PORTLAND, Ore. — The soccer coach regarded out at two dozen or so of his gamers and felt nervousness course by him like a rip present. His coronary heart pounded, and his voice felt unsteady.
Kaig Lightner (pronounced “Cage,” a phonetic shortening of his initials — Ok and J) had been pondering of this second because the summer season of 2013 when he based the Portland Community Football Club, a program for instructing soccer to principally first- and second-yr gamers. -generation immigrant youth who lived in his metropolis’s most distressed neighborhoods.
In the 4 years since, Coach Kaig had turn into a pal, an ally and even, to a few of his gamers, a father determine.
How would they react as soon as he informed them he had been raised as a lady?
He had at all times requested his gamers to be open and trustworthy about their lives. That he had not modeled such deep honesty stuffed him with regret.
The election of Donald Trump — who had promised to nominate conservative judges and whose vice chairman, Mike Pence, had opposed homosexual rights and was seen as supporting conversion remedy — had ignited a way of foreboding and uncertainty inside the lesbian, homosexual, bisexual and transgender. group. Lightner definitely felt it. He apprehensive that the gamers — tweens and teenagers on this afternoon — would go away his membership. Or that their households would lower ties, irrespective of how good this system had been at mentoring and offering a secure area to develop up in.
Lightner thought of all of this, took a deep breath and knew he wanted to talk up.
“I have never completely shared with you one thing about myself.”
“It’s an necessary factor for me to share with you as a result of all of us must be who we’re.”
One participant chuckled nervously however walked to Lightner for a hug. Most regarded straight at their coach in a form of marvel and awe.
Born Katherine Jean Lightner and raised in a cushty suburb east of Seattle, nothing about Lightner’s adolescence was simple. Lightner, who consented to using his former title and gender id all through this text, remembers a paralyzing concern that started round age 4 that he was a boy caught in a lady’s physique. When his household referred to as him Katie, he protested. It sounded too female. Kate was higher by a shade. He refused ballet classes. His mom purchased him a tailor-made gown. He wore it as soon as, then vowed to by no means put on it once more.
As the years went on, Kate favored saggy pants, sweats, billowing T-shirts and baseball caps turned backwards. A favourite birthday reward was a shiny purple Michael Jordan baseball jersey.
“The approach she offered, she did not appear to be a typical lady,” recalled Leslie Ridge, a pal who attended highschool with Lightner within the Nineties. “And due to that, she was made enjoyable of continually, particularly by boys. It was brutal to see how painful that was for her.”
The bullying taunts and sense of unease ignited a horrible inner storm. “I started to think about myself as a freak,” remembers Lightner. “The feeling was that I do not belong right here. I do not belong in any area.”
Sports turned a refuge.
An glorious softball, basketball and soccer athlete, Lightner discovered that on fields and courts he could possibly be judged solely based mostly on efficiency.
“Sports saved me alive.”
After rowing crew on the University of Washington, Lightner moved to Portland after commencement within the early 2000s. There he coached soccer for teenagers between 8 and 14 on a workforce that originally regarded a lot the identical because the white, prosperous ones on which Lightner had grown up enjoying.
After altering his title to Kaig, Lightner approached a fellow soccer coach he considered a reliable pal and defined that this was a primary step in the direction of turning into a person.
The response was laughter.
“It did not take me lengthy to appreciate that teaching as an out trans individual at the moment, within the years round 2005, ’06, ’07, was simply not going to work,” Lightner stated. “I used to be not going to be secure.”
Lightner left teaching for some time. He flew to Baltimore for breast removing surgical procedure and started weekly classes of hormone alternative remedy. His voice deepened. New layers of muscle wrapped round his shoulders. His jaw grew sq., and his face sprouted the beginnings of a beard.
Eventually, he took a job as an teacher for after-faculty applications within the working-class outskirts of Portland, house to town’s inhabitants of immigrants from Africa, Mexico, Central and South America, and Asia.
Lightner rapidly noticed that the considerable sports activities alternatives within the metropolis’s wealthier communities barely existed for the children he was now working with. He had at all times felt like an outsider and now noticed that the gamers he coached — the kids of working-class immigrants in one among America’s whitest cities — considered themselves in a lot the identical approach. Considering how he might finest assist, Lightner centered on what had saved him going by all these years of adolescent anguish.
“Soccer had been my important approach of discovering therapeutic and connection, and I wished that for these youngsters, too,” he stated.
After a yr of cobbling collectively seed cash, Lightner shaped the Portland Community Football Club in 2013 with grant funding and donated gear from Nike. The membership was a rarity as a result of everyone had a spot. Nobody obtained lower. Lightner emphasised creating expert gamers greater than turning out stars. Families paid $50 to affix, however lower than that was OK. Not paying a dime was nice, too.
At his first follow, held in a worn nook of a public park, 50 youngsters confirmed up. Soon it was 75. Then 100. The membership performed through the winter, spring, summer season and fall.
“Coach Kaig turned a continuing in our lives,” says Shema Jacques, one of many program’s early stalwarts. Jacques, now a 22-yr-previous Marine, first picked up the fundamentals of soccer in a Rwandan refugee camp however honed his sport at PCFC “From the beginning, I might inform he believed in us. He could be there for us for something we wanted. I had by no means skilled somebody being like that earlier than.”
Lightner was open about being a transgender man to everybody in his life besides the gamers and households of PCFC, and the dissonance ate at him. So on that rain-swept day in 2017, he gathered each participant who had proven up for a chat earlier than follow.
“I would like you guys to learn about me, and I additionally need you guys to know that I’m nonetheless me,” he stated. “I’m nonetheless the identical individual I used to be 5 minutes earlier than you all knew this, proper? I’m nonetheless the identical man who comes out right here, will get you guys to be higher soccer gamers, will get on you once you’re not enjoying exhausting, loves you it doesn’t matter what.”
He noticed nothing however acceptance as he regarded into his gamers’ eyes. One of them was Jacques.
“Suddenly, listening to that, all of it made sense,” Jacques stated. “This is why he is aware of what it’s like for therefore many people — not being accepted, attempting exhausting to slot in. I really felt extra linked to him as he spoke, and I’m not alone. He was nonetheless the individual I regarded as much as and wished to be like.”
Six years later, the one factor that has modified about PCFC is its progress. There are extra coaches and a small administrative employees. The roster of registered gamers has swelled to 165. It can also be about extra than simply soccer now. During the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Lightner acquired a grant that allowed PCFC to offer its households with contemporary groceries, rental help and assist tapping into social companies.
“None of the households deserted Kaig as soon as he spoke his reality,” says Carolina Morales Hernandez, whose younger son and daughter have grown up in this system.
“Sometimes individuals be part of, and they’re going to name me and say, ‘We heard this and that about Kaig,’” she provides. “I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, it is true, yep. The head of the PCFC is a transgender individual, however that adjustments nothing. Everybody is welcome right here.’”