Soccer Brought Us Together

athena_punchAnyone that knows me knows that I’m a freak about soccer (football to the rest of the world).  I have season tickets to an MLS team, and I’m an avid fan of Chelsea in the English Premier League.  My children, both Fab and her brother play the sport, and Fab, wanting to be more like me has also taken up playing goalkeeper, as that is what I play on the Over 40 team I manage and play for.  We are soccer family, and for us it not only brings exercise, but also contentment and joy.

Fab plays in a local league, and because of her age she still plays in a coed league.  Most do not know she is transgender, and she enjoys being able to play as just another girl.  Luckily, US Soccer allows amateurs to play as the gender they identify as with proper documentation.  This means she will be able to play club soccer until the age of 18 without fear of being told she can’t play with the girls.

Recently, the NCAA also got on board, and allows transgender individuals to compete as the gender they identify as, but there is greater stigma for them, and especially for transgender women as people try to claim they have a physical advantage over the other women, having been born “assigned male.”  Now, this could not be further from the truth, as the NCAA tests and ensures that transgender athletes hormone levels are within the same range as that of cisgender females, but still transphobia is alive and well, making the life of a transgender female athlete interesting to say the least.

Yesterday, I was poking around the internet, as I sometimes do, and I came across an article about Athena Del Rosario (click here), a recently graduated goalkeeper from the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC).  Athena not only competed at a high collegiate level, but she did so as a transgender athlete.  For two years in junior college and two years at UCSC, other than letting the appropriate administration know, she lived stealth, and simply got to be one of the women on the team.  Having gone back to college in her late twenties, she had already dealt with much of the nasty the world can throw at a transgender woman, and having seen my child already go through some similar stuff (understanding that treatment is also relative to age), I totally agree with her decision to go stealth until she felt “she” was ready to come out, and then when she did, she did so on her terms.

See, I get the desire to just be herself, Fab experiences it quite regularly, to not have the sole focus of people be that she is transgender.  People fixate on it, even those that mean well.  The focus should be on who she is, and from what I can tell Athena  is a kick-ass woman, a wife, an athlete, a teammate, and a friend.

I read the article about Athena, and immediately was drawn to the fact that she is a transgender goalkeeper, the same as my baby girl, and that she chose to out herself so that other little girls might look up to her and say, “If she can do it, then so can I.”

Athena and I began sending messages back and forth.  Initially, it had to to with what she had in common with Fab, but soon it turned into what she and I had in common with soccer.  It wasn’t about trans and cis, or male and female.  It was about soccer, two goalkeepers talking favorite teams, favorite players (our ATF male keeper being the same, Oliver Kahn of German and Bayern Munich fame), and playing styles (hers quick and fast, mine old and fat).

On the issue of transathletes, we both agree that high school athletic associations have a ways to go, as there is one for every state, and many refuse to let children compete as the gender they identify as.  There is a way for states to move into the 21st century, and high school athletics to give dignity to those transgender athletes with a desire to compete for their school’s athletic teams.  It is on this point that perhaps Athena and I agree the strongest on.  No child should be told “they can’t” because of how they identify, and if she and I come together to try and affect change then I know there would be others who would join us.  This is an issue that affects all of  us with children, and it is sports that can also teach our children, trans and cis, that they have far more in common than what is different.

As for Athena, she has a spirit I see in Fab everyday, and simply by living her life she moves the bar forward for girls like Fab.  I also have to admit, she’s a lady I could be friends with, share a pint, talk soccer, and watch soccer.  She’s someone I hope to get to know in the future, because as I’ve shared with her, you can never have too many positive, affirming people in your life, and I hope she’s one more that I can add to my list, and that she’ll add me to hers.

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