Comment: Coming out as transgender in the world of sports
Sports writer Jamie Neal writes for PinkNews on her fears, coming out as transgender, and the sometimes surprising responses she has faced since doing so.
For as long as I can remember, I have been involved in the world of sports. When I was a kid, I wanted to be as smart as my uncle and cousin when it came to football, baseball, and basketball. I grew up in a time where the Oakland Athletics won a World Series, the 49ers won five Super Bowls, and the Warriors were the biggest disappointment in the Bay Area, but they were the only game in town and Run TMC was pretty fun to watch, so I became a Warriors fan as well. The San Jose Sharks came to town after my desire to know about sports had started, so I became a hockey fan too.
Unfortunately, I also grew up in a time where being gay was on the extreme down low and I had never even heard of someone who wanted to switch genders. It was a strange feeling to be so absorbed in a male culture – trying to learn more about sports in order to blend in and not draw attention to myself while knowing that there was something very different from all the other boys I was playing sports with or talking about sports with. That didn’t matter, there wasn’t a term I was aware of to describe what I was feeling anyway, so I was determined to push it down as far as I could and to fit in with all of the other boys in my neighborhood.
I grew up in a fairly rough area in California – gangs, drive by shootings, the whole nine yards. Growing up, I knew if I showed any vulnerability or any sign of femininity, I would be ridiculed and teased until I moved away. I wasn’t the best athlete in the area by any stretch of the imagination, but I was good enough to get by and I could talk my way out of just about any confrontation. I got into a few fights and dealt with being picked on for having big ears or for being poor, but those things were much better than people knowing I was different. Those things were easy to deal with because they weren’t insecurities of mine, they were just things.
Fast-forward to 2010 and I had moved back to California after a six-year stint in Las Vegas and was searching for something to do with my life that felt like it fit. I had always enjoyed writing and I had grown to truly love sports, so I figured being a sportswriter was a natural fit.
I lucked into working with the Sacramento Kings television announcer, Grant Napear, on his daily radio show. I was blessed enough to be around some great people who showed me that there were more careers in sports that I could work toward that may be a great fit aside from just being a writer. I worked with The Grant Napear Show for just over two years and that time helped me get my foot in the door in several ways.
I was credentialed to cover the Oakland Athletics while the Texas Rangers were in town and got a chance to meet someone who I followed on Twitter. She helped me to parlay that single event into a writing gig with BaySportsNet.com. I had a blog and a podcast titled Downs & Outs that focused mostly on football and baseball that I chose to shut down because I had been able to be brought on by Bay Sports Net. I thought to myself, “You’ve made it! You have been accepted and this is going to happen!!” I was also given a chance to host a podcast that was affiliated with NinersNation.com that focused solely on the San Francisco 49ers. These were the breaks I was looking for when I started in 2010 and they were happening!
The issue was, I was lying to everyone about who I was. I sat back and watched people use words like fag, queer, and tranny to describe things or people they felt were inferior to them or their opinions…and I did nothing. I watched as rumors swirled around different NFL players and their sexuality, as Fallon Fox came out as transgender and fought in UFC, and as Michael Sam became the first professional athlete to be drafted after coming out of the closet and being honest with himself and everyone else, yet I sat in the closet and kept the door closed as tightly as possible.
I would constantly worry about what words I was using, about whether my tweet had too many emojis, about whether I would run into someone who happened to recognise me and noticed that my nails were done or that I had my nose pierced and was constantly petrified that the façade that I had so carefully constructed would come tumbling down on top of itself.
I went out to dinner with some friends for my birthday and totally forgot about any need to hide who I was because I was out with people who knew my secret – I was out with people who knew I was transgender and they didn’t care. I didn’t have to worry about whether my nails were done, whether I was wearing makeup or not, or what genders clothing I chose to wear because they know me and like me enough that the only thing that matters is who I am, not what I look like. I remember coming home and lying down to go to sleep and thinking about how nice it was to be able to be me without any concern for hiding things.
