Living history showed up at Karleigh Webb's Pride game as Fallon Fox watched on. Photo courtesy of Lindsey Pasquale

A funny thing happened to this reporter on the way to a local Pride celebration last weekend. I found out I was named a Women’s Football Alliance second-team All-American.

The weekend before, my team — the Connecticut Ambush — had their Pride Game. I had the honor of leading the team out on the field with the Progress Pride flag aloft, amid blue skies of a late spring early evening and against a scrappy Harrisburg Havoc team looking for an upset.

I had friends in the seats, including a legend. Fallon Fox, yes that Fallon Fox, made the trip down from suburban Boston to see an admirer who had followed her bold lead in the cage do the same on the football field — show up and show out!

video courtesy: TB860 Media

Of course, I had to show off a little bit. On the first two plays of the game, I made both tackles.

After the game, and a season-ending win, I got to meet the legend in person. I also got to hear words I didn’t see coming. The mixed martial arts trailblazer who Outsports’ Cyd Zeigler hailed as “The Bravest Athlete In History” is proud of me.

“I was really proud,” Fox said. “It felt like you were out there taking the torch from me, in a way. Alana McLaughlin took that in MMA and now you are taking it in football.

“It feels good to see transgender athletes still out there.”

Solidarity and sisterhood

On that same night in Columbus, Ohio, three mutual friends took the field in a tussle between the hometown Columbus Chaos and a visiting Pittsburgh Passion team that was unbeaten and playoff-bound.

Teammates Paige Cox (left) and Jacqueline Taylor Cook (right) had a matchup with friend/rival Julie Day (center). Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Passion

On one side was Jacqueline Taylor Cook, one of the best on both lines in women’s football, and teammate Paige Cox. On the other side of the field was Julie “All” Day. Normally, she’s a defensive tackle/linebacker and was an All-American last season.

However, for this first-ever on-field meeting with a WFA Pro team, she would play an unusual position. Due to a number of injuries, Day would be the Chaos’ quarterback.

It was a long, bruising night for a shorthanded second-division team playing a playoff-bound WFA Pro juggernaut. On one play late in the game, Cook steamrolled Day and caused a highlight-reel fumble.

Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Passion

“I got welcomed into the pro level game quickly,” Day said. “My highlight was just getting up after Jacqueline hit me. It was a great time to have the chance to share the field with two amazing people.”

Cook noted: “I’ve been looking forward to this game all season, and ever since Paige I met Julie at the All-American Game last season.

“There were going to be three of us on the field and it would be fun to finally go up against another trans woman. It’s fun to see someone else on the field with similar lived experience and I always wanted that and it’s wonderful.”

The number of trans women playing in the varied women’s football leagues across North America is roughly similar to the percentage of the general population of trans people as a whole. You may find one or two dotting a few rosters.

Recently, I caught up with some others like me who play this game. We all agree that when we can line up with or against each other, the rare times when it happens, it means more.

For Missy Mahoney (52), tackling another trans person was extra special

On May 11, it meant a lot to New Hampshire Rebellion linebacker Missy Mahoney. She peered into an opposing backfield not knowing that when the ball was snapped, she would have a head-on meeting with family.

“I saw you as another player and if you are playing against me, I am going after you,” she said. “When you told me ‘good play, sister’ I thought, ‘holy crap, I’m playing against another trans person!'”

Missy, it meant just as much to me as well.

For Cox, having a friend and teammate in Cook was a lifeline of sorts. Before moving north and joining the Passion, she lived in Orlando, Fla. and played for the Orlando Anarchy, one of the top teams in WFA’s Division III.

The barrage of anti-trans legislation led Cox to move out of Florida. The transphobia met her and Cook earlier this season, with words from opposing players after a game in Florida. Cox stated the incident made her consider leaving the sport, but a supportive team made all the difference.

“They said some horrific things to Jacqui and myself and refused to shake our hands after the game, and I got upset and I just walked away like I was just done with this sport and I didn’t want to do it anymore,” Cox remembered.

“One of our Passion teammates took me off to the side and a group of my old teammates from Orlando, who I didn’t know had shown up for the game until then, were there. Everybody came up and they just said, ‘keep your head up high, you belong on this field’.”

“That was the moment when I realized that I changed people’s outlooks on trans women in sports, especially football,” she continued. “A lot of those people that were used to have differing opinions before they saw me play, before they played next to me or before they saw that there wasn’t really an advantage.

“I had about eight or nine people holding me up on one of the worst nights I’ve had playing football and I will never forget that.”

Sporting the colors after winning a game during Pride. Photo courtesy of Lindsey Pasquale

Playing with Pride through prejudice

While staying focused on our season, we’re also mindful of what could happen and what is happening. High school kids booed at track meets. The legislative barrage that seems endless. The spectre of any of our, or a trans woman’s, gridiron highlights being used as fodder for the anti-trans crowd.

There is also the gloomy thought of which governing body will be the next to say we can’t play. “I don’t even know how many years we will be able to do this, to be honest,” Fox noted.

The great thing about being out on the field is that you can lose those thoughts and worries for a little while. You can just play and it’s even better when you don’t have to justify your place on it.

To have a chance to play and defeat a team that has defined excellence for a decade. Cook and Cox’s Passion did that with a win over a Boston Renegades unit seeking a sixth straight WFA Pro championship. Cook’s contributions included a blocked field goal and anchoring a goal-line stand late in the game.

To know that your teammates are there with you. As an emergency quarterback facing long odds, Day noted how much her team lifted her up. “Coming off the field after a couple of turnovers, my teammates were like, ‘hey, you are stepping up so stop beating yourself up and try to have some fun here’,” she said.

“It was special to have that moment that even though we lost 63-0, it was a solidarity moment that we were all in it together.”

To have the chance to do something for the first time. “I had my first quarterback sack ever in the WFA this season,” Mahoney said. “I still hear my teammate Selina Collins screaming my name from the sidelines.”

To have an entire team celebrate your first touchdown of the season and to have the team owner say “we’re glad you are a part of this family.”

That happened to me and to us, just because we had the chance — and that always matters.