Losing the game: homophobia in youth sports

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By Maekin McClark

Historically the topic of trans youth playing sports is something that I have been acutely interested in. Presently I can’t bring myself to read the current events. I just don’t have the spoons to deal with the facts. Each piece of legislation causes me to relive the trauma of being a queer youth passionate about sports. I go numb. I black out. My mind wanders. I can’t finish the article. 

I will assume that if you are reading this, then you see my existence as real. I will share parts of my experience with you. My history is not up for debate. It is privileged information. 

When I was a kid, I loved playing sports. I played every sport that I was introduced to: basketball, soccer, softball, volleyball, track and field… But I especially liked basketball. And I was good at it. I remember trying out for a competitive team that traveled around the state playing teams from other towns at age 8. At 10 I won a camp MVP award for the 13 and under division at an overnight Division 1 basketball camp. At age 11 I was awarded a spot within an older league to play more competitively. In 8th grade, my coach kept me in for every second of every game during the school season. I played year round competitive sports from third grade into high school.

My identity was shaped by being an athlete. My friends were my teammates. I liked watching sports on tv. I loved going to live sporting events. I practiced on my own in my free time. I was excited to go to team practices. I had adrenaline rushes before games. Basketball was my hobby, my entertainment and my social life. It was my source of emotional, physical and mental well-being. It created a sense of pride within myself. I developed a sense of belonging within the community. It was within this space that I felt connection and support with my parents. 

When I entered high school at 14, I played for the freshman team. It was a great season. I was close with my teammates and my coach. I started every game. I was proud to be on the team and it provided stability in an awkward ass year of life. 

The following year I started to come out as queer at school. I lost my core group of friends. For a time, I lost every single one of my friends. 

But here’s the thing. Kids are kids. High school is hard. What emotionally destroyed me was being blackballed out of my basketball team, by adults. This I can not forgive and is why I’m sharing my experience. 

Immediately – within a week of me coming out – my high school basketball coach stopped allowing me to participate in practice. I would go to practice everyday after school and stand on the sideline. Any drill that involved picking players (free throw drills, learning plays, 5 on 5…), I would be left out. I continued to suit up for every game. My coach would consistently put me in the game with less than 1 minute to go in the first half. And that was all. No explanation was ever given to me. One time, I remember it clearly, my coach said to me: “You know Megan, you could have been a really good basketball player.”

I was confused, heartbroken, ashamed, embarrassed and bored. I was 15.

I started drinking heavily. I started smoking. I started skipping school.

Playing basketball was so fundamentally who I was that I didn’t think I had a choice. I was so ashamed to tell my parents why I wasn’t getting playing time, that I continued going to practice and suiting up for the games for two full seasons. Actually I didn’t tell anyone. I graduated from high school a semester early purely to avoid the torture of another isolated basketball season. 

At 17, I stopped playing sports completely. I adamantly rebelled against watching sports for over five years, until I found myself within a completely new environment. 

My point is – I don’t give a f*ck if YOU think trans girls aren’t girls. I don’t give a damn if YOU think trans kids shouldn’t be allowed to play in certain sports leagues. Because your opinion does not matter. Kids deserve support, love and the opportunity to thrive. Adults debating and controlling your existence is bullshit. Leave the queers alone. We are not hurting you. You are destroying our children.

This week, at 33 years old, I started playing in a queer basketball league. Saturday was the first time I picked up a ball in 16 years. It was powerful and so much fun. The season is 7 months long. I’m excited for this healing process to begin.

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Maekin is a trans non-binary thirty something queer parent of two. 

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