Trans Sport Bans Target Our Most Vulnerable Youth
Laws banning transgender youth participation in school sports cruelly targets the most vulnerable population.
I was never an athlete growing up, I was an artist.
Boys in my PE classes would remark caustically how I could be a good ball player-if I hadn’t been so terribly uncoordinated.
It was true too. I had grown unduly tall at a young age and was the poster teen for “gangly”.
But there was a time when I desperately yearned for the chance to play on a softball team, a girls softball team.
I was 14 in 1975 and deeply closeted. Not just figuratively, but literally in my mom’s closet when I could get away with it, to find articles of her clothing that I could use to secretly find an outward expression of my inner gender identity.
It was nearly unthinkable in those days for a young person to claim to be other than their assigned sex at birth. At least where I was being raised.
That year my two slightly younger sisters signed up to play on the school girls softball team and both our parents got involved to coach their team.
My sisters were capable and aggressive players, and my parents were rigorous in their coaching and team management.
I stood outside the fence and watched, every practice and every game. Puberty was already dealing it’s punishing blow to my self-worth. Those closest to me remember me then as sad above all other qualities.
A photograph from that time captured us with brutal honesty. Mom wanted a picture of the girls with their uniforms and equipment, but she insisted that I join the photo holding a glove that I rarely used. I was appalled, I knew I had no business standing there with them and I didn’t want our differences to be further spotlighted.
It was more than obvious, as they stood proud and strong while I, head bowed, with long bangs concealing my face and the defeated scowl I wore.
At their games I watched intensely, choking on the desire more than anything to join the young women on the field, to be part of their team.
I had opportunities to play informally with boys. On one occasion some guys at school tried to coax me to come join a ball game they were planning that afternoon. But I was really uncomfortable competing with boys. I told them I couldn’t and revealed that I would be at the girls softball game after school. Ridicule was their response, filled with teasing me about being on the girl’s team, the very thing I wanted, was now a matter of scorn.
Nearly fifty years later as I watch a torrent of laws being passed in conservative states singling out transgender school girls and banning their participation on female sports teams, I am reminded of the young girl I was, who though not athletic like my sisters, would have given anything to just be included on their team even to just sit on the bench with the chance of maybe having my parents decide in late innings that we had a big enough lead to put me in right field!
The need to be included as a young person is genuine and critical to each young person’s well being. To be called out as different and excluded is cruel.
Laws banning transgender girls from participating in school sports marginalizes and inflicts intentional discrimination and real harm upon one of the most vulnerable segments of our youth population.
I remember all too well, and the pain is real.
But to the transgender youth of today that face this harm of unjust legislation, there is another aspect of my story that I want to share to offer hope.
I was an artist growing up, at a school full of talented athletes.
During my Junior and Senior years our high school was state champions at football and basketball, both sports, both years.
Those boys practiced every afternoon after school seemingly all year long and took a “late bus” back to our town center from the regional school.
More often than not I rode that late bus too, always alone and silent, as they blew off the steam of their practices.
I was there because most afternoons I stayed late in the art department practicing my craft. I endured being one of a kind every afternoon for the privilege of doing what I most loved.
And in those same years I competed in scholastic and community art shows statewide bringing back to our school additional state championships in fine art!
Each queer young person has unique talents and gifts. If certain areas of participation are unfairly prohibited you, I encourage each of you to become the best you possible, grow and shine in your own amazing way.
And remember none of those school athletes I knew ever played professionally, they went on to other things in life. But I have had the joy of practicing my craft professionally now for over forty years, the last six years as my authentic self.
Please find joy in being you and develop in yourself the vision of the remarkable queer you that you are becoming and the vast potential of your individual contribution to this world!
What a sad but also affirming story. Thanks for sharing.
Laurie Lee, my dear friend, you were the first transgender person I ever met. It was at the first Affirmation conference I ever attended. Your story changed my world. I thought myself tolerant, diverse and understanding but you opened entire vistas of our LGBTQ+ community to my view and sealed it with an amazing hug. Thank you for writing this article. Once again, you help me expand my mind and heart for not only our trans athletes but for all of His children, even myself.