Part 2: ‘We Are All Fruit:’ Queer Friendship in ‘A League of Their Own’ Reboot, by Eleanor Prytherch
While the reboot of A League of Their Own features probably one of the best lesbian romance story lines of the last few years, I’m still obsessed with the queer character friendships it gave us. There are too many rich character dynamics to explore in just one article, so here is another. In part one, I covered Carson and Max’s underground interracial friendship and Jess and Lupe’s bond over existing as gender nonconforming women. Today, I’m going to talk about the ways that “family” dynamics, both found and biological, have always been vital for the survival of queer people and communities.
After Jess and Lupe, and Carson and Max, yet another central pair is Greta Gill and Jo DeLuca. It’s quickly established that Greta and Jo travel as a pair, and it’s soon made clear that the two aren’t involved with each other romantically. Greta and Jo are a duo that I wish I had seen more of on screen; their relationship is so complex because it’s built on mutual protection and solidarity as they move through the world as queer women.
At times the two are at odds over Greta’s relationship with Carson. Jo worries about the risks they’re taking, but also about potential heartbreak for Greta, as she seems to remember a past romance of Greta’s that ended in forced separation. Toward the end of the season, their relationship reaches its most emotional point when Jo gets arrested during a raid of a gay bar and is traded to a different team. Greta’s involvement with Carson falls by the wayside as she’s absorbed with worry over her best friend’s safety.
The scene of the raid comes fairly soon after Carson’s discovery of the gay bar, where she discovers an entire community of people like her. She feels for the first time like there isn’t something broken about her. The homophobic violence inflicted upon Jo reminds modern audiences that queer, thriving underground communities during these times faced a constant threat of destruction.
Jo and Greta occupy the sitcom roles of the snarky duo with a long history, but they’re also a representation of the kind of bonds many queer people throughout history have relied on for both their mental and physical safety. They look out for each other in their romantic endeavors in a literal sense, but they are also vital sources of unconditional love and acceptance for each other: a prime example of the concept of “chosen family” that has been a central part of queer experience for so long.
To round out our quartet of platonic pairs, one of the most deeply powerful relationships in the entire show is that between Max Chapman and her Uncle Bert. While this relationship is different because it is familial, it needs to be talked about.
Growing up, Max always knew that her “aunt” Bertie was estranged, and only after she begins the process of exploring her queerness does she seek out Bert and discover that he is transmasculine and openly living in society as a man. At first this is shocking to Max, but she builds a relationship with Bert and discovers that his home serves as a cornerstone of the Black queer community in Rockford. In a time in television when trans characters are still so incredibly few and far between, the portrayal of a happy and successful trans person in a period piece rather than going the trauma porn route is groundbreaking. It’s important to note that most, if not all, of the queer characters in A League of Their Own are played by queer actors that share their identities, and Bert is played by nonbinary trans actor Lea Robinson.
Dynamics of “baby” queers learning about their place and their community through forming relationships with “elder” queers is another theme that has permeated throughout queer communities as long as they’ve existed, and Bert and Max are this show’s take on that. After spending time with Bert and witnessing the joy and authenticity expressed by the people in their circle, Max begins to feel comfortable exploring her identity. She cuts her hair short and begins to dress more masculinely.
Her eureka moment takes place at Bert’s house party, which parallels the gay bar scene before the police raid. The parallels of those scenes are immensely powerful, both as a way to highlight the resilience of queer communities and also to contrast the means of doing so that were available to white and Black communities. The bar the Peaches go to feels revolutionary, but it is still segregated. Max’s version of the bar is her uncle’s house, but the queer community of her social sphere still find ways to let their hair down. In Max’s case, her ability to connect with an older queer family member is what gives her access to that world, and that is extra valuable since the two of them came from within the same oppressive family dynamic.
Whether you watch for Greta and Carson’s romance or Lupe and Jess’s bromance, it’s clear that other series creators should be taking notes from A League of Their Own for its queer representation. As fans still await a season two renewal with bated breath (and a level of sad cynicism given the history of cancellation between streaming services and shows with prominent lesbian story lines), there’s always the opportunity to rewatch and spend more time with these rich story lines. Whatever happens with the future of the series, in just one season, it has set a sky high bar for the way that queer women deserve to be treated on screen.
Read part one here.