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WNBA rookie Brittney Griner in ESPN The Magazine

*New WNBA star Brittney Griner sat down with ESPN The Magazine for an in-depth interview – both in print and on video (click here to watch) – about her sexuality, being teased throughout her childhood, and her current hate tweets.

The Baylor University grad used to keep her Twitter and Instagram accounts private, approving each individual request. But eventually she realized there was no point in policing her own digital space when so many people could say whatever they wanted about her on social media. Now, if someone wants to insult her, so be it. “My followers are the best,” she says. “Usually they’re on somebody right away, and I’m like, ‘No, no, guys, stop — that’s exactly what the troll wants you to do.'”

As for coming out fully earlier this year, “I am 100-percent happy,” she told the magazine’s Kate Fagan. “When I was at Baylor, I wasn’t fully happy because I couldn’t be all the way out. It feels so good saying it: I am a strong, black lesbian woman. Every single time I say it, I feel so much better.”

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Below: an excerpt from her article in ESPN The Magazine.

She picks up her phone, scrolling through Twitter and Instagram, as she does routinely, to see what people are saying about her.

The hits come quickly: “You’re disgusting.” [Scroll.] “Ur a man.” [Scroll.] “What are you? #man? #ape?”

“Here’s one,” she says, rolling her eyes. “‘You have a penis.'” Satisfied that her troll chorus still cares, Griner puts away the phone. “Reading what people say makes me want to be me even more.”

The cyber-bullying is just an extension of the face-to-face taunts she dealt with growing up in Houston, the youngest of four kids raised by Ray and Sandra Griner. At home, Brittney was into everything: riding her go-kart; watching military shows with her dad, a Vietnam vet; sewing with her mom; chasing squirrels in the woods surrounding her home. But at school, nothing felt right. By sixth grade, she was gangly and long and feisty, and although she was too big to be backed into a corner or stuffed into a locker, her classmates found other ways to torment her. Every incident was a variation on a theme. A girl would come up and grope at her flat chest, calling to the other kids: “See? Nothing!” Then the instigator would turn to Brittney and say those familiar words: “What are you?” Humiliation would morph into anger, and Griner would push the girl.

Brittney Griner

Brittney Griner

When her teachers and parents asked what had happened, she mumbled answers that meant nothing. How could she verbalize what they were calling her? A lesbian, a dude, a freak, a thing? It was easier to accept the blame and the reputation for fighting that came with it. She was trying desperately to fit in, dressing like the other girls, dating boys, but she was a collage of mismatched pieces, built from images she thought others wanted to see.

Her parents, brother and two sisters had no idea of her pain. Her father worked in the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, and over the years he had brought home stuffed animals he won while patrolling carnivals; Brittney’s room was filled with fluffy bunnies and bears that absorbed her tears. What is wrong with me? Why am I here? Her mind wandered to dark places where she didn’t exist at all. She would hold the thought just long enough to consider the consequences: What point is suicide if I hurt my family, too?

She decided instead to find her place in the world. One day in middle school, she sat at the family computer, her fingers hovering over the keyboard as she glanced around to make sure she was alone. Then she typed the words “gay and lesbian” and watched as thousands of links flooded the screen. She clicked through the pages. “This is me,” she realized. “This is who I am.”

Read the entire article here.

Below,

ESPN – Griner talks to espnW.com’s Kate Fagan about the difficulties of publicly expressing her sexuality at Baylor.