With any luck, we’re in the final days of an era where headlines trumpet the sexual orientation of major professional athletes. For now, the story of Michael Sam – the NFL prospect who announced he is gay – has dominated the news and raged across social media.
But not all the voices in this story are polarizing. There are emerging leaders promoting a new kind of equality – one where walls are being dismantled with outstretched hands instead of clenched fists.
Christina Kahrl, a native of Carmichael, is one. She is an articulate voice finding a national audience through her work as a baseball writer for ESPN – and as an advocate seeking to soften the still-tough road toward integrating locker rooms marked by homophobia.
Kahrl’s personal story shows a way forward. She is a transgender woman whose career trajectory shot upward once she did as Sam did – once she stopped hiding who she was.
“All the stuff I’ve achieved, I’ve achieved as a trans woman instead of as a straight guy,” she said. Kahrl grew up in the pastures and parks of suburban Sacramento. Her childhood was happy – “very Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer” – but she knew she was different from the way the world viewed her.
“From the fifth grade, I knew I was in the wrong bin. But I was a kid. How do I explain this?” Kahrl said. “I was supposed to be a girl. I wasn’t supposed to be a boy, but I was stuck.”
Chris Kahrl ran cross-country and track and graduated from El Camino High School in 1985. Then came the University of Chicago and a career in baseball. Alas, many in Kahrl’s position suffered in secrecy and despair.
Kahrl’s story changed in 2003 when she came out. Now 46, she was supported by her family and friends, though some had questions. Her pledge father from her college fraternity wondered if she had been unhappy during those years.
“I said this was one detail in my life I wanted to change but I wasn’t getting a personality transplant,” she said. “You know who I am.”
Today, she is godmother to his child. Kahrl was accepted by her colleagues at Baseball Prospectus, the influential baseball publication she helped start. Her writing landed her a job at ESPN.
The key to understand is: “I am not a trans sports writer. I’m a sports writer and I happen to be trans.”
Her writing is stellar, whether on baseball or equality in sports: See her article at grantland.com about a controversial story that outed another transsexual woman, who committed suicide.
By facing the world openly and by excelling, Michael Sam could knock down barriers as Christina Kahrl has.
Acceptance will come through a meritocracy of achievement. Those with problems will just have to deal with it.
“I don’t demand that people accept me,” Kahrl said. “(But) we have to get it to a more positive conversation, and that means sometimes we have to put ourselves out there.”