“Welcome! But... Watch your back, Nicky.”
That was my message on Twitter to Nicky Bandini, the British sportswriter who came out Friday in a video posted to Twitter and in an op-ed in The Guardian newspaper, where she has toiled as a freelancer for 13 years.
While her coming out has been celebrated both on social media and even on the newspaper’s heavily-moderated comments page, the timing is pretty awful.
Just a day before, a report surfaced that two transgender employees of The Guardian resigned, according to BuzzFeed News, citing transphobia in the workplace.
The resignation letter one wrote last month said the paper “fundamentally not only stands against my own values but also against what I am”. A second trans staff member resigned weeks later, also citing the “harm” they say the newspaper is doing to trans people.
Oh, boy, do I know how they felt.
But before I share my experience, or more about theirs, let’s focus on Nicky Bandini, whose lovely op-ed and video is moving, inspiring and something to behold.
“I am transgender.
“I know that sentence will come as a shock to many people. Even after struggling with gender dysphoria – a sense of discomfort with and dissociation from the body that life dealt me and the expectations that go with it – for almost my whole life, it took me the best part of three‑and‑a-half decades to be able to say it out loud.”
Bandini revealed that she actually came out to friends and family three years ago, taking what she called “a million tiny baby steps.” And now she felt ready to tell the world, including the wide world of sports.
“Coming out at work, though, has required something more like a leap of faith,” Bandini wrote. “Sports journalism is not always a welcoming place for people who are not straight men. Nor, indeed, are the sports with the greatest audiences and corresponding media attention.”
“Times have changed, technology has changed and I have changed. But storytelling remains my great passion. I look forward to continuing to share them with you as Nicky.”
What hasn’t changed, according to BuzzFeed, is the anti-transgender culture at The Guardian. A woman they’re calling Victoria said after the newspaper published its screed against inclusion in October 2018, she swiftly realized what a hostile work environment she was in.
“It suddenly became real,” she said, the morning after it declared its opposition to “male-bodied people” and raised questions of “safety” because of transgender women like Victoria. “I’m entering this building with people who are denying my humanity.”
Victoria told BuzzFeed that she was re-experiencing what life was like when, years ago, she began her transition: “I would be freaked out about toilets and would walk in very quickly, just run to the stall and run back.” Given that her own colleagues had written this editorial, “I started doing that in the Guardian,” she said.
Although Victoria lost friends within the trans community for working for “the enemy,” she hoped to do some good by continuing to work there, fighting “a group of powerful people who are transphobic” and “have an agenda to push.”
But she told BuzzFeed it became obvious to her where she stood when her coworkers, even those she considered friends, cited the issue of transgender women in sports as a valid reason to attack trans rights. Another colleague, upon learning she was trans, told her, “If you went to prison, I’m not sure which prison you should go to.”
“It allowed me to see firsthand the damage this type of piece causes,” Victoria said.
I’ve been out six years, and I’ve seen it, too, not just in the newsrooms where I’ve worked but in other businesses and also with friends, family and strangers. I share Bandini’s wish that it didn’t have to be so arduous.
“I would much prefer not to be writing this and to exist in a world where my transition did not require any comment,” Bandini wrote in her op-ed. “But since we do not yet live in that world, here I am. All I ask is for respect and kindness – for me and for transgender people in general – at a time when those commodities seem to be in ever‑shorter supply.”
Trans journalist Lewis Raven Wallace reported on the struggle today in a brilliant report that showcased eight out writers, and his own story. I encourage Bandini and everyone to read it.
If I had to do it all over again, I’d have accepted gracefully all the applause, support and messages of “how brave you are!” when I came out in 2013, and as swiftly as possible, found another job where I could be the woman I am without anyone knowing the man I pretended to be for so many years. I could have avoided all the media attention that turned my coming out into a circus, and possibly avoided the mental health breakdown that sparked a brief but damaging public detransition. Even though I resumed my transition in private a few weeks later, it would be months before I felt comfortable sharing that with the world again. And just a month later, I was out of a job, and a career.
This isn’t just a journalism thing; I lost a non-writing job on account of my gender identity not too long ago, too.
It’s taken me five years to build back my life, a struggle that might have been impossible for a less resilient person. And I wouldn’t wish that ordeal upon my worst enemy. My hope would be that such a horror show couldn’t happen today. I’m not so sure that’s true.
So, Nicky Bandini, I leave it up to you: you’re a freelancer. You can do what you please, work wherever you wish, and hopefully The Guardian learns the error of its ways.
But no matter what, I’ll repeat it again: watch your back. Our enemies have painted a target on the back of each and every one of us, and I am here to say, despite them, we will not give up, we will not be erased, and we will stand together in support of all of us.