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Love Letters to ‘A League of Their Own’ – Thank You for Uncle Bert, Vi & ‘Stealing Home’

Rosie O’Donnell as Vi in 'A League of Their Own' episode 6 'Stealing Home'. Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime Studios.

Dear ‘A League of Their Own’,

The story of the first year of women’s professional baseball and the history around it may have already been told, but you took every new opportunity to teach and engage the audience as you did to entertain us. From the relevance of the Negro Leagues, to Black and queer stories in a period piece coming from a place of celebration, to the at-home impacts of World War II all while giving us a fresh spin on a classic story about women in sports; season one is a wonderful clash of references, figures and notable moments beautifully weaved into the overall story. But there are a few stories that I’m particularly thankful for.

Previously in Love Letters to ‘A League of Their Own’: Thank you for Max Chapman.

Thank you for Bert and Vi and for showing us different ways queerness existed and thrived in the 1940s.

Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime Studios.

Two elements of queer representation that I think a lot of us find particularly exhausting are isolated characters that aren’t given any sort of queer friends and the notion that any form of being out or having a place to be with that community didn’t exist until a very recent point in time. Uncle Bertie (Lea Robinson) and Vi (Rosie O’Donnell) represent the creators and keepers of spaces that served as a sanctuary in a time that so rarely gets their due in the telling of our history. Both Vi’s bar and Bert’s house party demonstrate the resilience of queer people and how we have and will always build for each other.

Trans people, butch women, and queer people of color being honored in a period piece for those contributions shouldn’t be a rare occurrence in media but we are all too aware of the fact that it is, and that is what makes episode six in particular so powerful. I’ve given you a whole lot of credit for being incredible on this front, but if the show is a crowning achievement in queer representation, then episode six, ‘Stealing Home’, is the biggest jewel in that crown. It’s a celebration of so many different types of queerness that allows a moment of freedom in the series for so many of your characters. Vi and Bert live full and happy lives with women who love them. Seeing each of them enjoying the world and homes they’ve built as freely as they possibly can with Edie and Gracie massively impacts Max (Chanté Adams) and Carson’s (Abbi Jacobson) journeys. It’s been pointed out by many that we see it when both characters “step behind the curtain” into new worlds in parallel scenes set at different points in this episode.

Most of us know what it’s like to see our “ring of keys” person or at least some version of that, and the way Bert serves in that role for Max is really something beautiful. The gifting of that stunning suit is one thing, but Bert also gives Max the gift of a community that looks like her filled with thriving queer Black and brown faces. He provides stand-in parental figures to lean on in him and Gracie (Patrice Covington), and also the room to let all of those things fit in a way that feels comfortable and genuine for the both of them. That is a stunning example of what family actually does for one another and what that love really should be. It’s a world he as a trans man has built for himself to truly be the best version of “safe” as he describes to his sister Toni later in episode eight. And it’s one he’s more than content to share with his niece, his love, and so many who need him in Rockford.

Seeing Max feel confident enough to walk around as the truest version of herself and ask Esther to dance ending her night in a romantic kiss was enough to send me into fits of giggles, and that wouldn’t have been possible without her Uncle Bert.

Ring of Keys
Someone’s first queer inspiration; somebody who — through their own open queerness — unwittingly forces another to confront their own queerness.
From the Fun Home song of the same name.

“Your swagger and your bearing
And the just right clothes you’re wearing
Your short hair and your dungarees
And your lace up boots

And your keys, oh
Your ring of keys”

Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime Studios.

On the other side of things, Carson is also in the middle of a very singular exploration of her queerness until ‘Stealing Home’. Not saying that Greta isn’t enough, but at this point, she still doesn’t have any sort of example of what a life outside of stolen kisses and convent hookups could look like. But after following Lupe into Vi’s bar, Carson is shown something she didn’t allow herself to consider. A tangible possibility of a life with Greta and this piece of herself she’s only just discovered. It’s overwhelming and exciting and even a little scary and you see all of that in Carson’s initial reactions to taking the whole place in.

Of course, as any proper gay elder would, Vi clocks this immediately and informs her that everything she’s seeing is very real and of the work that has already been put in place to make it so. After meeting Vi and Edie, suddenly Carson wants nothing more than to get her girl there as soon as possible. It takes coaxing past Greta’s rules and fears along with a deal waged over pizza, but in the end, Carson is granted her wish and gets to walk hand in hand with Greta in a place where they both feel safe in. A place where they can dance and laugh with their friends and kiss and hold each other in ways they could only dream about before this one night.

Vi’s bar also serves as a haven and playground for Jess, Lupe, and in a much softer way Jo. Very few television shows dare to have more than one butch lesbian on screen. So seeing three characters on the Peaches, all masc presenting and yet uniquely different was mind-blowing. But episode six pushes just a little further by showing off just how damn desirable these women are. Watching Jess (Kelly McCormack) and Lupe (Roberta Colindrez) get to don their stunning (but completely fineable by league standards) attire for nights of hitting on girls, slinging back beers and arm wrestling is something I could watch a whole series of simply for the fact that it’s just fucking cool. But of course, it’s later when Jo (Melanie Field) comes to the bar that the waterworks started for me on this one. Watching her strut to the dart board to then be boldly hit on by one of the prettiest girls in the room, Flo, to tell Jo how she’s “the most beautiful person she’s ever seen” while they dance reasonably put me on the floor again.

Masculinity in women is so rarely given such reverence and appreciation, and it’s scenes like these that make the show in its entirety such a comfort to so many including my little soft stud self.

Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime Video.

What makes the end of this episode so particularly devastating is that only its final moments are the horrific other side of the reality of the time they are in. Every viewing of ‘Stealing Home’ leads to me getting so swept up in the joy of discovery, finding oneself, and having a place to be that self and be loved reflected in the warmth of Bert’s home and Vi’s bar.  It reminds me of the moments when I get to sit and remember that I have that for myself and how grateful I am for those that came before me to make that possible. For just a second I always block out how it ends. For anyone who does the same thing and might just be reading these letters, I think I’ll do that here now too.

In the next letter…thank you for Gretson.

Ashley Durham (she/her) is a writer and communications manager from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is a graduate of Westminster College with a BA in Broadcast Communications and has worked in the Steel City as a media specialist in recent years. She continues her love of journalism as a blogger with a focus on television and film.