Example essay

The shooting hoops kept me alive. Don’t take that solace away from trans children.

On a blustery weekday afternoon in June 2019, I found myself sharing a beer with a friend in the backyard of RIPCORD, a gay bar in the Montrose neighborhood of Houston. It was my first time here. But it was hardly the bar as it would be on a Saturday night. Other than a few people smoking at nearby tables, lazily talking about the weather, the backyard was empty – though that didn’t calm my nerves. I felt both out of place and wanting to be there, though I never would have been alone. The friend had insisted on getting me out, and I was grateful for his insistence. He was teaching me a lesson on the importance of building community – a lesson particularly relevant to today’s debates about trans children and sports.

I had lived in Montrose for three years. In 2016, I moved to an apartment on the ground floor in the neighborhood and started my PhD at the University of Houston. When I arrived in Houston, I hadn’t yet come out as non-binary, although I knew in my heart that I was trans. Most people thought I was cisgender, that is, my gender matched what I was assigned at birth, and, not ready to go out yet, I never got it wrong. this presumption. I often went to queer bars, wishing I had the courage to enter.

The friend understood the difficulty of joining a new community. He invited me in as an unofficial guide, hoping to acclimatize me to local queer bars. After RIPCORD, we went to JR’s and we complained that we had gone out. He had been out for a while and time had turned his story into something content and knowable. I was an open wound, irritable and shy, stung by the reactions of those closest to me. Our stories were very different on the surface, but we shared something vital and affirming.

My friend came out because he was tired of wanting to die. In the weeks leading up to my outing, I spent my nights driving miles through Westheimer, wondering if I should get into traffic.

I am extremely lucky for many reasons. Mainly, the difficulties I encountered as a trans person never exceeded the pain I felt in hiding my true self from my loved ones. And my loved ones and my family supported my gender identity. Trans people regularly face increased occupational, health and housing discrimination. For this reason, it is vital to find and build community outside of traditional institutions, either with other queer people or allies.


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For me, sport has served as a community site since I was a child. I played football, baseball, and basketball throughout high school; on rare occasions I have even played goalie for my friends who love football. In Houston, I regularly spent whole Saturday afternoons playing basketball in the college gym, often against athletes much younger and stronger than me. In these games, I formed a community with other people that I might never have met otherwise, but who became important to me, especially when I first moved to town. I played against new parents, medical students and former college basketball players and first year engineering students, men, women and sometimes real kids. It was an easy way for me to join longtime Houstonians and other transplant recipients. In the last few months before going out, as I grew more and more depressed, I found comfort in the hours I spent running and jumping, often with strangers, because These were the rare times when I didn’t think about how I could break the news to my partner or tell my parents that I was trans.

Playing sports probably kept me alive. It gave me something to look forward to when the rest of my life seemed overwhelming.

Trans kids who are currently excluded from their varsity sports teams face a very different scenario than I have faced. I wasn’t out publicly when I performed – although I did start wearing nail polish my last few months in Houston. Also, while we’ve always scored points, the basketball I played was about having fun and staying fit, not competing for championships or state records. But we have something in common: For all of us, sport can be a way to learn to love our bodies, a way to make friendships and create a shared language with people we might not know otherwise. .

Many opponents of trans children participating in youth sports according to their gender identity argue that their presence is unfair to cisgender athletes. But there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that trans athletes hold a competitive advantage over their peers. The science is complicated.

A March study published in the journal Sports Medicine concluded that “even the most evidence-based policies are unlikely to eliminate all performance differences between cisgender women with and without. [differences of sex development] and transformative athletes. According to the study, any remaining benefits after hormonal suppression “could be considered part of the athlete’s unique makeup.” I’m no scientist, but neither are Texas lawmakers who bow to small constituencies of voters. It is clear that they do not base their laws on evidence.

In amateur and youth sports, the focus should be on building camaraderie and self-esteem in children. Enabling trans children to participate in youth sports therefore means enabling trans children to deepen their bonds with their peers and form communities outside of school and their families. While championships and college scholarships are a priority, the fact is that no example of injustice involving transgender student-athletes in Texas has been cited by lawmakers.

Trans people already face so much discrimination, especially in Texas, which because of its size has one of the largest populations of trans people in the United States – the State also reported the highest number of murders of trans people so far in 2021. If Texans are to protect children, their goal shouldn’t be to prevent trans children from participating in sports. They should aim to give all children, of all genders, the freedom to make friends and play without fear of the kind of discrimination that many older trans people face on a daily basis.

Gov. Greg Abbott is preparing to enact legislation that will only further discriminate against trans people. House Bill 25 requires that public school sports teams be divided according to the genders listed on student birth certificates. Currently, College Interschool League rules say that a trans girl, for example, could play female sports if she received a court order allowing her to change the gender on her birth certificate. But the new law will undermine UIL’s rule and force many trans children to quit their current sports teams.

House Bill 25 not only robs these children of their ability to play, it robs them of a proven hobby to improve their mental health and social well-being. And that seems to be exactly the point. By claiming to try to protect the integrity of female sports and the safety of female athletes, this cruel bill and others like it rest on the false premise that trans athletes are not female athletes. The integrity of sport does not require their exclusion; it requires their participation.

The rhetoric of protecting women is not new in anti-trans legislation. This language resulted in much of the bathroom bills that swept across the United States in the mid-2010s. Many of these bills were eventually overturned thanks to the tireless work of trans activists, whose efforts spurred people like former Texas Republican House Speaker Joe Straus to oppose his party to prevent the toilet bill from going forward. And, in due course, bills preventing trans children from playing sports are likely to become as misguided, discriminatory and archaic as these toilet bills.

During our last beer at JR’s, my friend prepared me for the future. I was due to leave Houston at the end of the month and he made me promise to find a queer community in my next city. “I’m normally cynical about everything,” he told me, “but not about building community. He insisted that I would need it, that he had needed it. Two years later, I’m fortunate to have a strong, supportive group of trans and queer friends in Brooklyn, where I now live. We go out for a drink, a meal, go to the movies, and occasionally set up a shootout at the nearest outdoor basketball court. My heart breaks for children whose opportunities to do the same may be limited for the longest time. crucial moment in their life.

Alex McElroy is a writer whose novel “Atmospheric” is a New York Times Editors Choice.

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