"A League of Their Own" Let Me Grieve For the Years I Spent Closeted and Afraid
The first time a girl asked me to dance, I was almost mute from nervousness, but I smiled the whole song. It was also my first time at Stonewall, and despite being drunk on vodka Sprites, the significance of the historic gay bar wasn't lost on me. I was scared, but that good kind of scared. The feeling reminded me of being 15, riding in the passenger seat of a car as my friend sped down the curvy lanes of the back roads in our midsize Texas town. Each turn felt like we were playing with death, but all I could say was, "Drive faster."
I saw the euphoria I experienced during that dance reflected in the face of Carson Shaw (Abbi Jacobson) when she discovered the underground gay bar in "A League of Their Own." The initial shock of "We can do that here?" followed by a giddy need to share it with someone. For her, it was sharing it with Greta Gill (D'Arcy Carden).
Based on the original 1992 movie, Prime Video's "A League of Their Own" TV series is queer. Like, really queer. NBC News writes that the show "has spawned a kind of grassroots, word-of-mouth marketing campaign led by queer women exalting the show for its unapologetic gayness." And it's true. Emotional reactions from queer women fill my social media with each thumb scroll since its release on Amazon Prime earlier this month. For me, one Twitter user summarized it perfectly: "This show is healing so many wounds I didn't even know I had."
Like Carson Shaw, I knew how the world perceived queerness, yet all it took was one girl to unravel me. My Greta was also a tall high femme whose confidence was disarming.
Part of me wanted to watch the show because I love a good queer romance, but I wasn't expecting to relate so much to the catcher from a small town in Idaho. Carson is a married housewife who runs away to try out for the American Girl's Professional Baseball League while her husband (Patrick J. Adams) is at war. You know she's tough from the beginning, but her grit rubs against a very real and very relatable fear of disappointing the people in her life, taking up too much space, and wanting too much. And, honestly, a fear of her queerness.
Growing up, I understood that it was "bad" to be queer without anyone telling me directly. It was communicated to me in little moments and actions — like when my grandpa yelled at a rerun of "Modern Family" because the gay couple kiss, or how I wasn't allowed to talk about lesbians in front of my younger sister at the risk of "confusing" her. But the message also came across during bigger, scarier moments, too: When my friend's parents sent her brother to Pray-the-Gay-Away camp for being bisexual. When my algebra teacher nearly got fired because parents found out he had a boyfriend. When yet another friend in my strongly Christian town told me that gay people were going to hell. I believed them.
Like Carson, I knew how the world perceived queerness, yet all it took was one girl to unravel me. My Greta was also a tall high femme whose confidence was disarming. I still feel the heartbreak of being told, "We can't do this anymore." Because we knew two 15-year-old girls in the Bible Belt shouldn't enjoy kissing each other. But like Carson, I knew there was something scarier than getting caught — it was the fear of never feeling that way ever again. So I pushed for one more kiss, and Carson begs Greta for just one dance. When Greta lets Carson pull her in tight to the sway of the band, my shoulders relaxed, and I felt a long-held sigh leave my body.
However, just minutes after that moment in the episode, the police raid the underground bar and shatter the illusion of safety. I held my breath until Carson and Greta find a hiding place in the theater next door. They sit in the crowded show gulping down air with eyes wide as they process what just happened. Around them, the people in the theater clap and laugh at the show — ordinary people enjoying an uneventful night out. Didn't Carson and Greta deserve the same level of joy? Carson reaches for Greta's hand, and as I watched Greta pull away from her, I broke into tears.
My partner returned from walking our dog to find me sobbing on the couch in the comfort of our home. I was embarrassed by my distress. (I mean, there's no crying in baseball!) And fortunately, I've never experienced that level of homophobic discrimination. So why was this so triggering to watch? After sitting with it, I started to remember all the little moments that add up over time and how I still hold all that fear, confusion, and grief. Sometimes we need someone else to say how we feel out loud. And while finding community is lovely, there's something about TV that reminds me — this sh*t is real. Perhaps there's clarity in watching a fabled version of your experience; maybe the third-person distance makes it easier to accept how scary, and sad, parts of my story and parts of my community's history really are.
When I picked up the remote to tune into this new show about baseball, I was not expecting to see myself reflected on screen — and for it to turn into an emotional reckoning with some long-buried truths. But "A League of Their Own" gave me space to grieve for my younger, closeted self who didn't know if it was ever going to work out. The tears were cathartic and made room for all of the laughter the show has to offer.
Therapy is, unfortunately, more expensive than a Prime membership, so sometimes pop culture holds us instead. We revere queer characters like Santana from "Glee," Rosa Diaz from "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," Fabiola from "Never Have I Ever," and so many more because their storylines give us hope. Also, it's just fun! The LGBTQ+ news and entertainment site Autostraddle created a character quiz for "A League of Their Own"'s fans. When I got Carson Shaw as my character, I felt validated in that silly way reserved for playing MASH at a sleepover. But the truth is, I'm also Sheryl because I thought queerness was "contagious," and I was terrified I had "caught it" because of those long-ago kisses. And I'm Clance because I'm a fiercely loyal friend. And I'm Maybelle because I'm just here for a good time. That's the beauty of "A League of Their Own."
After I stared at the paused TV screen for a while, I decided to go for a walk. I walked outside and kept walking until I found a hair salon near my apartment. I walked inside and asked for a queer haircut, and we settled on a shaggy mullet. As my thick brown hair fell around me, I thought of Greta cutting Carson's hair at the start of the season, and Uncle Bertie cutting Max's hair, and all of the queers before me who have made a statement with their ever-changing locks. When the hairdresser spun the chair around, I smiled at my reflection. Then I tugged at the ends of my freshly razored layers to remind myself: this is you. And you deserve to be here.