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Jody Burke

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She spent most of her life trying to fit in, in a town which didn’t seem to have a lot of room for people like her. She managed to fake the whole “boy” thing for a long time, and developed a deep and genuine love of football, but when Caitlyn Jenner (then still going by Bruce) announced she was a transgender woman, a whole lot of Jody’s life made a whole lot more sense. This put her in kind of a bind, because on the one hand, she suddenly knew why the whole hypermasculine jock thing felt like a lie, and on the other hand, actually saying, “I’m a girl” could get her killed. And she really didn’t want to give up football.  

That spring was challenging. It was the off season, so she wasn’t just completely immersing herself in football, and the first time she mentioned to one of her closer friends that she felt like maybe she wasn’t a boy, the response was, at first, disbelieving, and then downright hostile. The response of the people in the community to that, and to the gay marriage thing sent her into a downward spiral of depression.

It was her mother who saved her life, dragging her by an ear to a shrink in Atlanta. 

It was that shrink who said to her, “So what’s the worst that could happen if you live life as a girl?”

“They could kill me!”

“So, you might die. And what’s going to happen if you keep going by Josh and living what you, yourself, have called a lie? Forever?”

“The thought of trying to fake it makes me want to jump off a bridge,” she’d said.

“I’m going to be blunt here… you are afraid someone might kill you, or that people might wish you were dead. And those things are not impossible. Trans people do get murdered at higher rates, and there are people who will wish you ill if you come out. But you’re telling me that the idea of staying in “boy mode” the rest of your life makes you feel like you want to die. If the thing holding you back from transition is fear that someone else might hate you for it, is that somehow better than hating yourself so much that you want to die?” 

“I don’t want to give up football,” Jody had said.

“If you jump off a bridge, you won’t be playing football. But girls can play football. There’s plenty of precedent there. And yeah, there are going to be assholes out there who will tell you that they want you to die. Why not live, and spite them?”

Jody had laughed in surprise at that, and then kept laughing at the idea that maybe, just maybe, it might be possible to be on the outside who she was in her heart.

It wasn’t easy. She’d read for weeks, studied YouTube videos, started letting her hair grow, and finally broached the subject with Coach. She’d expected a lot of things from him, but unconditional support hadn’t been on the list. His rage at her so-called friends, who’d left her bloody in the locker room, helped heal her heart long before her bruises faded. He’d explained to her mother, in the hospital, the actions that were already in progress. The school had expelled the students, and the police were involved. Attorneys from several national organizations had shown up to help, at his request, and they left it to Jody to decide whether to pursue a civil case for damages.

There were still whispers, but she wasn’t the one who had to tell them to shut up. More people stood up for her right to exist than didn’t. And the more people who stood up for her, the more other kids felt safe. And while she was the only trans girl on the football team, she wasn’t the only girl, and three other kids came out on the football team alone in the next year. 

The process of transition was complex. Growing her hair out was easy. The body changes and electrolysis were not. She had people around her, always, but it wasn’t always enough to drown out the less friendly voices. 

But she persisted. She played football. Friends who’d betrayed her had been replaced by friends who had her back. Junior year flew by. Coach’s son came out in the national media and things became much clearer. 

She was asked to prom by two girls and three boys, and had to grapple with a whole new set of identity questions. She ended up going with a group, dancing with a couple people, and leaving with more questions than she’d started with. 

Her shrink was bemused that the issue hadn’t come up before.

“I was too busy pretending to be a big ‘ol jock boy,” Jody explained. “I was too busy to date and too preoccupied to worry about it. I was too busy hating the fact that I had a penis to think about whether I wanted to do anything with it or not.”

“And now?”

“I… I don’t know.”

(It would be her junior year in college and four classes in the renamed Gender and Sexuality Studies program at Samwell University before she’d clearly articulate that the women who attracted her tended to run tall and strong and aggressive, and that the boys who made her smile tended to be smaller, slimmer, softer, and when she fell in love with a nonbinary sophomore with a green and teal undercut who used xi/xir pronouns, she stopped trying to find words for it and just said, “Of course,”)