Ultimate Visibility: The importance of inclusivity and finding yourself in the Ultimate community
This post was written as a part of our Guest Blogger Series for Pride 2020. This month, we're stepping back and lending our platform to voices in the LGBTQIA+ Ultimate community. Their words and experiences are so incredibly important and valid and too often overlooked.
This post was written by Cate Roscoe, #40 for the Seattle Cascades.
Cate was first introduced to the sport of Ultimate in 6th grade, roughly 30 years ago. Since then, she's played with UC Santa Cruz for 5 years, spent 3 years as Head Coach for Humboldt State University Women's Team (the Hags), and played with a wide range of elite club teams including: SF Heroine (which later became Skyline), Darkhorse, Schwa, Underground, and iRot. Her very impressive achievements include Team USA Women's Masters 2012, 2nd place Women's Masters Championships 2011 and 2019, WFDF 2012, Women’s Master World Champion, WUCC Women's Masters Club World Champion (iRot). Today, she lives in Seattle with her wife, where she plays for the Seattle Cascades and is the Founder and Director of the 253 Youth Ultimate program in the Tacoma area. When she's not playing Ultimate, she teaches High School math and is working with her school and district to decolonize education.
I was in sixth grade and very bad at playing my gender role when “Burl” and Kati came to my PE class. At the time, Carrie Berlogar, known as Burl, and Kati Holmos were attending my hometown university Humboldt State, and leading the school’s women’s Ultimate team called the Hags. They had come to introduce us to Ultimate. Instantly I gravitated to Burl, and from that day on I decided I was an Ultimate player — even though I discontinued PE to take French and didn’t even play Ultimate again until high school. The ramifications of this day were far reaching in my life. They affected what I did in high school, who my role models were, where I went to college, where I have lived, who I married, and who I have become. I don’t think I spent more than two or three PE classes with Burl, but when I think back, I can still remember the details of her teaching me to throw a forehand. I can still vividly remember seeing her riding her bike away, and although I don’t remember thinking much about my sexuality in middle school, I do remember seeing her riding her bike and wondering if she was gay. I also remember thinking that I wanted to be like her.
In this essay I want to focus on the importance of visibility to young folk, how important it is for each of us to see ourselves in the things we might want to do. I want to discuss how fortunate I was to have seen myself, to have found myself in Ultimate — and leverage that to address the lack of racial diversity in our sport. I hope to do this, but I know I can’t help but also tell the story of how that visibility resulted in Ultimate crafting almost every part of my life.
When people ask me “When did you know you were gay?” I have a ridiculously specific answer — October 29th, 1993, at approximately 9 p.m. That’s when AJ kissed me, and I blacked out, then came to having it kind of figured out. Coincidentally, October 29th is also Burl’s birthday. It was shortly after this, but I’m not sure the order, that I started playing Ultimate at lunch and meeting college-aged lesbians that attended HSU. Burl and Kati had graduated at this point, but I found other women that went out dancing at the gay club in my town. Most of them were studying some form of science as I hoped to, but the ones I became closest with had played Ultimate in Santa Cruz before coming to Humboldt.
As a young queer kid in the ‘90s seeing anything or anyone that suggested “gay” was the highlight of a day. In addition to my college friends, I eventually found a network of queer kids my own age. We were scattered throughout the area at different high schools, but were drawn together by our queerness. Most of these ladies played sports, and sports became a part of being gay to me. As a community we created local codes to communicate our gayness, because most of us couldn’t safely be out but we craved seeing gayness and finding others. My favorite is the jersey number I still wear, 33. In my hometown in the ‘90s, there wasn’t a single female high school athlete wearing 33 that wasn’t gay. The number had to be handed down to you from graduating players.
It was the importance of this visibility that I want to underscore. One reason my friends and I were drawn to sports is because we could see gay in sports. Yes, we were also welcome to defy our gender stereotypes there too, but again, that still spoke to the visibility of ourselves. I was particularly drawn to Ultimate because all the college players I knew at the time were lesbians.
In my mind, the sport was “gay.” I believe if we all think back on what we have done, there will be a moment for all of us where we saw someone like us doing those things, someone that showed us ourselves. As minorities in any way, I think we all need this. I think it’s imperative.
In high school, I was an exceptional student, driven by the visions of myself I had been shown and a desire to not be at home with an abusive bipolar guardian. In the whole trajectory of the ‘90s, I graduated high school early, turned down Stanford to attend UC Santa Cruz, played Ultimate and became a Marine Biologist — because I had been shown an example that could be me in each of those things. I graduated high school early following the lead of the other out lesbian at my school. I attended UCSC to study marine biology and play Ultimate frisbee because I had seen women that looked just like me doing these things at that school (and in 1996 UCSC’s women’s team was the most visible, winning the national championship). And when I say they looked just like me, I mean in every way. I saw sporty, not-very-feminine, queer, white, women — I saw myself.
This trend continued. In college every teammate I recall having, until my fifth year, presented as white. To my knowledge, at the time none of them was gay, but they were white, they still looked just like me. At one point we were playing back in my hometown and my elderly stepmother came to watch a game. She commented that she couldn’t tell who I was on the field because we all looked the same. I scoffed, “No we don’t, I have short blonde hair, she has longer brown hair” and so on. But no, she was right, we all looked the same.
