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This non-binary and asexual sportswriter sees the power in sharing her story

At Sports Illustrated, Julie Kliegman’s coverage goes far beyond the X’s and O’s.

Julie Kliegman publicly came out as non-binary last month.
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Julie Kliegman keeps it real. The Sports Illustrated copy chief has written extensively about mental illness and asexuality, often using her own experiences as a jumping off point.

She says her openness is rooted in a desire to be seen and heard. While most of us can relate to that, being visible is especially important for Kliegman, who identifies as asexual and recently came out publicly as non-binary.

There is a dearth of representation for people in both communities.

“There’s a part of me that wants to write the things that I wish I had access to when I was Googling stuff about asexuality or about whatever given topic I’m writing about,” Kliegman told me on this week’s edition of the Outsports podcast, The Sports Kiki. “I mean, I wrote an article about how hard it is for asexual people to online date, because I was trying to online date. I still am, by the way.”

Kliegman started thinking about asexuality in adulthood, while watching the Netflix series BoJack Horsemen. One of the characters, Todd Chavez, slowly begins to come to the realization he’s ace.

There is not a long history of asexual characters in film and television. The first sincere one is generally believed to be Gerald Tippett, a character on the New Zealand soap opera Shortland Street ... way back in 2007.

As we know, the power of representation matters. Kliegman started identifying as asexual after writing a story for The Ringer about the very topic. Her reporting brought her into contact with several asexual people.

“Over the course of months, this idea simmered within me. And I was like, ‘Oh yeah. That does really accurately describe a lot of my experiences,’” Kliegman said.

So what does it mean to be ace? Kliegman says it’s important to note they’re not a homogenous group of people. There is a wide spectrum. In fact, many asexual people still desire romantic relationships. (An estimated 1.7 percent of sexual minorities identify as asexual, according to a 2019 study from the Williams Institute at UCLA.)

“Asexual people, it’s not that they lack a sex drive, but they aren’t sexually attracted to people, or they’re varying degrees of sexually attracted to people, but not in a way — I don’t want to say ‘typical person’ in this way — but a ‘typical person’ is,” Kliegman said. “But that doesn’t make them any less human.”

For years, Kliegman also felt some degree of dysphoria about her body, but couldn’t quite encapsulate what it meant. Much like with asexuality, her journey to identifying as non-binary was a slow burn.

“I think once you think about that long enough, you’re like, ‘Oh wait, cisgender people don’t really spend that much time thinking about this today,’” Kliegman said. “It’s not that I always rejected the label of ‘woman,’ but I always knew in the back of my head that it didn’t perfectly fit me either.”

Most of all, Kliegman says being non-binary provides her with the freedom to chart her own path.

“It’s the freedom to be any gender you want to be,” she said. “I just think that’s so great that it’s such an expansive term.”

At SI, Kliegman enjoys her colleagues’ utmost support, and the freedom to write about topics at the intersection of sports and mental health and LGBTQ issues. Recently, SI published a profile of Layshia Clarendon, who identifies as non-binary.

Kliegman knows how important it is to share different stories and experiences, and views sports as a perfect vehicle to relay those perspectives.

“Sports encompasses so much of our culture,” she said. “So many issues that I write about — like sexuality and mental illness and gender — are such big parts of sports. So, sports is not just one topic. It’s a multitude of topics.”

Click here to check out this episode of our Outsports podcast, The Sports Kiki. You can also subscribe to the show on Apple’s Podcast page as well as on Google Podcasts, and wherever you’ll find Outsports podcasts.