Unfortunately, I have two stories to share with regards to the #respectHERgame movement.
With sharing this story, I speak my truth, and I hope, that by sharing mine, other people, regardless of their respective story and truth, feel empowered and supported by those who have already spoken up.
Together, in solidarity, we stand stronger. Enough is enough!
This is the second of two of my stories.
Content/trigger warning. online harassment, bullying, transgender, transphobia, suicidal thoughts
Because it is the behaviour that needs to be highlighted, addressed and called out, and not the person having displayed said behaviour, identifying details have been removed.
A little over a year ago, I played at the PDGA 2019 Amateur Disc Golf World Championships.
In May and June, the period leading up to Worlds, I played my best disc golf ever, I was on an incredibly high wave of boosted confidence and self love, having been approved to compete in gender-protected divisions, augmented and empowered by feeling the love and support and acceptance of exactly the ones who had the most to lose by me being in what some might see as “their” division(s); the women.
Playing AmWorlds, our lead card had come together in round #2. And stayed the same for the remaining 6.5 rounds. We all wanted to win, obviously, but more importantly, we all wanted that by simply being one stroke ‘better than’ at the end of the event.
Every single OB or bad tree kick any of us got, we all made sure that player’s next shot was right back on track for “an easy three”, and our #1000ratedfun was our combined guiding light and goal.
I won. Boom!
And all of a sudden, I was “the guy who’d won a women’s world title”, and “the guy who couldn’t cut the mustard in his own division, so he stole a trophy from the weaker women.
Yes, I am out & proud transgender, and am the first openly transgender woman to win a world title in disc golf. And I love weird movies that when they’re done, you are left with more questions than answers. Weird, right?Do you also want to opine on what I had for breakfast, or which book is on my nightstand?
I comply with all of the PDGA’s strict rules on gender reclassification, who ,in turn, follow the IOC guidelines, and that should have, in all honesty, been the end of it.
Am I the first openly transgender disc golfer? No. I am merely the first one to win a world title.
Are there also transgender disc golfers who never ‘outed’ themselves as such? Undoubtedly. Possibly even ones winning important titles. Who knows?
And let me clear something up for you, outing yourself as transgender person is a highly personal choice. Some do, others don’t. And each have incredibly valid reasons why they do or don’t. You do not get to question their choice, and you absolutely do not get to take that choice away from them.
One very important reason to not ‘out’ yourself, is the inevitable trouble you call upon yourself, because society is still based on “what is different and unknown needs to be removed”, the Frankenstein, story lived in daily life, really.
BIPOC, transgender, LGTBQ+, a spirituality other than yours, you name it.
Obviously this wasn’t the end of it, and I did not expect it would.
In fact, I hoped for the opposite, that it would be the start of an open discourse on how and why I was allowed to, an education and awareness opportunity, what it is to be transgender and what it isn’t, what hormone replacement therapy does to your body, how it levels the playing field, what rules and regulations a transgender person needs to comply with, and to those that would care, what the social, financial, medical, emotional, relational consequences good and bad of transitioning could be.
In Europe, where I was not only known as a mediocre but kind and oft-seen player, but also as the former EuroTour Manager, PDGA Board Member, and PDGA Europe Interim Administrator, I was active at so many high profile events as core staff at events that even had I wanted to just show up and do a “Oh Hai! Yes, I know him, that’s my brother”, it wouldn’t pass the smell test.
Still, to my apparently ‘passing’ well enough as “the sister of”, and that is a big emotional and confidence victory, I had people come up to me with exactly that question: “are you perhaps related to him?” Even at AmWorlds, during the players ceremony, a few players I had played many rounds with, asked that same question.
You should have seen the astonished and then amazed reaction on their faces when I’d answer with “yes I am”, or “yes, that was me”, depending on how I read the moment.
I actively chose not to hide my past, play with my cards open on the table, and actually bring up the possible discussion well in advance. I had transitioned on the fairway in spring of 2017, and in early 2018, I reached out to the European women (in spring of 2019, my gender reclassification was approved, to get the timeline perspective).
What followed was the European Pro women (potentially, and hopefully, my future competition) chiming in, and sharing their thoughts and feelings on the matter. Obviously a few people were slightly worried I might be taking away payouts, but grosso modo, I received “May the best woman win. Looking forward to playing with you!” as an answer. And I knew they were genuine in saying that. That they accepted me as a person, and next to that, just looking at the skill level, we all knew I was not an actual threat to them. What was an 870-ish rated player going to do against 920+ rated players, other than sometimes making up lost ground in a particularly good round?
In my hope to have an open discourse, I wanted to be a lightning rod, and a guiding light; and for those who might need it, be strong for those who did not have a voice (yet), or had given up on speaking up.
And I also expected some trolls and keyboard warriors to show up. Some. Maybe even a few more.
And, oh, was I wrong. So wrong.
I did not expect this to result in little over four months or relentless bullying, online abuse and harassment, thousands of intentionally hurtful and hateful comments and reactions aimed at me, and all the other transgender people by association.
