Het is vandaag 55 jaar geleden dat de Amerikaanse tennisster Billie Jean Moffitt (21) in het huwelijk trad met (de latere?) advocaat Larry King (20). Vanaf dan ging ze door het leven als Billie Jean King en zou een legende worden in het vrouwentennis.

Billie Jean and Larry King were engaged in fall of 1964 and married in the First Church of the Brethren of Long Beach, California, on September 17, 1965. Billie Jean credited Larry with introducing her to feminism and for pushing her to pursue tennis as a career. Billie Jean later said she “was totally in love with Larry” when they married.

By 1968, King realized that she was attracted to women, and in 1971, began an intimate relationship with her secretary, Marilyn Barnett (born Marilyn Kathryn McRae on January 28, 1948). Billie Jean acknowledged the relationship when it became public in a May 1981 palimony lawsuit filed by Barnett, making Billie Jean the first prominent professional female to come out. Feeling she could not admit to the extent of the relationship, Billie Jean publicly called it a fling and a mistake. She remained married to Larry. The lawsuit caused Billie Jean to lose an estimated $2 million in endorsements and forced her to prolong her tennis career to pay attorneys.

Also in 1971, she had an abortion that was made public in a Ms. magazine article. Larry had revealed Billie Jean’s abortion without consulting her.

Concerning the personal cost of concealing her sexuality for so many years, Billie Jean said:

I wanted to tell the truth but my parents were homophobic and I was in the closet. As well as that, I had people tell me that if I talked about what I was going through, it would be the end of the women’s tour. I couldn’t get a closet deep enough. One of my big goals was always to be honest with my parents and I couldn’t be for a long time. I tried to bring up the subject but felt I couldn’t. My mother would say, “We’re not talking about things like that”, and I was pretty easily stopped because I was reluctant anyway. I ended up with an eating disorder that came from trying to numb myself from my feelings. I needed to surrender far sooner than I did. At the age of 51, I was finally able to talk about it properly with my parents and no longer did I have to measure my words with them. That was a turning point for me as it meant I didn’t have regrets any more.

Billie Jean and Larry remained married through the palimony suit fallout. The marriage ended in 1987 after Billie Jean fell in love with her doubles partner, Ilana Kloss. Billie Jean and Larry remained on good terms, with Billie Jean serving as godmother to Larry’s son from his subsequent marriage. Billie Jean King has residences in New York City and Chicago with Kloss, her life partner. (Wikipedia)

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