I know nothing about baseball. I was born and raised in Orange County, making my team the Angels (of Anaheim, not Los Angeles.) I now live in Los Angeles and I go to one Dodgers game a year so that I can wear my blue Dodgers cap with an intersecting L and A to the coffee shop on the weekends and only be a moderate douche. This is a very specific but common type in L.A.
My high school friends like baseball (a lot), and often group text about Angels player Shohei Ohtani. If you’re like me and know little about the sport, you might find it pretty impressive that Ohtani is not only a designated hitter, but also a starting pitcher. And he’s legendary at both. In the queer community, you might call him a “vers.”
Ohtani was already on my radar, but then my straight world intersected with my queer world via…sports(!?) when my nonbinary group chat started gushing about Ohtani. I have a strict rule that cis men are not ever allowed to perceive me. But look at this man, he is really, really beautiful. I would let him perceive me.
My editor at Into caught onto this Ohtani-is-hot trend and asked me to write a piece about it. Through my “journalistic” research I learned that not only do a lot of queer people think Ohtani is hot, but that some transmascs truly admire his gender. Also, a lot of trans people apparently like baseball!
Shohei Ohtani, must see entertainment pic.twitter.com/8tTqEGJ0z6
— Taylor Blake Ward (@TaylorBlakeWard) July 3, 2021
When I told my high school group chat about this story, one cis male friend asked if there are any people who don’t think Ohtani is hot. Of the people I asked for this story, five thought Ohtani was hot, one “never stopped to consider him as hot” but thinks he is an “entertaining” player, and one said, “I’m just pretty neutral on his attractiveness, like I kinda get it but he’s not my type.”
I first went to notable baseball queer, Karen Tongson, also a professor of gender and sexuality studies, English, and American studies and ethnicity at USC, for her expert opinion on Ohtani’s hotness.
“Shohei is [fire emoji]!” tweeted Tongson. “He’s got dreamy Tiger Beat vibes, and is a style inspiration for all soft Asian butches/bois.”
— shoheiarchive (@shoheiarchive) August 16, 2021
Ok, interesting! Can we extricate gender when considering the hotness of a person? For queers who think about their gender even a little bit, I think the answer is no. I also spoke with Evan Friedenberg, who identifies as a trans guy, and loves Ohtani and playing softball.
“I’m super pansexual and think most people are hot, but yeah, he’s like a ‘do be do’ for me. Don’t know if I want to be him, do him, or both—probably both.”
so, about last night’s Angels/DBacks game… pic.twitter.com/pcOIOFWAub
— Taylor Blake Ward (@TaylorBlakeWard) June 12, 2021
Both! I also spoke to my friend Nor Chang who identifies as transmasc and nonbinary, and who similarly appreciates Ohtani’s gender. They recently changed their Twitter name to “Gay 4 Shohei.”
“He has a prepubescent look, no facial hair, and a haircut that is reminiscent of a high school-mandated haircut—clean, but something appropriate for a school or work setting. And because he’s younger, there’s some androgyny to his look, though I wouldn’t call it feminine in any way.”
Chang also went on to say that Ohtani really stands out in professional baseball because some baseball players grow out big beards, chew gum, or spit sunflower seeds, but Ohtani tucks in his shirt and his clothes are the exact right size for his body. What an icon.
So this is what a baseball sees when it gets signed by Shohei Ohtani. 😩
— Soto ⚾️ (@SotoP_23) August 17, 2021
Of the eight people I interviewed for this article, seven were trans. And though we couldn’t all agree that Ohtani is hot, all enjoy watching baseball and many like to play baseball or softball. Therefore *checks notes* at least seven trans people like baseball. This made me think if lesbians love soccer—as evidenced by the fandom around the U.S. Women’s National Team—do transexuelles like baseball?!
“The vibes of the sport feel more trans,” said Ali Richman, a nonbinary trans woman on Twitter. “It just feels inherently not cis to hang out and occasionally something cool happens but sometimes you just get three innings of fly outs and that’s fine too. The vibes are there, as a sport.”
What’s surprising about this possible trans baseball fandom is the fact that the sport is played exclusively by cis men and not a single active MLB player is out. As Chang put it, “it’s a sports league played by exclusively cis men appealing to non-cis people.”
“The vibes are there, as a sport.”
“I think the other trans people I know who love baseball just grew up watching it with their family, and I think there is a sense of masculinity there that was allowed at a young age that allowed trans youth to grab onto and feel protected in that,” said Friedenberg. “It’s something that can bond family members together, they may allow and enjoy watching with their ‘daughters.’ It then becomes a masculine thing to do that’s not shamed. So while that kid might be policed for all other ‘masc’ things they may do or have interest in, they aren’t policed for liking baseball. Therefore, [they can] hold onto it as a safe thing throughout their transition.”
Friedenberg also shared that for some of his trans feminine friends, baseball was something they could bond with their parents about, even if their relationship was otherwise fraught.
Christina Kahrl, who in 2002 became the nation’s first out transgender sports journalist, was a longtime senior ESPN senior editor focusing on baseball before becoming the sports editor at the San Francisco Chronicle. Kahrl cofounded Baseball Prospectus, a go-to source for baseball analytics for professionals and fans alike. She shared that there is definitely a trans baseball fandom, though not quite “the level of awesome lesbians have with the USWNT or even the WNBA.”
“Baseball…becomes a masculine thing to do that’s not shamed.”
“Especially when I was living in Chicago, I was aware of a trans fandom for baseball. I’ve seen trans girls go out as a group, empowered by their collectively enjoying the chance to get out and be out, to have an everyday experience that puts trans people in the same place as everyone else, maybe different but embracing what’s simple and shared. I’ve seen mixed groups of trans people go out too, embracing the anonymity of the crowd and the glory of a day in the bleachers where the experience is as validating as their friendship. And I’ve been the lone trans person in groups of baseball fans,” said Kahrl.
“Ultimately, it’s a leveling experience, something we all can enjoy, no matter what your level of engagement as a fan. You can be absorbed by the action or focused on your friends, sunk in the stats or soaking up suds and sun, and it’s all equally valid. So of course trans folks like getting some of that for themselves.”
Richman also reminded me that trans and nonbinary icon RB Butcher is a HUGE baseball fan. So huge that they’ve had a podcast called Three Swings about baseball, history, culture, gender, race, and more since 2018, and in which they’ve also discussed their transition and trans culture. Sadly for baseball fans, Butcher retired the podcast in May of this year.
“I’ve been the lone trans person in groups of baseball fans.”
Butcher shared that the audience for Three Swings was “incredibly diverse,” trans fans included, and “that it was not simply affluent straight white cisgender hetero men, like MLB wants to think of itself.” They also said that they find Ohtani extremely hot.
“I think [Ohtani] is such a bright star in the game and I am just so lucky to get to watch him play. I also think he is super hot! Like, come on. Just incredibly hot. I find most baseball players hot though, it really is my type. All genders, all positions (wink wink.)”
So is Ohtani hot? I think many queers can agree on that. Is baseball America’s favorite trans pastime? I’m hesitant to unequivocally state this, especially in light of everything being trans these days, but it definitely seems that baseball has a trans following. I do know that I will be at the Angels game on September 4 and look forward to personally discussing this article with Ohtani. ♦
Rax Will is a graduate of UC Riverside’s MFA in fiction with words in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, L.A. Review of Books, and POPSUGAR. They are currently at work on a queer coming-out novel set in Los Angeles. You can follow them on Twitter @masamimommi.