There’s always more to a story
May 1st, 2017 started out like any other, except I had already decided that at soccer practice that night I was going to tell the kids I coach that I am transgender. It was time. I had built up a relationship of trust and respect with them over the past 4–5 years and I just wanted them to know me authentically. Of course I was unsure of the reactions I might get from them and then possibly from their parents, but I wasn’t detoured.
So, when I arrived at practice that evening I mentioned to one of the other coaches what my plan was and she got wide-eyed with excitement and said “that’s a great idea”! I handed her my phone and asked her to record it. This was mainly for my own desire to capture a rare moment in my life. This was the first time I was coming out to kids I coach after over 20 years of coaching, 11 of those being post transition. It was momentous. What I didn’t realize was that video was soon going to be seen around the world.
I think some context about the kids is important to mention for a minute. These were kids ranging from ages of 8–16 and the majority of them from immigrant or refugee communities. The kids play for a club I started in 2013 called Portland Community Football Club. Our mission is to provide low-income, immigrant and refugee kids affordable, high quality club soccer. Roughly 98% of the kids in the club are from communities of color with the largest population being Latinx. The overlaps of religion and the stereotypes of a machismo culture were present in my mind as I thought about how the kids might react.
The video itself received over 100k hits on YouTube within about a week. Stories circulated world-wide and I interviewed with about a dozen different news outlets, both nationally and internationally. But that’s not really the most interesting part of this story.
In the video, Authenticity, you can see one of the teens sheepishly wander off right after I tell them all I am transgender. He quickly returns once I bring attention to the fact that he’s not being all that supportive. He’s quick to giggle and say “just kidding Coach” and we end up putting our arms around each other’s shoulders. The interesting part here is the back story of this particular kid and his involvement with the club.
About two years before this video I was coaching a group of our High School aged boys. The kid in the video, Alex, (not his real name) came to practice that night in a really foul mood. He was being extra lippy to me and more defiant than usual. I did all my usual tough love coach moves to try to get him back on track, but eventually he said or did something that just tipped the scales for me. I told him he was done for the night and asked him to leave practice. As he walked away from the team he threw up peace signs on both hands and said “see ya later my(n-word)s”. I flew into action. I immediately got right in his face. Told him he was off the team and out of the club. He looked shocked, but in his usual tough-guy fashion tried to play it off by telling me to calm down. I told him that kind of language will never be tolerated in this club. He said ok and left the field.
About 2 months later I received a Facebook instant message from Alex. He apologized for his behavior and told me his mom had been in the hospital that night and he was really stressed. He asked if he could come back to the club and he understood why I asked him to leave. I told him he was absolutely welcome back and thanked him for the apology.
So, fast-forward a couple of years and I’m standing in front of a group of kids telling them I was born a girl. Alex is the first one to react, put his arm around me and then continue to giggle and hardly contain his discomfort. I can only imagine what was going through his head at that moment. I was the coach who had done one of the more stereotypical masculine things that a coach could do — I showed my power over him when I kicked him out of the club. But I also showed him compassion and love when I accepted him back. And then he learns that I’m not quite the man he maybe assumed I was. It was my interaction with him in that moment back in 2015 that motivated me to come out to all the players. It is so much better for young people to see role models of all different sorts. I hope that through this experience that at some point Alex will be able to stand up for a trans, genderqueer or non-binary person because I was just his coach, but because he got to know the whole me.
Alex continued to play for the club for awhile after this. Eventually he moved on, but I still saw him around here and there. He was always quick with a smile and a warm handshake. He also got his younger sister signed up to play with us.
The moral of this story is that there’s always more to a story. The layers we all experience and live each day are deep. Try to give time and space to those layers — it may surprise you.