I love basketball with all my soul. Ever since I was about 6 or 7 years old I've had an obsession with the game. In elementary school you could find me reading NBA books in the library, playing NBA Live '98 on my computer, or playing basketball outside. Nowadays, I'd very much like to do the same.
But here's the thing: I'm a visibly transgender female living in the conservative state of Oklahoma.
Partially due to the environment of Oklahoma, and partially due to the circumstances of my upbringing, I grew up living as the wrong gender. Because I grew up as a man, I was a very unhappy and rage-filled adolescent. I frequently had emotional incidents that sent me to the principal’s office, despite the fact that I made consistently good grades.
Unfortunately I wasn't diagnosed with gender dysphoria by a clinical psychologist until I was 23 years old. Prior to that time, I had rejected my true self and rigorously attempted to conform to the stereotype of a straight male.
My soul source of escape at times was basketball. Going out on the court always allowed me to focus on other things. As I got older, I got more into competitive basketball. Competition really raised my love for the game. I played in a rec league for a few years and loved the camaraderie I had with my teammates. I also showed up to regular weekly games and forged deep friendships with some of the dudes that I played with.
Then, I transitioned.
There's a physical aspect of transitioning genders. In my case, transitioning from male to female, I lost much of my strength and ability to leap. But that in no way decreased my love for the game. It only gave me greater appreciation for technical skill and admiration for players who can find ways to affect the game without being athletic.
But the social aspect of transitioning genders has proven to be much more difficult. I go to regular games at a local college court. I made it clear on several occasions that I was transgender and was going to use female pronouns. That, combined with the changes in my appearance, should be enough to get people to accept it. I understand that I am a 6-foot-5 female with a male frame and voice, but I did make it very clear to these people who I was and what my gender pronoun was.
Sadly, I've been met by nothing but apathy from the majority of players. The most common responses have either been a meek “OK” or a complete brush-off. These same male players will continue to call by male pronouns during the game.
I tell them again. And they brush it off, continuing to call me by male pronouns. I've even felt targeted, having had the ball thrown at my head twice in the same game.
I've never fought anybody about it. But I've definitely blown up on a couple of separate occasions because I just couldn't stand it anymore. It hasn't gotten better over time. I keep going back to the court, and people's biases remain. There's seemingly nothing I can do to change their perceptions.
Worse still, they seem dead-set on reminding me that I wasted the first 24 years of my life living a lie as a man. And even if I could take it emotionally, it's simply a matter of respect.
Worse still, so few women play in recreational basketball games around here. I've been all throughout the OKC Metro-area court scene in my lifetime. The only women I've seen play basketball are on designated teams. There is the occasional woman here or there, and I have tremendous respect for the women who do play. But there's no denying that Oklahoma still sees basketball, and other sports, as a very male-first thing.
That's very frustrating from my perspective, because I'm still not at the point in my transition where I could be medically cleared to play in a women's league. Even just a women's rec league. And who's to guarantee that I would even be allowed in? Most people would just see Juwanna Mann, the movie man who became a woman to take advantage of the WNBA.
I'm Marina, a real human being who was cursed with a lust for the roundball.
I haven't given up hope, as I will keep exploring new courts and attempt to form basketball games on my own. But I've had to cut ties with literally every single place that I played as a man, and even a couple I tried to play at as a woman. The same was not the case when I played at places as a man — even a long-haired, “weird-looking” man.
I'm writing about this today because I believe that it can and will get much better in my lifetime. But if we are to move forward, we must understand where we are at. And Oklahoma City is rife with discrimination against LGBT people. It's a silent, back-door discrimination.
If you meet a person like me and accidentally use the wrong title, just apologize and move on. It's really no big deal. But once I tell you who I am, I expect to be given the same respect as any other sound human being.
Marina Mangiaracina is manager of SB Nation's Thunder Blog, Welcome to Loud City. She is also a Political Science undergrad at the University of Oklahoma. Her Twitter handle is @MarinaWTLC