I grew up in a not great area in San Jose rooting hard for all the Bay Area teams while I was a young man. I was always pretty decent at sports, so I dove in as far as I could to keep the fact that I was different hidden for as long as possible.
I saw the way the kids who weren't popular or who were even slightly effeminate were treated and I wanted no part of that. I kept my head down, got to know sports and got pretty good at playing them, keeping everyone at a distance from my personal life. I just wanted to make it through unscathed and get out of that neighborhood and make a new life for myself somewhere else.
So what was it about me that was so different? I knew from a young age that I didn't fit into the stereotypical mold that a guy in America is supposed to fit into. I wanted to fit in with the girls, I wanted to do what they were doing, talk about what they were talking about, and be a part of that world. I kept that mostly to myself for the better part of my childhood aside from telling my best friend, Janessa.
I graduated high school in 2000 and, while Ellen Degeneres had come out of the closet and Will & Grace was on TV, I still wasn't ready to share my story. Then it started to leak out a little bit. I wasn't happy keeping it a secret because it meant that I was working to hide who I was from the people who are supposed to love me regardless of what happens. Working to hide anything is a difficult task, let alone hiding who you actually are as a person.
I moved to Las Vegas in 2004, started being a little more open about my desire to dress as a woman, but I could never quite push myself to be who I was on the inside because I was too scared. Too scared of what friends would say behind my back. Too scared of not being able to make ends meet because I might not be able to find a job. Too scared of what some random, insignificant stranger might say.
A's pitcher & girlfriend buy tix for LGBT night
Oakland A's pitcher Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend, Eireann, promise to buy empty seats for LGBT Night in Oakland this June.
I moved back to northern California after shoving myself back in the closet, dating a close friend of mine for two years on and off, and then ending that because, well, she had no interest in being with a man who felt like he wasn't a man and I had no interest in being with a woman.
Breaking up with her, someone I had known for 20 years because I am transgender, seemed like it was going to be the hardest part. That has to be the hardest part, right?
Not even close.
The hardest part was the fact that I had spent close to three years building what I hoped was the start to a career in sports journalism. What will the athletes think? What are all of the people I have met through Twitter going to think? I don't want to disappoint anyone! I just want to build a career doing something I love while not despising myself in the process.
I sat back and thought about how I was going to handle this, because it was inevitable that it was going to come out. I could not stop being myself and I hated that I would make sure that no one would see my nail polish if I was posting a picture on Twitter, or that all of my avatars reflected someone I felt did not represent me in any way. I thought I could wait for someone to out me...that would have been easiest. I wouldn't have to own my coming out because I didn't come out, I was forced out.
That plan was doomed from the start because I don't upset many people. They didn't have a reason to out me. I try to treat everyone well, so unless you're a Seahawks fan, I am not going to upset anyone enough for them to out me. It was also a bad plan because there is nothing more important than owning who you are as a person.
It began to bug me that people called me Jason. Dude. Man. Bro. Those pronouns were like someone poking me in the chest, but how could I blame them if they didn't know they were making me upset? Then I started sharing my story with a couple of friends I had made through Twitter and they encouraged me to be transparent and authentic as soon as I felt ready.
I preach transparency and authenticity in my personal life constantly. I think that it is the best way to be, because then no one can question my motives, my desires, or why I am doing things the way I am. Everything is clear. But everything wasn't clear and I was hiding who I am for fear of rejection, fear of being mocked, and for fear of losing people who are close to me and whom I consider friends or family. Just remember, there are almost 8 BILLION people in the world, just in case anyone starts feeling him or herself a little too much.
This thought nagged at me for months...why are you authentic everywhere else but you won't be authentic on social media? I have a great answer for you - because the world of sports is a very progressive area, I can also not be particularly inclusive. If you don't fit a certain mold as a journalist, a commentator, a radio host or a television host, then you could struggle in the sports industry...at least that's what I told myself. I believe there is a lot of truth in that statement, but that reason was just an excuse I used to remain hidden for a while longer.
