Sports have been a constant throughout Britney Stinson’s life. The transgender professional football player, who played with the boys in high school and now plays on women’s teams, has found a much-needed community no matter what sport she’s taken a swing at.
A topsy-turvy family life sent Stinson to five different Orlando-area high schools as a teenager. Adopted by her grandparents as a child — "They were like my parents" — she lost them both before moving in with her biological father. That didn’t go well, and she ran away to Seattle before returning to the area.
Her life in flux kept her on the move as a youth. She played football at four of her high schools, settling in at fullback and linebacker. She also played baseball and basketball, always on the boys teams.
“Sports were my escape,” Stinson told Outsports from her home in Orlando. “I was also pretty good at it. That was how I made friends in school. I would act like this jock sports guy, and that would help my persona. When I was playing I was just having fun. I used it as a mask.”
Yet even as she was making hits as the tough athlete on the field, she was privately exploring her gender identity. She found her escape online in chat rooms and message boards. There she was just Britney, the girl behind the keyboard. It was liberating for her. Even if it was in her own room, online she became her true self.
She met people across the Internet from all walks of life, some of them in Orlando. A few times she even took her father’s truck and went to meet them, presenting as Britney just as the blossoming athlete had always wanted. It was empowering.
She also found an entire group of people who found her sexually attractive as Britney. Some of them made online advances. As a teenager, that both scared and empowered her. While that may be tough to understand in today’s climate, any affirmation of her identity as Britney was welcome.
“It was nice in a way because here’s somebody who sees me as Britney and calls me beautiful. Even if they were saying vulgar things to me.”
And then, after some reflection: “They probably didn't have the best intentions.” Still, the attention she received online was affirming.
Once the computer shut off, she was back to the overwhelming reality that seemed impossible to change. Still, t wasn’t all bad. She liked playing sports. Baseball was her best, she said. Even capping out at 5-foot-7, she said she still made a solid linebacker and fullback on the football team. One college offered to bring her on as a walk-on, but her grandparents’ untimely death had rocked her world a few years earlier, and she simply never put in enough effort to take a real shot at college.
As her high school career neared its end, Stinson made a sobering decision to join the military. It was her way of burying Britney for good.
“Since my family was pretty conservative, my thinking was hopefully by joining the military it will either go away or I would get deployed and get killed, and it wouldn’t be an issue anymore.”
Neither of those outcomes came about.
After two years in the army she landed back in Orlando ready to come out of her shell. She ventured into the local LGBT Center ready to explore her gender identity and make friends in the LGBT community who might understand her better. It was through the Center that a flag football teammate mentioned a professional women’s football team in the area, the Orlando Anarchy.
The Anarchy play in the South Atlantic Division of the Women’s Football Alliance. The WFA is the largest of three professional women’s football leagues in the United States, with several dozen teams from California to Connecticut.
By now Stinson was presenting as Britney exclusively. She was Britney. When she called the owner of the Anarchy, she told them everything, and she demonstrated how she fit into the WFA’s transgender policy. Yes, in 2014 the WFA already had a trans policy, Stinson said. The owner didn’t even raise an eyebrow. When Stinson asked that her gender identity be kept between them — She wanted to be Britney the football player, not Britney the trans football player — Stinson said “it was a non-issue.”
Stinson said that to this day she has never talked directly with her coaches or teammates about her gender identity, though she assumes some of them — if not all of them — know.
She is, simply, Britney.
"Nobody actually talks about it,” Stinson said. “They just treat me like any other teammate. With the Anarchy one of the best things about it is we are all one big family. I'm just part of the family, part of the team. There are no questions or funny looks."
There have been some hints along the way. Most of the women never played organized tackle football before reaching the Anarchy. The coaching at times had to focus on fundamentals — Fundamentals that Stinson had known since PeeWee football. Her advanced knowledge of the inner workings of football’s X’s and O’s sometimes tipped her hand that her background in tackle football was different from most of the other women.
This year Stinson helped her team to the Div III championship game, where they lost to the Arkansas Wildcats.
While some have wondered about “unfair advantages” of transgender women in sports, Stinson pointed to the observation of her cousin after watching her in a match with the Anarchy.
“He said, ‘You’re still good and you look like you know what you’re doing, but you can tell that your strength isn’t there and your speed isn't the same,’" Stinson remembered.
The reduced performance of transition have followed Stinson to baseball. In 2016 she played for USA Baseball’s women’s team at a tournament in North Carolina, and
Still, Stinson’s gender identity simply hasn’t gotten in the way of her pursuits in sports. She has always stayed on top of the rules and regulations regarding trans athletes, always making sure she qualified to the letter of the rule. She hasn’t been challenged about any of this in either baseball or football. Always ready with her government identification and pertinent letters from doctors, she has never been asked to supply them.
"That’s kind of cool,” she remarked. “Maybe it is getting better."