Enter Jamie Neal, who I have been following on twitter for as long as I've had my account. Jamie gives informed news and educated opinions about all Bay Area sports for BaySportsNet.com as well as writing and co-hosting the 4th and 9 podcast. Up until April 6th however, Jamie was known to all of us on twitter as Jason. On April 10th, Jason and I were interacting on twitter about the 49ers, as usual, when I noticed a different profile picture peering back at me, and then the altered handle. I went back through Jamie's timeline and read all of the notes of encouragement and finally found the answer to my questions: Jamie had come out publicly about being transgender.
Her story is one about feeling different and out of place and then having the incredible courage to go public with the lifestyle that makes her who she is. As if this decision isn't tough enough on its own, the potential repercussions of owning theses choices in the male dominated profession that is sports reporting, loom large.
The link to her story:
I had wonderful opportunity to 'chat' with Jamie via text:
Q. Was there a particular event that triggered you coming out?
A. Not one event per se. I got really tired of worrying about whether people would see my nails in a picture or that I'd meet someone in person and they'd out me because of my nails or makeup or nose piercing. I figured it was time to own who I am.
Q. Is there a person that you look up to/mentor/role model, public figure or personal friend that has inspired you during this evolution?
A. As for famous people, the way Sophia Bush conducts herself in terms of supporting and encouraging women was a huge part of it for me. Watching Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera come out and be true to themselves, that was inspiring.
As for friends, and family, my mom was amazing. She set standards I can only hope to reach. My ex girlfriend has been super supportive and has been a great resource and outlet for me as one of the people I know I can turn to for advice or to vent. My friends Lindsay, Kim, Scott, Megan, Jason, Renee, James, Jenn, Meagan, Kayla, Bertha, Isaac, Karen, Shaylene, Janessa, Danielle, Stephanie, Alex, Bridget, Shannon, Loni and I'm sure there are more, have been super encouraging in terms of taking my time, doing it the right way, but gently pushing me to better myself and be true to myself. They have all been there to let me vent, show me tips and tricks, to encourage me when I was feeling beat up or like I wasn't enough. I really do have the best people in the world surrounding me and I'm so thankful for that.
Q. What is your first memory of knowing you were different?
A. I remember being about five years old and playing dress up with the girls that babysat me while my parents were at work. Around eight years old I asked my friend Janessa to do my makeup like hers.
Q. Did you like sports and participate in them out of necessity or did you truly love them in your childhood?
A. I learned to love them, but it was mostly out of necessity.
Q. Your involvement in sports now, is it genuine love?
A. Absolutely. I have learned to love the teams, the players, the skills it takes to accomplish the things that these guys and gals do. I became very competitive and love the camaraderie that is only built between athletes on a team. There is something special that happens when everyone is working towards the same goal, sacrificing for the betterment of everyone and pushing their limits to get everything out of their bodies and talents. That's something I admire and hope to emulate.
Q. Do you have any advice for others who are unsure about coming out as you have?
A. Being true to myself is the greatest thing I've ever done. That said, the timing was finally right for me and I think that's the most important part of this. You'll know when the time is right. You can't force it, but when you're ready, it won't matter who you lose in your life because being you will be more important than any single person. Let me also add that I've never had more love and support from both people who I know, and strangers that I've never met. I was prepared for the worst, but was more than pleasantly surprised when I had friends, family members and strangers encourage me and tell me that they didn't care what I looked like on the outside, all that matters is on the inside. That sounds trite but it's 100% true.
Q. What has been the biggest challenge for you?
A. The fact that I'm 6'2 and that I'll never fit the mold of what society says is beautiful as a woman. It took me a long time to admit that to myself and to accept it. Not that it was ever an option, but just acknowledging that there are more important things than being magazine beautiful (although wouldn't that be nice?). I also struggled with the fact that there are people who simply won't like me because of who I am. I am the type of person who wants to be liked and wants to get along with everyone, but with things like this, there are some people who won't talk about it, don't want to be informed, they just make up their minds and that's the end of it. I struggle because it doesn't make sense to me, but everyone is accountable for their own actions and happiness. I wish them well and know that I've made the choice that allows me to be the happiest.
Jamie does not only worry about what the athletes might think as an interviewee but also what it will be like to simply attend sporting events as a fan. What might people say, especially in the heat of a competitive game when alcohol removes the social filters that keep people's manners in check? Everyone who has attended a live game, or even gone to a sports bar during one, knows what I'm talking about. At NFLfemale we always "keep it classy" and welcome Jamie with open arms. I would happily go to a game with you, (don't forget, I was a professional wrestler), and will stand behind you in all of your endeavors. Welcome to the Sisterhood!