I told them they were loved. I told them I was there for them. I told them they are here for a reason. I told them that despite all the harassment, bullying and ignorance, there were many wonderful things in store for them. I told them life is rough. I told them that if things aren’t going the way we planned, we make another plan. It worked: They told me they would give life another shot.
Right then and there (more or less), I decided I should share that message with other kids too. I started by reaching out to every LGBT organization in the country. At first, only colleges invited me to speak. Recently, however, high schools have asked as well. It makes me feel good to visit a high school in a conservative part of Florida—an area where LGBT students are typically harassed—and get people to understand how to become more tolerant. I save a lot of time for questions because I want people to ask me ignorant questions—questions they don’t even know how to ask—so I can teach them how to respectfully interact with a trans person whom they might meet later in life.
At the college level, I’m trying to create a safe environment for other openly trans athletes. It’s about teaching players and coaches Trans 101—what the terms mean and that there’s a difference between biological sex and gender identity. It’s funny when people assume it’s easy for female athletes to come out. I still know about a dozen players and a few coaches who are closeted. They can’t come out because they worry they’ll be kicked off their teams. Believe it or not, many coaches still say, “I don’t want any lesbians on my team.”
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For many trans people, however, coming out is only the first step. The next step is sometimes gender-reassignment surgery, which can be even more difficult, in part because it’s expensive—for trans men top surgery (work above the belt) can be as much as $15,000, and up to $250,000 for bottom surgery (work below the belt). This past summer, I wanted to see if I could help people with minimal resources fund their transitions. I made a two-minute video, offering my support: “If you are looking for financial assistance for your transition—hit me up!” (My own transition is ongoing; after thinking about it for a few years, I’ve decided that I will pursue top surgery once I’ve found the right surgeon.)
Within minutes, 10 people reached out to me. I decided to visit each of them and turn their stories into a documentary designed to raise $45,000 for their transitions. I met their friends, families and significant others. I got a sense of what they had gone through when they came out as well what transitioning has meant for them.
I’m calling this Project I Am Enough. You can watch the trailer for the documentary at our fund-raising page; starting Friday you’ll be able to stream the entire movie. I plan to make a similar documentary focusing on people within the LGBT community every summer. Next year the theme will be LGBT people in the South, trans youth (kindergarten through sixth grade) and trans athletes.
Since I came out in 2011, numerous other LGBT athletes have done the same—NBA journeyman center Jason Collins is the most prominent. This is a great thing. But I also hope it’s temporary. Someday—soon, if I have my way—enough LGBT athletes will be out that fans and the media will greet a player’s sexuality with a shrug as opposed to a segment on Outside the Lines or the cover of Sports Illustrated. The focus can then shift back to the games themselves. In the end, that’s what I’ve become an advocate for: an even playing field.