05/31/sports/tennis/margaret-court-gay-marriage-australia.html

    • which is like the biggest bummer of them all??? like, field hockey felt so gay for me and i expected lax to feel the same and it didn’t. it’s so straight. how can two sports with essentially the same uniform be so different?!

    • In my college our women’s field hockey team was super straight and our women’s lax team was super gay! Weird!
      This stands out even more bc only field hockey, track/cross country, and women’s soccer were super straight. The rest that I can think of (volleyball, basketball, lacrosse, softball all had some if not a lot of rep)

  4. I was fairly good at tennis when I was in elementary/middle school, but then dropped it in high school to play softball. Ironically enough, I was the only lesbian on that team.

    Maybe I should have stuck with tennis.

  5. An alumni from my school was a successful tennis player when I was about eight and my tennis playing grandfather showed me a magazine profile and asked if I wanted to be her when I grew up. Fast forward ten years and she’s a lesbian archaeologist which I’m pretty sure is not what he meant but, well, oops?

  6. I have nothing to add, but since no one else has posted it, I have to recount Martina Navratilova’s greatest comeback, when a sportswriter asked her, “Martina, are you still a lesbian?” She replied, “Are you still the alternative?”

  7. There was a tennis themed fiction book written by famous lesbian author Rita Mae Brown which helped to further this idea. Also, golf, basketball, soccer, show me a sport where lesbians don’t shine.

  8. I was on JV for two years and once we dressed up “as boys,” aka piling out hair on top of our heads and putting on hats, and one girl could not stop staring at me and said “I would be a really hot guy” which is the gayest thing anyone has ever said to me.

    So anecdotally yes tennis is a breeding ground for lesbians.

    ALSO in a related racquet sport, two of the former #1 and #2 ranked squash players have come out and announced they are in a relationship.

    http://squashmagazine.ussquash.com/2017/05/love-is-love-is-love-jenny-duncalf-rachael-grinham-champions-on-court-pioneers-off-court/

    Take that as you may…

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