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Trans editor of 'Baseball Prospectus' tells her story

Christina Kahrl is a trailblazer for transgender people in sports and sports media.

Christina Kahrl is a trailblazer in sports media.

(This story was published in 2007).

By: Ronit Bezalel

Christina Kahrl, one of the founding five members of Baseball Prospectus, made news by coming out as transgender in 2003. For Christina (who grew up as Chris), coming out was relatively easy once she had made the decision to do so. It was the journey getting there that was the challenge.

"From an early age, I knew I was different," Kahrl told Outsports. "I knew that I wasn't like the other boys. I knew I wasn't like the other girls; I couldn't put my finger on it. I grew up feeling like an ‘odd duck.’ I didn't stress out about it. I didn't mind being different. I just knew that I was."

It wasn't until college that Kahrl began to make sense of her experience when she came across information about transgender issues while browsing the stacks in The University of Chicago Library.

"It was sort of a revelation, and something I could finally understand was a pretty well-understood phenomenon," Kahrl said. “This was in 1990, the year that I graduated. I worked on campus subsequent to my graduation and spent considerable time reading about transgender issues from there, but I

really couldn't say that I knew what to do about it at the time; it was simultaneously reassuring and terrifying."

Kahrl decided to push aside her deepest feelings and stay in the closet, hoping to best fulfill people's expectations of her.

"I became a construct to myself," Kahrl said. “I'd wake up in the morning, put on the guy face, be this person all day in order to fulfill the expectation of family and friends. For those years it was more about playing a role. That was kind of like the artifice on some level."

While Kahrl was struggling with her identity, her career was falling into place. She was approached by Baseball Prospectus founder Gary Huckabay to help write the first edition of the book. Kahrl, along with contributors Clay Davenport, Rany Jazayerli and Joe Sheehan, stepped aboard and Baseball Prospectus was born.

The first edition of Baseball Prospectus was small and pulled together quickly. "It was bad enough that we should have quit right there," Kahrl joked. But quit they didn’t; Baseball Prospectus is now entering its 12th year; it has spawned a successful website (BaseballProspectus.com); and it is respected by fans and baseball insiders alike. Kahrl is now the managing editor of the publication, writes the regular "Transaction Analysis" column at the Web site and freelances as a writer, editor and proofreader.

Despite all of Kahrl’s professional success, her personal life for much of it was in turmoil.

"I wondered for whose benefit I was living," says Kahrl. "I was maintaining a model of being a husband, a good son to my parents, a high achiever. To what extent were those things tied up with questions of gender and should I turn a blind eye to questions of my own sexual identity? These things may be making people happy, but they were not making me happy.

"I realized that you don't get a do-over [in life], and the time had come for me to be myself. I was willing to risk all that I had come to achieve. I realized that I would never be happy without coming to terms with my own identity."

When Kahrl came out as transgender in both her personal and professional lives, she found overwhelming support, much to her surprise.

"Perhaps I've been spoiled," Kahrl said about her seemingly easy coming out experience. "I've been successful at forging that kind of acceptance. But, it's also not about me. It's about [people's] capacity to accept and understand. If we credit the wider world with the ability to accept people who are different, we may be surprised."

Christina cites sports as one of the things that may have helped her coming out process.

"Sports are a unifying factor. It's a matter of enjoying one another's company in an intellectual exercise, enjoying a baseball team, how the White Sox can be better, how Ozzie managed the team last night. This experience doesn't have to shut out people who are gay, lesbian, transgender; it transcends this, it is a shared experience."

Kahrl reflected that she was inspired by people who came out as transgender in the 1970s and ‘80s. “We can never repay them, and all we can do is pay them forward and help those who come next."

Kahrl is fulfilling her role of paying it forward. She was a mentor to Los Angeles Times sportswriter Mike Penner, now Christine Daniels, who recently came out as transsexual.

"One of the great things that grew up out of stepping up to help Christine…is that it put me in touch with people who are also struggling with this," Kahrl said.

Kahrl said that while it was relatively easy for her to come out, it would be very difficult for a current professional athlete to come out.

"There have been gay ball players who are out to their teammates," Kahrl said. “The question is less about the players as it is the media focus and the way it would become a pressurized event…they'd be under the lights 24/7. The challenge is to now see if we can get to a point in society where a player could come out and people can say, ‘OK.’ We might be able to put it away with one interview…and keep on moving."

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Ronit Bezalel is a Chicago based freelance journalist and filmmaker. She covered the Gay Games VII for Outsports.com and SIRIUS OutQ News. Bezalel's latest film "A Day on the Force: Women's Professional Tackle Football" looks at Chi-town's women's pro-tackle football team, the Chicago Force. You can find out more information at www.ronitfilms.com.