This past month's GQ magazine featured power couples including Naomi Osaka and boyfriend Cordae, among others. Perhaps no pair stood out more, and stood out barely, than Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird, iconic sports figures whose story of going from friendly to partnered to engaged is told over the course of the article, which also arrives as a self-discovery mini-essay, in part, from writer Emma Carmichael.

Sporting, LGBTQ and women's rights legend Billie Jean King found herself called on for a few choice quotes in this cover feature's mix.


“We were always afraid of the unknown," she shared with writer Carmichael. "This is why having Megan and Sue out in front like this, being comfortable in their own skin, is so huge. It allows other people to be more comfortable.”

King discovered this firsthand in 1981 when she was outed in 1981 and immediately saw her sponsors pull their monetary support and other resources. As King told NBC Out in 2017, today's youth relatively say, "'What's the big deal?'" Even this year, Generation Z, those around age 25 and younger, are identifying as LGBTQ—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer—at increasingly higher rates than those in previous generations.

“This is exactly what my generation was fighting for," King said in the GQ article. “Everything they get to do, if we did, we would’ve been toast.”

Carmichael made a point in her cover story of noting that the women interviewed for it were all current or retired pro athletes who are LGBTQ. She noted that all of them, King included, seemed to explain their lives—their very careers and accomplishments—at great length, almost as if they needed to continually verbalize their resumes for all to see. That included "King laying out how she and the Original 9 of women’s tennis fought for better prize money in the ’70s. The tendency probably comes along with being a conscientious, media-trained athlete and public-facing woman, but I also wondered if the instinct was learned: from having to make the case for yourself constantly, from being forced to convince the skeptical that what you do has merit."

Compared to the coverage, from GQ and far more publications of all focuses, of the lives and times of Rapinoe, Bird, and other powerful female figures in women's sports, King shared with Carmichael that she once took to "begging newspaper editors to send interns to cover her tournaments in the ’70s."

How times change. Now Bird and Rapinoe, in the thick of their brilliant careers, their vivacious lives, and their love, find themselves intertwined—wearing designer clothes and/or not much at all—on the cover and in many a page in a major men's magazine. It's not the start, it's not the finish, but it's a gloriously visible middle.