I received private messages like this as well, but I blocked the senders and removed their messages. Below is what I think was the most insidious and intrinsically hurtful post that I have seen. So far below the belt. It was the only post that made me bawl, shell-shocked.
I tried to keep track of who said what, what their ‘angle’ was, how many times a certain argument was used, what people’s provenance and gender were, but I soon had to give up on that, due to the impossible flood of messages. I just sort of kept track of the amount of comments; I stopped counting after hitting 5,000, but the messages did not stop. And these were only the ones I had read, and had access to. With over 95%+ of the posts originating from the USA and its timezones, I had become a weird mix of nocturnal & insomniac, to be able to address the worst outbreaks as they happened.
The messages not out of the USA we almost unanimously of the congratulatory and “I am your ally” kind. I leave you to fill in the blanks here…
I clearly remember the first night; August 1st, Hamburg, a little after 11pm (six hours ahead of Eastern). I was there, in the hotel with the band I was going to be working my first show with next day, and we had all hung out in one of the band member’s hotel room. Earlier that evening, I had received a surprise call from the PDGA Executive Director that I – next to Elaine King – was about to be announced as the new PDGA Board of Directors member.
I had just prepared the jacuzzi in the Queen Suite I been checked in to by accident/luck? (me being just one of the crew for the band, I very highly doubt it was intentional, but hey, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth; I was going to enjoy this to the fullest!), and I was about to fill my bottle with some tap water, then chill in the jacuzzi for maybe 30 minutes, and get some sleep, when a friend of mine reached out to me: “Hey Laura, you might want to check this”. Many hours later, I got out of the jacuzzi, emotionally frazzled and physically withered like a raisin, rushing to get breakfast in me before heading to the festival for an 8am crew call. The next 4 months would be a relentless amount of more of the same. Without the jacuzzi, sadly.
And all the while, I felt horribly guilty towards the 12 other 2019 Amateur World Champions for taking away the attention from them.
Does anyone know all of their names? How many did you guess? I bet you, everybody knows mine (no one can spell or pronounce it, though, so the joke’s on them. 😉 )
Noah Osborne, Erikah Weir, Roger Gagnon, Billy Ray Osborn, Angie Jones, James Elkins, Caryn Shearer, George Bodiroga, Donna Stanley, Bruce McNaughton, Bob Mohl, Paula Bowen.
Don’t, or do, question me, but with all of these messages being posted everywhere, I only made sure I had read them, and replied where I deemd it absolutely necessary or helpful. I very explicitly did not want to remove, block, censor anything that was posted in the (semi) public domain. Nor did I want anyone else to so. And I still don’t.
Call me European, crazy, a socialist, a romantic, an idealist, a dreamer, you decide. But I actually did, and do, believe in keeping messages like these out in the public domain. If we do not see (censor, remove) what is deemed inappropriate and what is deemed unacceptable, how are we and they going to learn from it?
Instead, what I set out to do, is similar to what Facebook and Twitter have started doing, adding disclaimers to lies, falsehoods, and harassment.
I replied with facts and questions, debunking their accusations or rudeness wherever I could. It is a lot more time consuming and draining, but I truly believe that is the way forward.
I also explicitly wanted to not accuse and punish people for their (blissful or even chosen) ignorance. You can not reasonably hold someone accountable for something you know to be wrong while they honestly don’t.
Legally, yes you can, but between humans I believe you shouldn’t, and I actively chose not to.
But at a certain point, when they have been told so many times that what they say is actually transphobic, it is time for that person to own their comments being transphobic. And for the world to see that too.
In coming to the rescue of “their women”, by attacking me, these people so valiantly defended “their women”. The women must obviously have not been emancipated, strong, and able enough to fend for themselves, right?
But in doing so, “attacking me ‘on behalf of’ their women”, “they” actually hurt female athletes more than any amount of transgender athletes could ever do. Women as a whole were demoted to simply and undeniably being “the weaker half”.
And that is, in my eyes, the single saddest thing to come of it.
(paraphrased discussion I had with a husband):
Them: “My wife won’t speak up against you because she’s afraid for the pushback for what she’d say.”
Me: “So that makes it okay for you to say thse things instead? Or are you actually using her name in vain to attack me?”
Ironic detail here, I (of my own volution, unsolicited) actually stood up against something I criticised for being an injustice that was done to that very cisgender woman. Without even knowing her.
Too many people still think that being a transgender woman is no more or less than a man in a dress who wants to abuse helpless women and little girls. I suffered for 30+ years, trying to make it work in the gender role that was incorrectly bestowed upon me, but I always knew that the seemingly male body I lived in, was not, could not, and should not be mine. As the trope goes, I was “a woman stuck in a man’s body.”
Have you ever bought a can of green beans at the supermarket, to open it back home in the kitchen, ready to prepare a meal, and find out there’s carrots inside? What the…. !?!?!?
That is what being transgender is. No more. No less.
A production error; with terribly dire consequences, regardless what you do about it. Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.
Could I have picked a different division to compete in? Some threw that at me. Yes. At that moment, I legally could play in MPO, FPO, MP40, FP40, MA1, FA1, MA40, FA40, MA2, and MA3. But, I qualified for FA40. So that’s where I competed. In the division where I belong.
