Monday, June 22, 2009

Missy Giove Busted

Missy Giove, the wild out-lesbian mountain biking legend, was busted this week and charged with conspiracy and possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute. Apparently, she had 9 cell phones, 400 pounds of marijuana and $2 million in cash when cops busted her! Holy smokes! (Literally.) Read the Chicago Times article.

Missy was part of my first big break as a writer. She was my first cover feature. Back when Girlfriends Magazine was still afloat in 2003.

I didn't talk to her again until she landed in my inbox a couple years ago. She'd heard Dipstick and I were going to be hosting an event in Whistler for Winter Pride and wanted to grab a drink (we did the Girlfriends interview over the phone). I've included that photo from Winter Pride here, too. Too bad for Missy. We are all a byproduct of our thoughts and choices, eh?

This whole story is somewhat shocking to me (and sad); when we met her face-to-face at Winter Pride she was in a long term relationship with a really nice woman who had kids. She seemed all domesticated. Hope they all didn't get caught up in this, too.

Here is the 2003 article for those who are curious:

Coming Out, Going Pro

By Gina Daggett

The Indian poet Rumi once said, "Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious."

If there's a woman who has heeded his advice, it's Missy Giove. One of the most colorful competitors in professional sports, Giove's name may be a one you've not run across--yet. But if you're lucky, you've seen her flying down a rugged mountain, earning her nickname "The Missile." In her pursuit of greatness, Giove has snapped thirty-seven bones. Over her career, she's pedaled her way to three national championships and the most record wins in the nation for women's downhill.

Giove's not the only lesbian on the mountain biking circuit. But she's the only one who's out to the world. "You can't make people do something they don't want to do or don't have in their heart to do. Who knows why people don't come out? It could be for good reasons, but who am I to judge? I don't have their parents, their life or their job. If [coming out] is the least I can do while I'm here, then that's my purpose," says Giove.

When asked if being out of the closet has enhanced her performance and fearlessness, Giove says, "I think that anytime you are more in-tune with yourself and accept what's going on in your life, you're more focused and centered."

Many other professional out-athletes echo Giove's sentiments: coming out of the closet enhanced their performance as an athlete. Pat Griffin, author of Strong Women, Deep Closets, says that for many professional athletes, staying in the closet has become an "unplayable lie," a strategy of deception they're unwilling to live. Or, as lesbian columnist Deb Price puts it, "It's hard to swing a golf club in the closet."

Some professional athletes have chosen to come out of the closet; others have been thrown out, usually (as in Martina Navratilova's case) by bitter ex-lovers. Others are known widely to be gay, but prefer not to say. In the meantime, our sisters in the rainbow jerseys are, one-by-one, changing the face of women's sports.

Trajectory of the Missile

When I caught up with Missy Giove, she was at her coastal home in San Diego that she shares with Cynthia, her girlfriend of two and half years. Over the phone, we chatted about her injuries, her lack of inhibitions, her passions, and her life as a high-profile lesbian athlete — a title she wears with no excuses.

Giove began biking in New York City delivering Chinese food. At the time, she was a top-level ski racer who'd already won the Junior National Championships in 1990. She was always looking for ways to improve her skiing. Cross training and ultimately biking became an important component of her exercise routine.

Before too long, though, Giove realized she was no longer "mountain biking to ski, but instead, skiing to mountain bike." So she traded in her skis and poles for shocks and treaded tires.

Now, as Giove rides into a wooded area at 45 mph, she's very aware that she could be killed, or worse yet, get maimed. But she surrenders to the mountain by acknowledging that it's much bigger than she is. "The trick," Giove shares, "is to pick places where I'm going to back off — usually places you could die — and the places I'm going to give 110 percent."

In addition to biking regularly, Giove works out in the gym and sprinkles cardiovascular into eight-to-ten-hour daily workout schedule. This not only makes her a stronger mountain biker, but it helps her avoid injuries. Throughout her career, Giove has shattered her pelvis in six places, a biking injury from which doctors said she would never recover. Soon after, she broke both her legs. In 2001, she suffered a brain hemorrhage in another biking accident.

But these injuries won't slow Missy Giove down. She's still as extreme as ever, and attributes part of her mojo to Gonzo, the dried piranha she wears around her neck as a reminder to be aggressive. She also carries with her down the trail the ashes of deceased animals — and even some friends. On some days, in addition to tucking a small vial of ashes into her sports bra, she sprinkles them around the mountain so they're always with her.

Giove came out to a reporter in 1995, although she says she never intentionally dodged questions about her sexuality. "I choose to be myself every fucking day and people can either love me or hate me," says Giove. It's no surprise that Giove's candid personality has become one of her trademarks.

