March 23, 2016

"Is that your boyfriend's jersey?" Sexism, Transmisogyny, and the Trials of being the 12th Woman

I just renewed my Seahawks season tickets for the 20th consecutive season. I'm tremendously excited and hopeful about the upcoming campaign, which I am certain will end in Houston will Russell Wilson hoisting another Lombardi Trophy. The face value of my south end zone tickets has climbed from $10 back in the Kingdome in 1997 to $55 in Seahawks Stadium in 2016... But they are still worth every penny. I'll be there for 2 or 3 games as usual this season (hopefully including another NFC Championship Game), and there's nothing I'm looking forward to over the next year than those trips back to Washington State to commune with my fellow 12s. But... Something has been weighing on my mind lately...

It's not easy being a woman who loves pro football. On a societal level, it's damn near impossible to disentangle the league from the sexism and misogyny that permeate our culture. There's the relative tolerance for domestic abuse. There's the mistreatment of women who are club employees. There's the lack of women in executive and coaching positions in the league (which doesn't even include the assumption that no women will ever play in the NFL- An assumption I believe is intellectually lazy to the core). There's the hamhanded/bordering-on-offensive attempts to pander to women Ugh. I could go on, but... Ugh.

On a individual level, it can get ridiculous. Men will see your Seahawks gear and ask you if you actually like the team, or if you just like the colors (Or they will ask you if it's your boyfriend's jersey). Men assume that you know NOTHING about your team, or about the sport. Demonstrate that you are actually more knowledgeable than they are, and out comes the salt shaker. Recently I was out with a group that included a male Broncos fan, and when he realized that I knew more about John Elway's career than he did, his attitude toward me got tart and sour instantly.

The league and bros in general seem puzzled that women can (and do) enjoy America's most popular sport. Forty-five percent of the league's U.S. television audience consists of women, but yet we are treated like interlopers or less-than-authentic oddities at Super Bowl parties, in fantasy football leagues, etc.

Less than authentic. As a trans woman, I know ALL about being seen as less than authentic. It's tough enough being a woman that loves football. Being a trans woman and liking football layers transphobia upon misogyny (or, as we call it in the business: transmisogyny). For one thing, the culture of the NFL is still pretty overtly hostile to the LGBT population of this country. One can just look at the public and private reactions to Michael Sam coming out as gay, or at the persistent panic among NFL teams that a single gay player might join their team (even though there are certainly closeted gay men playing in the NFL).

I've noticed an interesting recurring issue whenever someone finds out that I'm trans AND an NFL fan. First, people tend to assume that I'm ONLY an NFL fan because I was designated male at birth, and my Seahawks fandom is some sort of artifact of that. You can kind of see the light bulb go off in their heads "Ahh! That's why." This irks me for a couple of reasons: Millions of cis-gender women are NFL fans, and have been fans since childhood (shout-out to my Vikings-affiliated grad school bestie Natalie on this tip). Also, this fucked-up mentality helped delay my transition for YEARS. For the longest time, I thought "Well, I can't be trans if I love FOOTBALL." Even after I got over that, I was TERRIFIED that if and when I did transition, I would stop loving the Seahawks. Thankfully, I got over that shit and I even got to celebrate Super Bowl XLVIII as my authentic self.

There is often a vibe I get that I SHOULDN'T like football, even from other trans women. Weirdly, it makes some people think that I'm not entirely serious about my transition, or they think it makes me "less trans." One of the most important personal discoveries I've made is that it's OK to transition in my own idiosyncratic way, in part because there is no "one" right way to be a woman, and thus no single "correct" way to transition or to be a trans woman.

Still, unless I want to completely sequester myself from society (and as a Hillary Clinton-supporting, Target-shopping, Starbucks-sipping basic suburban bitch, that's not really an option for me), I must navigate a culture that is incredibly hostile to trans women, despite recent increases in visibility and some improvements in our legal status. There's the constant possibility that pop culture I consume might contain transphobic content (which... holy shit, even in 2016 it's EVERYWHERE). If it's something I've never watched, or something I didn't have a lot of interest in anyway, it's easy enough to avoid. It's much harder when that transphobic content shows up in something I otherwise love, and thenI have to then decide if I can forgive these sins (Archer, Bob's Burger's, Arrested Development, and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia immediately come to mind, but there's always more).

Beyond cultural transphobia, there's the growing wave of transphobic legislation that's swamping people like me around the country. Back home in Washington State, there's an ongoing effort to get a measure on the November ballot that would make it illegal for me to use the bathroom the next time I go home for a Seahawks game (Don't sign the petition for it, by the way. Please keep that garbage from even making it onto the ballot).

Now we drill down to my most unspeakable fear. I know that Seahawks players, coaches, and executives might hold political opinions I disagree with. I accept this, but I just hope they won't say anything unconscionably abhorrent. I can handle a player I love being a Republican- I did that with Matt Hasselbeck for a decade, and I still adore the guy. Conversely, when someone like Michael Bennett comes out as a Bernie Sanders supporter, my heart soars. I'm afraid, particularly if that garbage bill makes it to the November ballot, that some Seahawks player might start spouting off with some virulently transphobic sewage. We're already seeing an outpouring of support for Donald Trump among current and former pro athletes, and he's leading an authoritarian political movement that seeks to restore a social and political order where people like me were at best invisible or at worst, umm, murdered. A lot.

So what would I do if some Seahawks player came out and said that I shouldn't be able to go to the bathroom in peace? What if they denied my basic personhood? Could I keep rooting for them? Could I keep rooting for the team they play for? I fervently hope I never find out. Being a Twelve is a CENTRAL part of my identity as a person, almost as central as my identity as a trans woman. It's connected me to my home, to my friends, to my family. It's been an island of consistency in my chaotic life. There is no institution I love more, or that I care about more, than the Seattle Seahawks.

How could I deal with something I love telling me that I don't count? That I don't matter? That I am hated?

If I'm lucky, I'll never have to find out.