Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the May 30, 1996
issue of Workers World newspaper
"I paint my fingernails. I color my hair. I sometimes wear women's clothes."
So writes Dennis Rodman, the greatest rebounder in basketball history, in his number-one best seller, "Bad as I Wanna Be."
Many thousands-possibly even millions-of people of every sexuality in this country cross-dress some of the time or all of the time. Unrelenting oppression has largely driven this self-expression underground.
But the rise of the transgender-liberation movement has opened up space for people to start coming forward about who they really are. In turn, Rodman's bold assertion can only empower others.
Rodman is courageous as a defensive player with the Chicago Bulls on the courts and as a human being. At his premier book signing he wore a sleek silver tank top, matching makeup and a fuschia boa.
When he appeared the next day on Oprah Winfrey's TV show, the audience was packed with youths sporting colorful hairstyles similar to his.
Some sports writers immediately accused Rodman of a "publicity stunt," comparable to the racist Howard Stern's. Stern may or may not be a cross-dresser in private. But his public stance-like the burlesque drag acts by ruling-class white men in the elite Bohemian Grove club-is mocking and cruel.
Dennis Rodman, already a target of racism, ire and innuendo, had nothing to gain by coming out proudly as a cross-dresser. He's open about the fact that his gender expression is not new.
He explains in his book: "As a kid I would sometimes dress as a girl. You play house, you play doctor-everybody does that, but some people like it more than others. I used to go through the whole routine-dress up, wear makeup, act like a girl."
Reaction from bigots ranged from barely concealed baiting to out-and-out foaming at the mouth. Some fumed in the press that Rodman's transgender expression is a "distraction." Madison Square Garden President Dave Checketts raged: "When I saw the pictures of him showing up on the motorcycle with the makeup job, I just couldn't believe this is what it has come to. I guarantee you that as long as I'm running the New York Knicks, he will not be on this club."
Unfortunately for Checketts, Rodman's self-expression didn't distract the Bulls from trouncing the Knicks in this year's playoffs.
Bulls Coach Phil Jackson remarked that Rodman has "reached a heart space with other members of the team I'd never anticipated.
"Dennis has been a real blessing for us, because he's like a heyoka." Jackson explained that among the Lakota people a heyoka "was a cross-dresser, a unique person ... respected because he brought a reality change when you saw him."
Vast evidence proves that ancient cooperative societies on every continent respected transgender expression.
Today, apologists for capitalism harumph about the right to individualism. Yet while Rodman's labor on the courts brings mega-bucks to the Bulls' owners and the industry as a whole, his unique sense of style and flair-from his hair hues to his tattoos-has drawn the wrath of basketball owners, officials and commentators.
Rodman doesn't identify as gay or bisexual. But he has taken a principled stand in support of full rights for lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals-including athletes. For this, right wingers in Texas once painted an anti-gay epithet on his truck's windshield and slashed its tires.
But that hasn't daunted Rodman. At a recent interview he wore a T-shirt that read "I don't mind straight people as long as they act gay in public."
In his book, Rodman writes: "To hang out in a gay bar or put on a sequined halter top makes me feel like a total person and not just a one-dimensional man.
"It seems that people feel threatened when an athlete does something that is not considered manly. It's like they've crossed over some imaginary line that nobody thinks should be crossed."
Rodman noted, "The NBA image of a man is the one they put out on the commercials, with guys smiling and waving to the crowd. ... Isn't there room for some other kind of player out there? Some other kind of man?
"I want to challenge people's image of what an athlete is supposed to be. I like bringing out the feminine side of Dennis Rodman."
Rodman grew up in the impoverished Oak Cliff projects in Dallas. At age 19 he was homeless. He pushed a mop at night as an airport janitor for $6.50 an hour. He battled virulent racism at Southeastern Oklahoma University.
Rodman hadn't played a minute of basketball before he turned 21. He arrived at the NBA as little-known second-round draft choice. And then he turned rebounding-one of the least favorite chores in basketball-into a science. And an art.
Whenever the basketball leaves a player's hands, Rodman begins calculating angle, arc and trajectory of its flight. When that ball bounces off the rim, he has positioned himself to snatch it mid-air. He does it like nobody's ever done it before.
That's how Rodman helps secure victories for his team without ever having to personally score a point.
He has raised basketball to a new level of excitement, the way offensive players Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan did when they entered the league. Yet although Rodman won his fifth rebound title this year, the coaches denied him a spot on the NBA All-Stars team. Bulls coach Jackson and fellow team members denounced this outrage.
Only unabashed bigotry could deny Dennis Rodman his rightful place in NBA hall of fame. But he deserves tribute for off-court valor as well.
He makes no bones about his cross-dressing: "If I want to wear a dress, I'll wear a dress.
"After years of struggling with my identity-who I was, who I was going to be-I've become totally confident about being who I am. I can go out to a salon and have my nails painted pink, and then go out and play in the NBA, on national television, with pink nails.
"When I cross-dress now, it's just another way I can show all the sides of Dennis Rodman. I'm giving you the whole package. I'm becoming the all-purpose person. I'm like the running back that can break one to the outside and also go over the middle to catch a pass."
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