PORTLAND, Ore. — The soccer coach appeared out at two dozen or so of his gamers and felt nervousness course via him like a rip present. His coronary heart pounded, and his voice felt unsteady.
Kaig Lightner (pronounced “Cage,” a phonetic shortening of his initials — Okay and J) had been pondering of this second for the reason that summer season of 2013 when he based the Portland Community Football Club, a program for instructing soccer to largely 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 good friend, 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 all the time 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 vp, Mike Pence, had opposed homosexual rights and was seen as supporting conversion remedy — had ignited a way of foreboding and uncertainty throughout the lesbian, homosexual, bisexual and transgender. neighborhood. Lightner actually felt it. He apprehensive that the gamers — tweens and teenagers on this afternoon — would depart his membership. Or that their households would minimize ties, irrespective of how good this system had been at mentoring and offering a secure house to develop up in.
Lightner thought-about 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 needs to be who we’re.”
One participant chuckled nervously however walked to Lightner for a hug. Most appeared straight at their coach in a type of marvel and awe.
Born Katherine Jean Lightner and raised in a cushty suburb east of Seattle, nothing about Lightner’s adolescence was straightforward. Lightner, who consented to using his former identify and gender identification 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 costume. He wore it as soon as, then vowed to by no means put on it once more.
As the years went on, Kate favored dishevelled pants, sweats, billowing T-shirts and baseball caps turned backwards. A favourite birthday present was a vibrant pink Michael Jordan baseball jersey.
“The means she offered, she did not seem like a typical woman,” recalled Leslie Ridge, a good friend 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 inside 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 house.”
Sports grew to become a refuge.
An wonderful softball, basketball and soccer athlete, Lightner discovered that on fields and courts he might 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 youths between 8 and 14 on a crew that originally appeared a lot the identical because the white, prosperous ones on which Lightner had grown up taking part in.
After altering his identify to Kaig, Lightner approached a fellow soccer coach he thought to be a reliable good friend and defined that this was a primary step in direction of changing into a person.
The response was laughter.
“It did not take me lengthy to appreciate that teaching as an out trans particular person at the moment, within the years round 2005, ’06, ’07, was simply not going to work,” Lightner mentioned. “I used to be not going to be secure.”
Lightner left teaching for some time. He flew to Baltimore for breast elimination surgical procedure and commenced weekly periods 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, residence to town’s inhabitants of immigrants from Africa, Mexico, Central and South America, and Asia.
Lightner shortly noticed that the plentiful sports activities alternatives within the metropolis’s wealthier communities barely existed for the youngsters he was now working with. He had all the time felt like an outsider and now noticed that the gamers he coached — the kids of working-class immigrants in one in all America’s whitest cities — considered themselves in a lot the identical means. Considering how he might finest assist, Lightner centered on what had saved him going via all these years of adolescent anguish.
“Soccer had been my primary means of discovering therapeutic and connection, and I needed that for these youngsters, too,” he mentioned.
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 received minimize. Lightner emphasised growing expert gamers greater than turning out stars. Families paid $50 to affix, however lower than that was OK. Not paying a dime was effective, too.
At his first apply, 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 grew to become a continuing in our lives,” says Shema Jacques, one of many program’s early stalwarts. Jacques, now a 22-yr-outdated Marine, first picked up the fundamentals of soccer in a Rwandan refugee camp however honed his recreation at PCFC “From the beginning, I might inform he believed in us. He can 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 apply.
“I would like you guys to learn about me, and I additionally need you guys to know that I’m nonetheless me,” he mentioned. “I’m nonetheless the identical particular person 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 while you’re not taking part in exhausting, loves you it doesn’t matter what.”
He noticed nothing however acceptance as he appeared into his gamers’ eyes. One of them was Jacques.
“Suddenly, listening to that, all of it made sense,” Jacques mentioned. “This is why he is aware of what it’s like for therefore many people — not being accepted, making an attempt exhausting to slot in. I really felt extra related to him as he spoke, and I’m not alone. He was nonetheless the particular person I appeared as much as and needed 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 obtained a grant that allowed PCFC to supply its households with recent 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 folks be a part of, and they’ll 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 particular person, however that modifications nothing. Everybody is welcome right here.’”