Every Player Matters
One mom’s journey in youth sports with a transgender child
Posted by: Mother of a Rapids Youth Soccer Player
If I had to be honest with myself, I was probably you. I too stood on the sidelines, cheering on my kids, while sometimes noticing the disparate gender expression of certain kids on the field – wondering what their true identity was. Why was a boy on a girls’ team? Why does a girl want to play on an all-boys team? What’s their story? And my lens was curiosity. Perhaps judgment too. And if I’m really being honest, I usually thought – “that must be hard.” And if I was feeling particularly optimistic, my inner dialogue would cheer for that kid in being resolute about their beliefs. But, nonetheless, I had a story crafted without any information.
A few years ago though, that story changed significantly for me. My own child began to question their gender identity at a young age. As parents, we chalked it up to many things, but we never assumed for any minute that our child might be transgender. But then an undeniable disconnect became so utterly unavoidable, that we had to face that our child really did not identify with their born gender. And it was soul crushing. What would become of this child in a world of binary norms? What would happen to all of the dreams we had created based on their gender? How would they be accepted? What school would understand? Could they play sports? How would our community react? What would our family say? The questions were endless and all pretty painful to confront. But at the root of the situation was a really unhappy kid. Not healthy, not succeeding, and losing the ability to have a carefree childhood like their peers. Simply put, not thriving.
The power of community can never be underestimated. While we dreamed up stories of adversity, we were met by kindness, inquiry and compassion. In every part of our journey, our community has lifted us up and made space. The Rapids has been no exception. And I cannot express what this means to a child such as ours. Sports build self-esteem, confidence and connection. These constructs are mission critical for ALL kids. According to a report made possible by the Human Rights Campaign and Gender Spectrum, only 12% of transgender kids will participate in sports. Why? Because it’s hard. From the arguments of physical advantage or lack thereof based on gender or the difficulties navigating bathrooms, locker rooms and travel, the hurdles feel bigger than they need to be.
The saying, “it takes a village” is true. My family is living it. We cannot single-handedly manage this journey on our own. We have to be brave enough to ask the tough questions and advocate. It takes everyone to be willing to work together to support our child in a world where gender norms are so strong and the binary is commonplace. In a few words, we need support to function.
This spring, we will all find ourselves back out on the sidelines. And maybe you too will catch a glimpse of kiddos you feel you can’t make sense of. And I ask you to think of this story. What would it take for you to reframe your story? Does it matter? If you can recognize that sports and inclusion are a gift to our kids, perhaps you might rethink this dialogue. In this age of increasing depression in our children for so many reasons like bullying and social media, do we really need one more reason? Does gender expression matter in soccer?
In closing, I share the wise words of a parent coach who was part of our journey. When trying to explain why our child no longer looked like the gender of the rest of the team, he said to us, “I only see a kid who wants to play soccer.” I invite us all to do the same.