I never intended to be an advocate. I never intended to be the person kids would come to when they felt suicidal. But somehow, somewhere along the line, that’s exactly what happened.
In 2011, as a player on the George Washington University women’s basketball team, I made history by becoming the first openly transgender Division I athlete. It wasn’t my intention. All I wanted to do was show my closeted gay friends, “Look, if I can come out—with people who have no idea what ‘trans’ even means—you should be able to say, ‘This is my girlfriend, not my friend.’”
At first, only my teammates heard my story. Afterward, nothing really changed. I still dressed in the women’s locker room. I still shared a hotel room with one of my female teammates. But the media and the rest of the world couldn’t seem to process how someone who identified as male could play on a women’s basketball team. They pried and pried—especially ESPN—revealing personal details I didn’t want public. The subsequent attention sent me into a suicidal depression.
Eventually, however, I realized that trans people—and trans athletes who want to come out—should have control over their own stories. The last thing I wanted was for someone else to feel the way I did after the media took over my story: powerless. And so I’ve made it my life’s mission to give everyone on the gender spectrum a platform to tell the world who they are on their own terms—and no one else’s.
Growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota, I wasn’t like everyone else. Kids never used the words gay or lesbian when they teased me; they just bullied me because I was a girl who looked like a boy. I came out as a lesbian in high school (trans wasn’t even on my radar back then)—a revelation my mom struggled to understand. I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere because my mom feared other lesbians might be there. In fact, I wasn’t allowed to hang out with anyone. As a result, I was constantly stuck at home, in an environment that wasn’t a happy one. (My dad was never in the picture, leaving us when I was five years old.) Most of the time, I felt like killing myself.
Basketball was my salvation. When I stepped onto the court, I didn’t think about the struggles I went through to prove myself to my mom. I could be myself while bonding with other people in the pursuit of a common goal: winning. I enjoyed every second of it, and when George Washington University recruited me, it was my ticket to freedom.