However, I was able to look to other teams to find my first friends of color (apart from my high-school punk rock BFF who was native). As a girl that came to the sport because it was “so gay,” I was a little thrown by the lack of queer women on my team — but at least there were lots of elite players in Santa Cruz to be my gay-frisbee role models. As a white girl I, of course, did not notice all the whiteness. Dom, Enessa, and Poof — all POC players — were some of my favorite people in the sport, and all were opponents. I often talk about this in terms of how great it is that in Ultimate many of my closest friends have primarily been opponents — but today I want to address how I used them to blind myself to the whiteness of Ultimate. I think about how pivotal Ultimate has been to my life and I think, if I had I not seen myself, perhaps I would not have found myself. I also wonder how those ladies were able to see themselves in this sport.
In the 90s with my first club team, SF Heroine — I am far right, not yet 20 years old.
Also while at UCSC I took Intro to Feminism, where I learned the most important lesson of my life: no one is equal until everyone is equal. As feminists, we need to remember that there are women of all colors. If we want women to find themselves in our sport, they too have to see themselves in our sport — and that means they need to see women that look like them, women of all different colors. The fact is that I benefited in my acceptance of being gay by being white. The way that Ultimate was a place for me to be gay mirrors the larger LBGTQ movement, in that the fight for gay rights didn’t get much traction until it largely became driven by white men. Both have blindly been hindered by this because we will never be equal until everyone is equal.
Now, I did say that none of my college teammates identified as gay, but I did continue to find gay friends in the sport. I also had welcoming teammates, one in particular even addressed the confession of my fear that teammates might be uncomfortable with me in a locker room or afraid I was checking them out. She gave a comforting chuckle and said “I probably check out more women than you do in a locker room! We all do it, just comparing ourselves,” then she laughed again and said “maybe scoping out the competition.” That was an incredibly powerful experience of acceptance and solidarity in my life. There were also plenty of out elite players, and many became friends and mentors both on and off the field. This included Burl again, who moved to Santa Cruz after college, and founded the dominant women’s team at the time, Homebrood.
As I transitioned to the elite-club ranks I found the “gayness” of the sport again. In addition to finally having gay teammates, my team’s culture was wonderfully “gay.” This period of playing Ultimate had an extremely profound influence on my gayness. While I had somewhere along the way set rules for myself about not dating teammates (stemming from concern of straight teammates), it might not have looked that way from the outside. Body shots and making out happened at all team functions, regardless of orientation. Flirting, and rather inappropriate jokes were the norm, and I honestly don’t think any of us was ever uncomfortable or offended. We had an annual Pride practice, where the gay players each wore a different color and the straight players, in whites were joking called “team breeder” for the day (although that eventually got changed to “team love”). After the pride practice, almost everyone would go to the San Francisco Dyke March, dancing and distributing body shots on the corner of Market and Castro all night. What can I say, it was the gay ‘90s and early 2000s.
Skyline (Heroine after a leadership and name change) pride practice. I’m in purple.
In grad school, I met my wife, who also played Ultimate for HSU, and yes at one point I had been her coach, although we technically weren’t together at the time. I still cringe whenever I say that, but since we’ve been together for 14 years, I guess it was OK. Primarily through a move to Idaho with her I found myself out of the sport at an elite level for six years. When I returned to the sport, choosing to live in Tacoma, WA so that I could, the gay-Ultimate culture of San Francisco was widely inappropriate and offensive on the team I joined. In addition, many teammates who were wrestling with their own identities felt uncomfortable with my intensely loving, bombastic and vocal personality, particularly related to my sexuality. I’ve had to struggle a bit with learning a new more balanced culture, but through that process I’ve seen the ways that our young gay selves mimicked the horribly abusive male culture. It was an unintentional part of intentionally defying our gender roles and exploring our freedom. Although I’ve had to experience moments of horror at my own impact on others, it has given me a greater understanding of how the patriarchy works. It also helped guide me to my current team, where I have again found my people. A team where we accept each other with unconditional love, and use the best intentions in each other to facilitate personal growth and learning. And they enjoy my “I heart pussy” wrist band, so that’s a plus.
Now I am playing at the elite and professional levels I always dreamed of. Now I am going to schools, working with, and building youth programs. Now I am trying to help young people find themselves in this sport. In doing this work I can’t miss the need to include ALL kids, because I can’t afford to miss out on a single kid — for our program to be successful, kids need other kids to play. And to be a community, we need the whole community.
I recognize that if we want to share Ultimate as a place to find your people, to be safe and welcoming for all, we will need to be just as intentional in outreach to POC as we are for women. I mean, we have to work very hard to increase the visibility of women and opportunities for girls to find the sport despite hundreds, honestly thousands of women that can be seen playing. Imagine what it will take to make this sport racially just, but also imagine just how many amazing teammates and opponents we stand to gain. The thing is, if we want Ultimate to do for others what it has done for “the us” that are like me… then we must work harder to include people of color in our sport, we must acknowledge our whiteness and privilege, we must seek to find the ways we uphold the white supremacist patriarchy. If Ultimate is to be a truly gay accepting sport, then we must remember that gay cuts across all racial and ethnic lines. We need to remember that gay people of color need to see themselves in our sport too.