I text a couple of my friends the next day and asked their advice on when and how to come out because it was time. It was time to own who I was, sports journalism career be damned. The three women I spoke with encouraged me to do what I felt was right and in the time frame I was comfortable with. Super helpful, right? Actually it was. I decided 9 a.m. the next morning was the timing was right. I came out as transgender to the group of people I felt would be toughest to sell on this idea. Sports fans. That was 9:04 am on April 6th. It is 10:09 pm on April 29th and to this moment, I have only had one person say something negative about my being honest about who I am and making the decision to transition to living as Jamie.
What’s the best part about that one person who decided to open their mouth and remove all doubt of their ignorance? He is someone I have only spoken to twice on Twitter – once about a year and a half ago and once about three months ago. He searched through his mentions to talk to me about how the Falcons are better than the Niners (delusional much?) and then searched through again, apparently to throw more incoherent babble my way, but instead told me to not speak to him because I am a transgender woman. Ok. No biggie, tough guy.
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I have lost my fair share of followers over this and I am more than ok with that. I have a grandma, aunt, uncle, and two cousins who may never speak to me again because of this and that’s ok too. They are more than entitled to choose whether they want me in their lives or not, Twitter folks and relatives alike, but their decisions won’t dictate mine.
One of the best aspects of this whole thing is how my sports community – the people I discuss sports with on a regular basis; they have all been nothing short of amazing. People who I was concerned would have negative things to say or would think that I couldn’t talk about sports merely because I had chosen to live as Jamie – they were all supportive. Quite literally every one of them sent me messages of encouragement, shared my story, and gave me the support I never thought would come from that community.
I would love to thank, by name, each person who has sent me messages of encouragement. I would love to thank everyone who has supported me through this life long struggle. I would love to thank my friends who have had the same conversation with me countless times about how nervous and scared I was to make this decision a reality and why it was doomed to fail. These people all deserve a huge thank you, but if I tried to thank them all by name, I would surely forget someone and then I’d feel awful, so I will just say this – no matter if we had one quick chat or you have known me my whole life, I appreciate you. You helped allow this journey to happen and I would not be where I am without your help.
My experience is unique because I have the support of most of my family, all of my friends, and the community I spend the most time with, but this is not every person’s experience. We have heard about all of the young ladies and gentlemen who have committed suicide because they didn’t feel supported. We have heard or been a part of the bullying that occurs between teenagers and this has cost several people their lives as well. I was ready to be devastated by the hateful responses and the flood of people who decided they didn’t want to be associated with me because I was so different from them. I was more than pleasantly surprised when everybody showered me with love and accepted me for who I am rather than what clothes I wear. This experience, my experience, is no where near typical, but I am beyond thrilled that it is the experience that I have had and that I can share a positive experience with my coming out to break up all of the atrocious stories we hear about constantly in the news and on different social media feeds.
The sports world may be coming along, but there is still room for improvement, as there is in just about every facet of life. I am still hopeful that I can find a way to make a career involving sports, but being honest with myself and living in a way that doesn’t make me regret my life is far more important than chasing a career in sports. The sports community is a reflection of society as a whole, and while it is male dominated, it is becoming more inclusive. Athletes, coaches, front office personnel, and members of the media are all being honest about who they are and that creates a conversation that needs to happen. It is difficult to hate someone once you get to know who he or she is as a person.
Try to think of a time when you didn’t like someone, but then you got to know them for one reason or another and realised they weren’t as bad as you had originally thought. Maybe their actions made more sense, maybe they revealed something to you that made you realise you had some things in common, or maybe you realised that they were just another human being filled with hopes, dreams, and aspirations.
Do I think the sports world and society in general has a long way to go? Absolutely. Do the things I have seen and experienced since I shared my “secret” encourage me? More than I could possibly imagine.