Fortunately for me, and hopefully for anyone struggling with something similar to what I have described here, I can tell you that it has been a wonderfully remarkable experience to this point for me, especially after I did this a few days ago:
I've watched other people deal with the hate & its time Im honest & stand for my own cause. Im transgender.— Jamie Neal (@TheJamieNeal) April 6, 2015
I saw reassuring tweets come in from people I was specifically nervous about in terms of what their reactions would be. I had people whom I respect a great deal, and whom I have never before spoken to, send me thoughts of encouragement and offer continued support. I was given this platform by Cyd Zeigler to share what my experience has been like with whomever has the opportunity to read this. Every response tweeted to me after my initial tweet was so validating, but there is one that stuck out in a very special way.
Eireann Dolan and her boyfriend, Sean Doolittle (my favorite baseball player), have been working to make the Oakland Athletics LGBT night as successful as possible by buying tickets from people who may not want to attend the game. I received a tweet from miss Dolan and I was ABSOLUTELY ecstatic.
Someone had brought my tweet to her attention and she reached out and encouraged me to be myself and to not be shy about who I am. She told me she hopes to see me at O.co and that when I am there, she'd like to meet me and say hello. Day made! Not just by this tweet and her kindness, but by the kindness I have experienced from everyone surrounding my coming out as trans.
Let me be clear: I am absolutely petrified about this journey. I am 6-foot-2, I weigh...well, a lady never reveals her weight, but lets just say that I am not anywhere near where I would like to be in terms of presenting myself and being confident in that presentation. Especially when it concerns going to a sporting event. Sporting events can be absolutely phenomenal and so much fun, but there is also a lot of drinking that goes on. Emotions run high at sporting events. People don't always act in an appropriate fashion at sporting events.
This specific scenario scares me more than most simply because if you have ever been to a sporting event, you know how things can get out of hand in a hurry. Unfortunately, as much as my faith in humanity has been restored based on the love and support I have received this week, I don't have control over everyone at a sporting event. I was able to control the time and day of the tweet I sent that undoubtedly changed my world forever, but I can't control a closed-minded fan who has had four too many and wants to pick a fight with me because I am being myself.
I am beyond scared to go to an A's game, a Niners game, a Giants game, any professional sporting event - and those teams all call one of the most liberal and diverse areas home. I am nervous and scared. I will try to talk myself out of going to a sporting event seven or eight times before I actually get out of the car and walk into the cathedral that is a stadium.
But eventually I will go. I'll go in, I'll see the grass poke through the openings in the different sections, I'll find my seat, and I will enjoy the game. I am 100% confident that I will be a little more insecure and aware of my surroundings that day, but there is no way I will miss out on the opportunity to watch my favorite team play at home just because I chose to be 100% authentic and to be myself instead of hiding who I am for the comfort of strangers. Not going to happen.
Before I sent that tweet on April 6, I prepared myself to be absolutely devastated by the negative responses, the flood of people who would think I couldn't talk about sports or that my opinions weren't valid merely because I am trans. I just knew that throngs of people would unfollow me on Twitter.
To my surprise, I received more love and support than I could have hoped for. People who have followed me just short of forever have told me that all that matters is who I am, how I treat people, and my knowledge. They've showered me with unnecessary but welcome compliments that I excel in those areas. I even gained several new followers while losing only one.
I couldn't have hoped to have be more validated or uplifted by mostly strangers who owe me nothing, but I sure am thrilled to have each of them in my life. To each person who sent me a tweet of encouragement, favorited my tweet, or shared the news with someone in hopes of helping them come to terms with who they are or to accept themselves further - thank you.
To anyone who has an issue with who I am, shoot me a tweet if you're interested in learning more. All I want to do is keep the conversation going, educate people who are open to learning, and to be happy in the life I am living.