Written By Alex Showerman
40% - That is the percentage of trangender people who have attempted suicide. I can honestly say that the women’s sports community kept me from becoming part of that statistic.
I was assigned male at birth but from as far back as I can remember, I always knew I was a woman. Starting around age four or five, I would fall asleep every night wishing I would wake up a girl.
Image via Grant Wieler
Growing up in a small town, life got especially hard when I hit middle and high school. I never felt comfortable with the demeaning and objectifying “locker room” talk that teenage boys do about girls. As a result, I was called gay, fag, and other slurs. Bullying and getting pantsed were a common occurrence. Male locker rooms were a hostile and downright unsafe environment for me, and made more traditional gendered team sports near impossible for me to enjoy. In fact, I quit playing hockey; not because of a lack of love for the sport or skill, but because I hated the locker rooms.
During this time, my one saving grace was the women’s cross-country team. The men’s and women’s teams practiced together with identical training plans, and we even competed in the same races together. While I was deep in the closet and still couldn’t find the words to express who I was, I always naturally gravitated toward women. Oftentimes on the bus to and from meets, I’d be hanging out with the girls team instead of the boys and would even regularly train with the girls. In fact, my PR came during my Freshman year when the captain of the women’s team took me under her wing. She and I trained together regularly, raced together, and she paced me during the race to my PR, running much of it together.
While I was able to find my community with the girls cross-country team, I still felt incredibly alone. I was never fully accepted as one of the girls, and never felt safe with the boys. It wasn’t until nearly a decade and half later that I would finally feel a sense of belonging, in the women’s mountain bike and backcountry community.
Image via Carly Finke
As an adult, I fell in love with mountain biking and backcountry snowboarding. While not quite as overt as the high school locker room talk, there is still an air of machismo, bro-brah bravado, and ego that never quite sat right with me. Even friendly group rides had a competitive edge; a measuring stick of who was the best rider.
I took on the role of Vice President of a local trails organization, and became heavily involved in my riding and skiing community. Despite outwardly projecting the confidence of somebody who was a leader in the community, I once again found myself feeling isolated and alone as I did in high school. I wasn’t comfortable in my skin and never felt like I belonged. I started down a path of self-destruction, breaking my neck, abusing alcohol, and battling raging depression and dysphoria. [Note: Dysphoria is the term for the emotional trauma from having one’s gender identity not align with what they were assigned at birth.]
Once again, it was women’s sports that saved me. I came out to some of my closest friends who instantly accepted me as one of the girls. For my birthday, they took me on a “Slaydies Shred Weekend” to North Conway where, for the first time, I experienced the sport I love as my authentic self.
Image via Jacob J
In the months since, I have been floored by the warm embrace I have received from our incredible community of women in the outdoors. This community helped me progress as a mountain biker and snowboarder, and encouraged me to dip my toes into new sports like snowmobiling and climbing. I’ve not only become a stronger athlete, but a happier and healthier person. This community of amazing women truly saved my life.
Image via Emily Sierra
The extremely sad reality is that the media coverage of transwomen in sports doesn’t match where we all are. Across the country, there have been over 80 anti-trans pieces of legislation introduced in over half of the states in our union. These efforts have started around bans from sports, and now include criminalizing trans-related health care services and outright denying all care to LGBTQ+ individuals. In our own mountain bike community, brands sat silent, while their race teams leveled transphobic attacks against one of the few out transwomen in gravity oriented mountain biking.
Many times in these debates, the attacks make us transwomen feel that much more isolated and alone. They put up a huge wall that makes taking the life-saving step of coming out and finding our home in this incredible community feel next to impossible, but these communities are the very things we need.
Image via Emily Sierra
A few weekends ago, Wild Rye took the step that I hope more brands and more people do, in declaring transwomen are women. Cassie invited me to come be a part of the spring/summer ‘21 shoot. I was both honored and intimidated. I’ve always looked to the women of Wild Rye for inspiration; women who can shred on the bike, drive pick-up trucks and look damn stylish doing it. With my own internalized transphobia and struggles with body positivity, I found myself doubting that I was attractive enough to be in front of the camera, modeling these gorgeous kits.
What I found was an incredibly safe space where we shared our vulnerabilities. I felt kinship as women as we all shared our own body anxieties, where we joked about our pale and hairy winter legs in summer-y short shorts. I found all my anxieties melt away when we put on throw-back jams and I even started dancing in my chamois in front of the camera. The new found confidence translated on the bike when I was towed into a big drop by Holly, and cheered on when I attempted some unorthodox rock rolls. I came home from the weekend with a new found confidence I didn’t know I had.
Image via Emily Sierra
It hit me some time later, that this was my first time being part of a women’s team. The support and camaraderie had been something I had always been searching for in my life. I found myself reflecting on how different life would have been if I had found this community at 12 instead of 32. How much happier would I have been? The one thing I do know is when we talk about banning trans women from women’s sports, we talk about banning us from these very support networks that can be life saving in the absence of a supportive family or community. The consequences of removing girls from these supportive communities could have life and death consequences. Cis and trans, we must all band together to speak out against these cruel bans and make trans girls feel as welcome as I have, no matter what state they live in.
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such an uplifting piece that made me (a cis female) also reflect on my love for women’s sports and the teams that I’ve been a part of. the camaraderie, support, and LOVE that i received from my teammates and riding partners were integral in creating the athlete that i am. so much gratitude to all of my partners and also to Alex for sharing her beautiful story. thank you!
Thank you for sharing your story Alex. You being here matters, and I hope the next ‘Alex’ can see your story and find their own team at 12 instead of having to wait until 32. No matter how long it took though, you’re where you belong now so enjoy.
Beautiful story, Alex! May many more people find where they feel at home! Thank you for telling it.