Regularly, I was told, I should have played in MA1 or MA40 instead of FA40.
Actually, one of the women in my own division, I was going to meet, Mila, fellow European, and my carpool buddy for the week.
In the typical Finnish straight to the point, not a word too many, no words minced, manner, she said: “Hi I am Mila, you should play pro.”
Amazingly excellent. And she was, and is right. An 883 rated 40+ woman will almost certainly be a pro, not an am, but that’s another discussion on why I think that is.
She knew my story, as per open discussion in Europe a year earlier, and that did not faze her.
I knew in advance, that regardless of how I’d do at AmWorlds, even if I knew that by looking at the players’ ratings, I’d stand a good chance of making it to the semi finals if I made not too many mistakes, I’d want to use the momentum of competing here to advocate awareness, visibility, and hopefully acceptance for LGBTQIA+ people in sports in general, and disc golf in particular.
During the break between rounds two and three, I had sat down with Kerri (and Maggie, her good friend) for lunch, and told her my story. It came as a surprise to her, because she did not ‘clock’ me as transgender, despite my physique and my hoarse voice. and when we mulled over things a bit, a long grup hug followed. They accepted me. Not because they felt they had to, but because they wanted to.
I had told Tammy later on, and from her, the same heartfelt acceptance.
Why, if these three women (Kerri, Mila, and Tammy) who literally had the most to lose by my being there (they’d have taken 1dt, 2nd, and 3rd, instead of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th), were accepting of me, then why was the world so upset aoubt this for them?!?! I kept tally of how many comments I saw where people proclaimed Kerri to be the rightful World Champion. That number was close to three digits.
Four months, and thousands of messages, reactions, and shares later, I do hope the world learnt a bit more about what being transgender is, and what being a transgender athlete is.
So many allies stood up for me, reached out to me in support; #IStandWithLaura (coined by a dear friend of mine) actually became a thing. Every single of these people helped brighten and improve the world a bit more.
And, this is very important to me, because this is what it is all about, several transgender people reached out to me in gratitude for me daring to fight their much-dreaded fight.
Nevertheless, with the vast majority of all the messages being hateful in nature, it had given me anxiety on the fairway.
And starting in August, when I had my next tournaments, I had started sliding down, and my game confidence and self image along with it. Or actually, I should say nose-dive from a plane without a parachute straight towards the deepest of lows.
Not because I had lost my skills. No. I had been broken, my spirit had been broken, but I hadn’t realised it. I just thought, I just had to try a bit harder, buckle up, and carry on. My form and feeling and confidence would come back.
I did not understand, let alone, acknowledge, that my soul was being crushed by the weight of this; I wanted to be strong and stronger for those without strength or voice.
And I inevitably crashed and burnt at the event on my home course, hosted by my club. I had accidentally, yes, accidentally, parked my drive to about 8ft from the basket on my favourite hole on the course. I missed, completely missed, the basket for the tap in birdie. and I broke down crying, with the saddest and most broken of DNF’s that you can imagine, two holes later.
I did play two more events, in a desperate attempt to turn the tide, or make myself believe I wasn’t broken, but my soul hurt, badly.
At least now I managed to acknowledge what had happened inside of me.
The darkest of dark thoughts “maybe it would be better if I simply stopped existing”, had started dancing around and inside of me like an evil spirit doing a ritual dance.
That scared me. A lot.
I had – prior to accepting myself – been the coldest, most unfazed, flatlining, emotionless person you could imagine, and I always refer to that state of being with this analogy:
“Imagine there is a line up and you need to pick the live one; a robot, a corpse, a zombie, and me. You’d not have been able to confidently pick me.”
Since accepting myself, I noticed I sometimes needed to curb my fire, my enthusiasm, my love, my positive outlook. It was aptly visualised by me being referred to as “a smiling whirlwind”.
Never in a million years would I expect myself to even be able to have these dark thoughts. Before I couldn’t, because I had emotionally lobotomised myself, and now I was bubbling over with an infectious smile that was actually least apparent where you’d expect a smile to be visible. I didn’t realise, or actually, yes I did, but had forgotten about it since I hatched, I had unlearned that.
When you allow the most beautiful feelings to touch you and shine from you, and that is honest and true and sincere, you also open yourself to the darkest ones.
During the following months, I’d come up with the lamest reasons in the book to not have to compete; I had gotten afraid of being on the fairway. Hated being there, even. Full blown anxiety attacks. And the attacks subsided only very slowly, slowly.
And luckily, right?, I could hide behind COVID-19 having cancelled the events for me; at least I didn’t need to hide behind finding reasons not to, as there were no events anymore to cancel the evening before.
Bar my joining the Extravaganza into the Women’s Global Putting Extravaganza (still proud of having come up with that name <3 ) wearing a gala dress, smashing makeup, and stilettos, I didn’t throw a disc another until mid July.
In the mean time, I learned, and now that I climbed up again, I can do so with a bit of pride and self-love, to try to think of it all, as this apparently being the price to pay for necessary progress to be made.
I will wear the scar this caused with pride!
Enough is enough!