Even though the thirty-one-year-old has faced homophobia in her career as a professional mountain biker, she says the positive experiences have outnumbered the negative in spades. "There are always those instances where you're called the 'son of Satan' that scare you, but there are thousands and thousands that are positive," says Giove. "Like when people thank me for being a positive role model in their kid's life. There are going to be the occasional one or two [homophobic instances], but it's so minimal."

"It's an education process for people," says Giove about how she tries to combat homophobia. "So, I try to be really approachable." In fact, the biker gets more shocked responses to her rad clothes and multicolored hair than she does to her sexuality. "Seeing that gives me extra incentive to be even more out," laughs Giove.

For Giove, being an out athlete does have its price. "I make less money because I'm an out lesbian, but you know, hey, that's okay," says Giove. "I think it's important to represent who you are because it gives other people strength." And Giove trusts that if her example helps even one person that would be enough.

Sink or Swim: Diana Nyad

There's no doubt that the inner turmoil had a huge impact on my performance as an athlete," says Diana Nyad, the world-record swimmer and host of National Public Radio's "Savvy Traveler." Before she came out of the closet, Nyad immersed herself in the pool to escape. Yet once she found the courage at age twenty-one to come up for air and out to the world, she says, "It showed in my athletic career immediately. I shed so many layers of restraint and confusion."

But, says Nyad, this was her experience, and it wouldn't necessarily be the same for others. "It's easy for me to say this sitting here; I'm not the basketball player struggling to make a living," says Nyad. "But I truly believe in this day and age in America that if a young athlete is authentic, if she lives her life with honor, pride and confidence, then she will receive the respect she commands from her public."

Professional football player Alissa Wykes seconds Nyad's experience. "It takes a lot of wasted energy away to cover up stories, remembering who and what you told," says Wykes, who plays for the Philadelphia Liberty Belles. "You live in a paranoid world." The decision to come out was the best thing Wykes has done in her career. Aside from the mental and emotional benefits, she's met many wonderful people in organizations whose purpose is to back the LGBT community up. "I was secure in my little world, but I had no idea there was such a big network of support out there."

Many speculate on the root of homophobia in sports. Griffin thinks that if you go deep enough, it's tied up in sexism. "The lesbian label serves a social control function to make women self conscious about their athleticism," notes Griffin, who lectures widely about homophobia. "It's important to maintain a particular gender order in which men have privilege and women don't."

One of the biggest problems with homophobia in women's sports, Griffin contends, is that "it drives such a wedge between heterosexual women and lesbians." She cites the derogatory comments from tennis player Martina Hingis directed at Amelie Mauresmo, who is openly gay, in which Hingis said playing Amelie was "like playing a man." Similarly, because of Mauresmo's cut physique, unsubstantiated rumors of steroid use have leaked out of the locker room. Yet no one is talking about the chiseled muscles of the seemingly-straight Williams sisters.

What enflames the situation even more for these out lesbians, Griffin says, is that "women's professional sports are still marginal — and I think they don't want to take a stand on anything that's controversial that might affect their status of survival."

"I'd like to think that things are changing and that having out players isn't going to make a big difference," Griffin adds on an optimistic note. "You look at who is out in the WNBA and Sue Wicks is the only player who's ever come out. I mean, come on."

"Maybe [we've had some] progress, because certainly when Billie Jean and Martina came out, it was a giant scandal," says Griffin. She also cites as a positive development the fact that Mauresmo, Wykes, Giove, Wicks, and Karrie Webb, are all coming out while they're still actively playing. And even though a lot of athletes find support in unexpected places when they come out, Griffin believes, "we need a lot more heterosexual athletes to step up and be allies instead of giving private support."

"I've never heard an athlete who's come out say they regretted it," says Griffin. Yet, when it comes to team sports versus individual sports, it is an additional component for athletes to weigh; trying to balance what's right for them with what's in the team's best interest. "You do have a responsibility to other people," adds Griffin.

Going into Overtime

"There's not one champion I can think of that ended up being a champion by accident," says Giove. By refusing to play the unplayable lie, Giove wasn't going to leave anything to chance. But professional athletes have to choose their battles wisely, and until the sports climate warms up, many lesbians are trying to keep their eye on the ball instead of the door handle.


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Anonymous said...

"I'd like to think that things are changing and that having out players isn't going to make a big difference," Griffin adds on an optimistic note. "You look at who is out in the WNBA and Sue Wicks is the only player who's ever come out. I mean, come on."

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