From Kaig Lightner, MSW, Founder and Director of Portland Community Football Club
I am fairly certain that when my parents dragged me to my first little league practice they didn’t realize they were introducing me to the very thing that would save my life. I still remember that first practice so clearly. It was for a team called the Peppermint Patties. I was 8 years old and I was hooked the moment the ball smacked into my glove. The next season it was soccer, then basketball and eventually I would find volleyball, rowing, and coaching soccer.
But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. First it’s important to know why sports is something I attribute to saving my life. I am a queer, transgender man. Of course, this is an identity that I have spent years learning to understand and accept. As a young, wide-eyed kid I only knew that I liked to wear my older brother’s clothes and that I didn’t like to wear dresses. I knew that I didn’t fit in with my peers and I knew that there was something wrong with me. When I discovered the thrill and challenge of sports I knew that was where I belonged, regardless of the discomfort in my own skin. But as I grew older puberty started to creep into every crevice of my life. I was mercilessly teased and bullied as I entered 7th grade. I was laughed at as I would enter the girls’ bathroom or locker room. I was shoved into walls and publicly humiliated. But worst of all was the silent exclusion from group activities or discussions. All of these things contributed to my belief that there was something wrong with me.
Sports as a Refuge
I discovered that sports were a refuge. It was a place where I found new friends who accepted me for who I was while simultaneously being told by other teammates that I played too much like a boy. It was where I could run until all the frustration, sadness and anger I felt from my peers asking me constantly if I was a boy or a girl would disappear. Sports became the place where I didn’t feel like there was something wrong with me anymore. It became the place where I gained respect and admiration for my athleticism, work ethic, and skill. So even when during a High School Varsity soccer game someone shouted from the stands as I was about to enter the game “they are putting the boy in!” I had an extra special, invisible buffer that didn’t let that comment penetrate all the way through to my soul. And that buffer had been building layer by layer since the first Peppermint Patty practice.
Now, it’s important that I mention that sports were not the only thing that prevented me from contemplating ending my life. My parents, brother, and extended family were a major factor as well. Even though my parents struggled to understand why I wanted to wear “boy’s” clothes, cut my hair short and not conform to gender roles they never stopped telling me how special, unique and amazing I am. If it had not been for them as my other refuge I feel quite certain that I would not be writing these words today. And I am painfully aware that I am incredibly lucky to have such supportive family. But for anyone who is reading this who identifies as LGBTQ, knows someone who does or is still figuring it all out, just remember that blood isn’t the only way to define family. Family is about finding and cherishing those who love you unconditionally.
My Life’s Plan
It’s been over 10 years since I began the physical journey of transitioning into being perceived as a man. For reasons that are far too complex to explain in this short blog post, I’m not sure I will ever be able to fully align myself with the identity of a man, but now that the rest of the world sees me that way I have found my life’s path. In 2012 I founded a non-profit youth soccer club called Portland Community Football Club. We provide high quality, affordable soccer to youth in Portland, OR. I just recently came out to the players in the club and the recording of that event went viral on the internet, much to my surprise. I am also an adjunct professor at Portland State University in the School of Social Work and in 2017 I started my own consulting business, Breaking the Gender Binary.