Jackson Harrison uses gymnastics as a vehicle for self-expression. All season long, the Arizona State sophomore wore makeup during their competitions. It was one of the ways Harrison embraced their queer identity.
But days before nationals, Harrison says their coach told them to drop the makeup. Apparently, it was a distraction to the other gymnasts.
When Harrison showed up to the meet, they say they were presented with an ultimatum: makeup or the mat.
They were shocked.
“That was kind of traumatizing. Three hours away from our national championship competition,” Harrison told Outsports.
2 days before our nationals, after wearing makeup at every meet all season, my coach asked me to not wear makeup at nationals. when i showed up to our team meeting wearing the same makeup i always do, he told me i had ten minutes to take it off or i would be off lineup.— jackson harrison (@jacksonharrisno) June 3, 2022
Harrison didn't always highlight their queerness. In fact, they hid it. Through most of high school, Harrison dressed in athletic clothes to appear more masculine, they wrote in their coming out story.
That changed when they arrived at Arizona State. Harrison writes they “won the gay lottery” in terms of the support they’ve received on campus.
“The ASU men’s gymnastics team is a family and when I moved here, I became part of that family, full queerness and all,” they wrote.
That’s why Harrison says it was so hurtful when their coach, Scott Barclay, approached them about the makeup. Harrison holds an immense amount of respect for the ASU coach: the men’s gymnastics team is one of the most successful club programs in the country.
ASU may have cut men’s gymnastics as a varsity sport in 1993, but Barclay has ensured the team stays competitive. He founded the championship tournament, GymACT, in which ASU was competing. (GymACT was held May 14-15 in Mesa, Ariz.)
“I’m grateful for all he has done for the sport of men’s gymnastics. He really has changed the sport completely, and kind of saved it, in a way,” Harrison said.
An attempt to reach Barclay was unsuccessful.
Harrison, who also identifies as nonbinary, says their teammates were supportive of them at nationals. Two of them said they would boycott the tournament if Harrison was taken out of the lineup.
Ultimately, Harrison decided to remove their makeup, though a team manager did provide them with some eyeliner and lip gloss.
“Our whole team, we worked so hard for this,” they said. “We deserved to have a positive end to the season. All of my teammates, they deserved to finish the season off on a high note.”
Harrison says they’ve held productive conversations with Barclay since the incident. Barclay told Harrison he wanted everybody to be in the same uniform, Harrison says.
While Harrison understands Barclay’s point of view, they still can’t help but feel stifled.
“It’s just hard for me to understand how I went through a whole season without this being a problem, and then we got to two or three days before the national championship, and that’s when it became an issue,” they said.