OK, I have held off writing about this for a week because I wanted to see how the daily sports press and the weekly magazines handled a tricky style question at the heart of this story.
This is not, of course, what most people would call a religion story. However, we live in a day and age in which it is almost impossible to write about sexuality — period — without raising religious, moral and cultural questions.
Thus, I want to raise this as a question for the Associated Press Stylebook committee: Is WNBA superstar Sheryl Swoopes a lesbian? Or is she bisexual?
It is perfectly legitimate to ask if anyone needs to answer this question. However, it is an interesting question in terms of science and in terms of moral theology and, sooner or later, it is going to be an interesting question at the U.S. Supreme Court. It is a question that has popped up in politics and in religion news.
If you have read the first-person ESPN essay that began this national coming-out story, you know that Swoopes said some very interesting things.
I didn’t always know I was gay. I honestly didn’t. Do I think I was born this way? No. And that’s probably confusing to some, because I know a lot of people believe that you are.
I’ve been married, and I have an 8-year-old son. Being with a man was what I wanted. When I got divorced in 1999, it wasn’t because I’m gay. I’m three years older than my ex-husband, and I matured a lot faster than he did. …
I’ve had plenty of gay friends I’ve hung out with, but that thought never entered my mind. At the same time, I’m also a firm believer that when you fall in love with somebody, you can’t control that. Whether it’s another woman. Whether it’s another man. Whatever.
So was Swoopes a lesbian when, as a pregnant married woman, she was used as a heterosexual poster child by a professional sports league that has always wrestled with its gay-friendly image?
If, in the near future, Swoopes broke off her relationship with her female former coach and fell in love with another man, would she still be a lesbian? Or would she be bisexual? Is there a moral, scientific, theological or legal difference between these two conditions? Does bisexuality exist? Or, as the Kinsey Report said, is human sexuality a spectrum of behaviors and, in many cases, not a matter of either-or?
These questions only matter if you believe that, in journalism as in theology, the meaning of the words we use actually matter.