clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Trans sports reporter Emerson Whitney covers rural Maine for Mt. Desert Islander

Bar Harbor-area sports reporter raises local eyebrows and finds welcoming arms

By Emerson Whitney

emerson_whitney_puck_300

My gender identity demands a space where the flamboyant and the athletic meet—I am an androgynous trans/genderqueer sports reporter for the Mt. Desert Islander in Bar Harbor, Maine, with a sports beat that sends me onto high school sidelines, into national marathons, and inside the coverage of international championships. I am the only ‘out’ transgender sports reporter at a weekly newspaper in the United States that I know of.

My interview for this sports-writing job came the morning after I served as emcee for a transgender celebration in Portland, Maine. For the event, I covered myself in glitter…and chose not to fully remove it for the interview. My partner nodded at my decision saying, “If a couple flakes of glitter are an issue, honey, you don’t want this job.”

Honestly, part of me thought sabotage. Nobody up here is going to hire me for anything, I thought. And part of me didn’t care. While I wholeheartedly wanted—needed—a job, I wasn’t sure about this one. Some of my reticence was the idea of living rurally. I was withdrawing from a whirlwind departure from New York City, where layoffs swept the two offices I inhabited: the New York Observer and Radar Magazine. I lost both my writing jobs and went traveling. My partner and I landed in Maine after some back-to-the-land soul searching and were starting to run out of money. So I sent my resume to several publications on a whim, not expecting to hear back. But I got a call from a newspaper needing to quickly fill the position of ‘sports and maritime’ writer for their nationally recognized publication (“New England’s best weekly newspaper”).

At the interview, the editor pointed to my glittery face and asked who I had been dressed as the night before. I smiled, “Puck.” He nodded, likely thinking I was talking hockey and not the fairy from Shakespeare’s 'A Midsummer Nights Dream'.

Despite any prejudice on my part towards a small town paper, I got the job. My boss hired me with the knowledge that I am a transgender person and that my preferred pronoun is “he.”

Because of my boss’ steadfast heralding of my correct pronoun, I have found safety and comfort in the office. On my behalf, he has had to explain to confused parents, coaches, and coworkers what exactly I am.

Out of the office, I have met raised eyebrows and confused faces. On any given day, I am read as both ‘she’ and ‘he.’

Bathrooms are a constant challenge, and I find tremendous difficulty in locker rooms.

I was recently stymied at a swim meet by the configuration of their pool room. People on their way to the poolside were forced to enter through either the men’s or women’s locker room.

I held tightly to my press credentials and stood in the hallway for so long that an attendant tapped me to ask if I needed help. I shook my head and hurried into the men’s room, assuming if people thought I was a girl in the men’s locker room it would be less of an issue than if I was thought to be a man in the women’s room.

I passed in and out unnoticed.

On the sidelines, I feel an immense amount of pressure to prove that despite my ‘fay’ presentation, I am not to be shoved in a trashcan— I am writing. I wield my notebook as if a shield. I laugh to myself when I notice that my interview subject is checking obtrusively for a bulge in my crotch. But mostly, I am consistently impressed with the fact that I have not been driven out of town.

Recently, I unearthed a journal of mine from elementary school and found a passage of musings regarding the idea of sports reporting. At the Observer I lamented writing about politics or real estate when I thought I could do much better covering the Jets or the Knicks. In high school, I read and re-read work by Gay Talese. And every day, the scores and scores of sports antidotes I grew up with sift through my mind, potential is what gets you fired…

As a trans/genderqueer person, no part of me thought sports journalism was a career option. As a recent New York Times article about Outsports.com highlights, gay people and their participation in sports are an ‘enduring taboo.’

I am grateful for this opportunity and for the people here who are able to hold the seeming paradox of gender bending and organized sport in the same hand.

Day to day, I choose not to tone down my personality as exuded through my gender presentation—recently a friend of mine dubbed me the Johnny Weir of sports writing. While I often feel pressured to only dress in ball cap and jock strap, I am still glittery—wearing my gender as my own.

You can reach Emerson via email, Twitter or at his Web site.