By: Erica Meacham
Due to my strict religious upbringing, I was not allowed to participate in youth or high school sports. A few years after I left home and found the courage to break free of the religion, I tried out for a semi-pro football team. I quickly fell in love with the sport and ended up playing for seven years, and then serving as a head coach for four more. What I love most about football is that if you are lucky enough to find the right team, it is truly a family. Winning is the goal, but what I most enjoy are the smiles on my teammates’ faces after they’ve succeeded.
I left coaching just before I made the decision to share my biggest secret with my friends and family — that I am a transgender woman. I had no intention of ever playing football again. My coming out experience is best described as the highest highs, but also the lowest lows. The worst part was my father disowned me and hasn’t spoken to me since. The best part was how many people stood beside me and showed me so much love and support. These friends truly became my chosen family.
A couple years into my transition, I was asked to play women’s flag football for a local team. I considered the pros and cons, and after discussing my concerns with the head coach I was convinced to give it a try. That turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made, as not only was I welcomed with open arms, I also made many good friends and even found support in some of the opponents we played.
I also met an incredible woman that became my best friend, and she invited me to try out for a local women’s tackle football team. The team owners, coaches and players were so supportive of me from day one. While I was in the hospital recovering from my GRS surgery in early 2018, they were constantly checking in with me to see how I was doing.
I found a new home for football in 2019 with The Oregon Hawks of the WFA. I was welcomed in by ownership, coaches and my teammates. I was thrilled to learn that the biggest women’s tackle football organization in America has a policy that welcomes transgender women that meet certain requirements with open arms. These rules are the same ones followed by the International Olympic Committee and the NCAA. I feel these requirements are fair and make sure to provide inclusivity for all women, while also making sure everyone that plays is protected as much as possible while playing a full contact sport.
Women’s tackle football really does have a strong sisterhood. Throughout the season, we get to know amazing women from all walks of life. Winning used to be the goal every time I stepped on the field, but now it’s more about the camaraderie and building relationships.
I feel lucky to have found the community and the league that I did. There are a few different leagues for women’s tackle football, but not all are transgender-inclusive. I truly believe that most of that comes from a lack of education on trans people, our lives and our experiences. There are many of us out there competing in sports and for the most part it’s not newsworthy, but when one of us has even the slightest amount of success there is always someone quick to condemn us for “taking away opportunities” from cisgender women. They say that we are failed male athletes that identify as women so we can win. This could not be further from the truth.
I have played now for two years in two separate leagues, and have met and competed with so many incredibly talented women. We all work equally hard to be successful. The only advantage I have over them is that I have more years of experience playing the game, but considering how hard these women train, it’s not really much of one. I think the key to sports becoming more LGBTQ-inclusive is through education, like the Champions of Inclusion training Athlete Ally provides, so that league owners, team owners and coaching staff can better understand how to work with and support their players. They also need to be willing to stand alongside their LGBTQ players and vocalize their support for our right to compete.
When I get the chance to talk to young LGBTQ athletes, I focus on the fact that it is important to surround yourself with the right people. You must have love and support to get through all the things that you may have to face. Sports give you a sense of accomplishment, a place to belong, and – if you’re lucky — a family that will have your back and be there when you need them the most.
Transgender female athletes face so many obstacles right now. We are often misgendered in the media, and ridiculed for wanting to participate. As an Athlete Ally Ambassador, I have a chance to make a difference. I want to share my story so others can see that living as their authentic self does not mean they have to give up on their dreams.
Want to receive stories like this in your inbox? Sign up here.