"A League of Their Own" Update Engages Lives of Queer Women in the 1940sRoundup
tags: baseball, womens history, LGBTQ history, television
Lauren Gutterman is the author of Her Neighbor’s Wife: A History of Lesbian Desire Within Marriage and associate professor of American studies at the University of Texas at Austin.
Amazon recently released a series that reboots the 1992 film “A League of Their Own,” about the Rockford Peaches, one of 15 teams in the World War II-era All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). The original film studiously avoided — and barely even hinted at — the ballplayers’ potential queerness, as well as the exclusion of Black women from the league, but the series seeks to fix those erasures. It centers queerness and the racism that structured the league and era.
The new series focuses on two queer women who cross paths at the AAGPBL tryouts. Carson Shaw, a White woman whose husband is away at war, is recruited to the Peaches. Max Chapman, a Black pitcher employed at her mother’s beauty salon, is barred from the team despite her clear talent. The series follows both women as they chase their baseball dreams, fall in and out of love and reconcile their own desires and identities with the pressures they face to conform.
The series’ portrait of queer life amid World War II might seem unrealistic to some, but history reveals that queer women and trans men — from butch to femme and married to unmarried — often found opportunities to act on their desires and build queer communities both during and after the war. As the series shows, the formation of these queer communities was indeed often racially segregated, too.
Many scholars have written about the ways World War II enabled the growth of queer communities, bringing together young men and women from across the nation to live and work in sex-segregated spaces. For many, that experience served as an awakening to the possibilities of same-sex relationships and provided an introduction to the very words “homosexual,” “gay” and “lesbian.” One member of the Women’s Army Corps, which began in 1942 as an auxiliary unit, recalled that even during basic training, lesbian relationships were ubiquitous: “Everybody was going with someone, or had a crush on somebody or was getting ready to go with somebody.”
Women on the home front also found new opportunities for same-sex relationships, including in the wartime industries that began taking on women as workers for the first time. Elizabeth “Deedy” Breed, a White woman from Connecticut, had her first lesbian love affair with another woman she met while working at United Aircraft. The relationship was ill-fated. After reading Radclyffe Hall’s classic 1928 tale of queer woe, “The Well of Loneliness,” Breed felt there was no way to build a happy gay life and, soon after, married a man. But her feelings for women never disappeared. Decades later, in the 1970s, after becoming involved with the feminist movement, she ended her marriage and came out as a lesbian.
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