During my first semester, I took a human sexuality class in which I heard a panel of LGBTQ-XYZ people, including a trans guy, tell their stories. That’s how I learned trans people existed. Everything he said fell in line with how I felt. Finally, I had the vocabulary to explain it.
Initially, I came out as trans to only one of my closest friends on the team. She had never heard the word trans either and didn’t know what it meant. She wasn’t alone. I was the first trans person anybody on the team had met, except for an assistant coach. For them, it didn’t sink in until we would go out and people would say, “Here’s the women’s team” or “Hey, ladies,” and I would look sad or stop smiling.
There wasn’t much time for them to comprehend my gender identity. Less than two months after going public with my story in fall 2011, I suffered my ninth concussion. (That’s a lot of concussions, right? I’m short for basketball—under six feet tall—meaning taller players constantly elbowed me in the head.) I tried to come back for my senior year. But it wasn’t happening. My equilibrium was off, greatly affecting how I moved on the court, and I was forgetting the names of even my best friends. Ultimately, I knew I had to give up basketball and focus on the rest of my life.
Around the same time, I discovered that ESPN’s Outside the Lines had interviewed my mom about her basketball-playing trans son. I didn’t want press, but I also didn’t want people to hear from my mom without getting my side of the story. So I did an interview with them too. When the segment came out, it was more hurtful than I thought it would be. They showed pictures of me when I was younger, they used my old name, and my mom showed my coming-out letter on camera. My face was everywhere, continuously, for an entire week.
Between the media attention and the concussion, I could barely tolerate the stress. I remember the last day the Outside the Lines segment aired, I got out of class and turned on the TV, thinking SpongeBob (my go-to stress reliever) would pop up. Instead, ESPN was on, and there was my face—yet again.
I lost it. I walked into the kitchen, grabbed a knife and was like, How should I do this? I was about to cut myself when I heard a knock at the door. It brought me back. I put the knife down and opened the door. The person I was seeing at the time was on the other side.
We sat down. We watched SpongeBob. And I just breathed.
I graduated early and moved to New York City in March 2012. I became a bartender and personal trainer to support myself. Eventually, I reactivated my Facebook account. (I had abandoned it after the ESPN thing.) Twenty-five thousand unread messages awaited me, mostly from kids or people my age. Two people who had been bullied by family and friends messaged me at the same time—2 a.m. on a random Tuesday morning. They were planning to kill themselves. “This is it,” they wrote, almost in unison. “I’m done. I’ve had it.”
It had taken me a full year after the Outside the Lines segment to regain my energy and find myself. But it wasn’t until I saw those messages that I realized I had the ability to make a difference in people’s lives. The last thing I wanted was for someone else to feel how I had felt. So I wrote back.