Gabriel Kris is a transgender 16-year-old high school student in Virginia who has been playing lacrosse since he was 7. After years of struggling with his identity, Gabriel came out to his mom in 2017 and made the decision this year to finally play with the boys team.

“I have decided that now is the time for me to join boys’ lacrosse,” Gabriel writes in a powerful essay for US Lacrosse Magazine. “Luckily, the switch as a goalie isn’t too difficult; It’s the one thing that is almost exactly the same. In fact, I recently tried out for a boys’ travel team and found the shots were easier. I didn’t make the team, but just playing for an hour with other guys made me feel the best I’ve ever felt while playing lacrosse, and for most of my life, lacrosse was the only thing that made me feel good at all. That’s why I love it.

“Despite the pain I was going through in my daily life, on the field I could throw everything away. Once I put my gear on, I was a different person. I could push all my stress to the back of my mind and focus only on the game.

“On the field, I’m not a trans kid or an autistic kid or a depressed kid. I’m a lacrosse player. That ideology is my hope for the future of the sport. No matter who your teammate is off the field, when you’re playing, they are a lacrosse player. That’s all that matters. During a game, I don’t care if you ‘agree’ with my identity. I’ll treat you like my teammate. The rest can be dealt with some other time.”

In June, Gabriel tagged US Lacrosse on Instagram about the lack of trans representation in lacrosse:

My name is Gabriel Kris and I am a transgender athlete. I’ve been playing lacrosse since i was 7 years old. Playing girls lacrosse while transitioning to male has been a very difficult experience for me, often times causing me a great deal of emotional and mental pain. @uslacrosse is talking about pride month, something that surprised me but made me so happy. i’m tagging you @uslacrosse, in hopes that maybe possibly you might come across this. i have never seen a transgender lacrosse player. I wish i had someone to guide me. my only wish is to play men’s lacrosse. simply quitting is not an option. lacrosse is one of the things that’s brings me the most joy in my life. you are addressing the lgbt lacrosse community but i haven’t seen any trans people. there has to be some others like me. but if i am the first so be it. i am ready to make waves in the lax world 💕

After seeing this post, US Lacrosse invited Gabriel to write his essay and also to remind people about the sport’s policy on transgender inclusion:

In January 2016, US Lacrosse established an events policy and recommended practices for the inclusion of youth transgender athletes, stating that “a transgender youth athlete should be allowed lacrosse participation in accordance with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the athlete’s birth certificate or other records and regardless of whether the athlete has undergone any medical treatment.”

Gabriel’s essay deals with acceptance, rejection, fear, self-discovery and the love of sport and should be read by anyone wanting to understand what a transgender athlete deals with.

If you’re an LGBTQ person in sports looking to connect with others in the community, head over to GO! Space to meet and interact with other LGBTQ athletes, or to Equality Coaching Alliance to find other coaches, administrators and other non-athletes in sports.

If you are considering suicide or self-harm, LGBTQ youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. Adults can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 24 hours a day, and it’s available to people of all ages and identities. Trans or gender-nonconforming people can reach Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860.