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Opinion: For my community, one goal in football reflects the life-giving joy of gender inclusiveness.

Children jumped up and down, running across the field, waving their arms. I burst into tears. The other parent coaches beside me and the cacophony of adults watching from across the field were screaming at the top of their lungs.

At the age of 8, my athletic and cheerful child, whom I will call E, announced to me and my parent: “I am them!” When they did, their world expanded considerably. So is their ability to move through everyday life with a grounded sense of self.

It was beautiful then and remains so now. E went from not knowing the best answer when children wondered “are you a boy or a girl” or anticipatory concern that teachers or other adults question their presence in a particular bathroom (even without malicious intent, always a harmful interaction) to growing clarity in their identity that serves them so well.

Of course, they still get into situations that are both difficult and unkind. But E knows and they’ll call it for anyone who needs to hear it: obsolete binary sex/gender system is the source of such problematic situations, not them.

E knows that for who they are, they are just right.

But there were several reasons why the world of E was shrinking when they came out as non-binary. Sports, a space that was a source of fun, physical activity, and relationship-based games that were important for development, quickly disappeared from their lives.
We have been proactive, reaching out to E football and basketball coaches and providing non-binary identity explainer resources to try and help these volunteers learn to use they/them pronouns. We also made it clear to E that we are willing to work directly with the entire team, but – spoiler alert – non-binary children are just as easily embarrassed by their parents as they are cisgender children.
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Despite these efforts, it was hard. Even if the coach is valiantly trying to create an inclusive experience, you can’t control the parents on the sidelines or the other kids on the team. Misgenderness is constant in the binary system. And playing together doesn’t solve that problem because it leaves the assumption that there are two genders and what you can tell by looking at someone how they identify themselves (which you can’t, by the way).

Only one season after the release, our then 9-year-old said, “Enough. I don’t want to sign up again.”

***

My family lives in Iowa, one of many states where legislators promote policies that violate the dignity and safety of transgender people. Laws are being enacted across the country to prevent access to essential, life-saving medical care. Families are the targets. The attacks on people’s basic physical and mental well-being are so relentless that it makes your head spin.

In such a caustic environment, feelings of desperation and worthlessness threaten to become everyday companions.

It’s not just about politics. It’s also how these legislative efforts inject hateful rhetoric and all sorts of disinformation into every corner of the public debate. We have all suffered because we are surrounded by inhuman language about transgender people. As are our children.

Those of us whose children are being publicly humiliated know that we must continue to engage in political efforts to counter these threats and harm to our families and loved ones. We also know that this is a long-term offer and growth will be slow – even icy.

Meanwhile, something else is equally important for the well-being of our children, families and communities.

We need to experience life in spaces characterized by nothing less than unbridled joy and full-blown celebration. And we have to create these spaces ourselves.

***

On one occasion, more than two years after retiring from the sport, E reflected: “I wish there was a team for non-binary children. I would like to play in this team.”

And it’s Primers’ birthday.

We have posted on social media asking if people know of non-binary/transgender children or cisgender children who would be thrilled with a football team where all pronouns are welcome and honored.

The resounding answer was “yes!”

For a month we had a bunch of kids who just wanted to play. These were trans children who were not binary (they/they) and trans children who used him/him or her/her. There were cisgender children – some had siblings or close friends who were transgender.

We worked with the local league and secured a place for our team on the co-ed schedule. We have offered to host a forum for referees and other coaches, wanting to do everything we can to shield our children from taunting looks or unwanted questions when they take to the field on game days.

Staff with The Des Moines Threat, our local United Football League team has applied for support; their team manager came and did the practice, they donated soccer balls for LGBTQ pride. One member of our community has arranged for each Primer to receive an autographed player card from none other than Adrianna FranchUSA women’s team goaltender.

The energy of collective love surrounding this effort was palpable the moment it began. The longer it went on, the bigger and stronger it became.

This is true not only for players. This is a reality for siblings who go to practice all the time, grandparents and neighbors who come to games, office colleagues who ask to come cheer. And for Owen, the Australian Shepherd who appears every Sunday in his trans pride flag, and the parents who bring cheery posters and ring a cowbell every time we do anything remotely football-like on the field.

Several times a week, these people show up in a space where the beauty, diversity, and normality of every 11-year-old that shows up – kids who are stupid and mischievous, love each other passionately, fully respect each other’s identities, and just need a place to play – solidly. planted in the center of the universe.

Not too long ago, I told a friend who spent a lot of time creating space for transgender people to thrive how much I wish these kids had more soft spots in the world to land on so that things like primer books could continue to exist. . whole lives. They pointed out that even when such experiences are short-lived, they are of great importance; they leave “that plane of feeling in your body to know it’s possible.”

***

Every week, the Primers play teams of kids their own age from local recreational leagues who literally have years more experience than they do. Very few rookies have ever felt comfortable or safe in the sport before, and many of them walked onto our driving range without touching the ball once. But they kept showing up, learning, laughing and loving their way to the 15th game where eventuallythey scored their first goal.

That day we lost 12:1. But we absolutely won.

We are still winning.

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