This Thank You Thursday goes to an organization you probably have never heard of, but makes our work at GO! possible. Even though we work all across the country, Podio allows us to collaborate and keep all of our network calls, events, panels, and groups running smoothly. Before we were sponsored by Podio, we were handling updates over emails, documents and PDFs in different inboxes which it made it difficult to update each other on what we were working on and what needed to be done. We all agreed that we wanted all of our projects, directories, and documents stored in one place. After using Podio for work, I knew it would be the perfect solution for us. Now we can effectively manage our projects and get more volunteers involved now than ever before. Podio goes above and beyond the businesses they normally serve to sponsor nonprofits and NGOs to ensure they have the same access to tools to run efficiently.
Huge thanks to Podio for helping us reach more athletes, coaches, and fans!
I’m a Texas girl, born and bred. I lived and learned in Texas twenty-one and a half years until August 2013 when I moved 1500 miles to Pennsylvania to pursue graduate school. I truly am a Texan, but I won’t go far as to say I am a typical one. There are a dozen things I could list that make me unique: the impressive amount of damage I’ve done to my left knee in my accident prone life, I own a 1968 Mustang I restored myself, I am ridiculously good at ski-ball, I am gay.
That last fact is not as unique as some, but…I’m a southern girl. And there have been a number of instances that have make it clear that last fact is the rarest and most dangerous I could list. To put it plainly: the conservative parts of Texas I come from are not the places you will see rampant lesbianism. It’s not that they do not exist, it is that it’s never discussed. You won’t see someone with a rainbow pin or two people of the same gender holding hands in my hometown.
Texas is more than a place, it’s a way of life. Texas parents raise children to know that God and family are first. To be caring, respectful, polite, and humble. You work hard, keep at it until the job is done, and you do things right the first time. You say “sir”, “ma’am”, “please” and “thank you”. These are lessons I carry with me. However I was not raised with the idea that I would love people of my same gender; no one was. Heteronormativity is taught and enforced. I had to teach some things to myself.
I heard plenty about “gays” during my raising. Whispers in school, where awareness and fear of “otherness” begins. The kids were far surpassed by the adults in the community, who would whisper rumors of men being gay. My brother and his high school theater guys made sure all their stage make-up was off before they left school for safety reasons, not vanity. I heard “fag”, “dyke”, “fairy”, and others thrown around accompanied by a laugh. I grew up around homosexuality being not only wrong and disgusting, but not accepted practice or a possibility.
It was not until I got to college that I saw people who were not straight my age, or met a woman that was gay. Eighteen years is a long time to go without meeting someone like you. My college was a bubble of diversity and a safe haven, so different from anywhere else. There I eventually became more accepting of myself and my sexuality. It was also the time I first experienced personal rejection. I will never forget the advice imparted by an administrator after I sported a busted lip: “Cait, be careful. You getting punched could just as easy be you getting stabbed.”
In my senior year I sat in a restaurant bar, intending to watch a game on TV. It was one of those crazy, serendipitous moment in life. The bartender and I had been friends for years as children, but I had not seen her in almost a decade. The time slipped away as we fell into familiar camaraderie and got to know one another as adults as she continued to work.
Three guys at the end of the bar did not appreciate our banter, loudly jeering at us, which we ignored. In the parking lot as I was leaving, I heard curses and jeers behind me as the same men yelled and threw every gay slur their minds held at me. I picked up my pace, as I heard the crunch of gravel from many boot clad feet behind me. For the length of a breath I knew exactly what was about to happen.
A hand grabbed my jacket, and I spun. I am a good fighter, I can certainly hold my own, but not against three guys. A hit to my bad knee and I was on the ground, kicking in defense as I tried to get up. Boots struck my back and sides as I protected my head and neck. I fought fiercely, trying to get away. What gets me is I was not flirting for once, and there was no obvious sign of my orientation; I was a girl in a bar. I am reminded that it does not take certainty; perception is as good as confirmation to some. Maybe it was the sports, or the way she and I smiled, or it was the blazer and high tops. All I know is that the word “dyke” still tastes like blood in my mouth.
I am optimistic. I let insults, and negativity roll off my back – but this one didn’t. I remember looking at myself in the mirror two days. My eyes, one of them blackened and swollen, were angry. They swept over the bruises, scuffs, and cuts not covered by clothing. I sighed heavily, and my hand went to my side as pain shot through my abdomen from injured ribs. I did not see that I had held my own, and should be much worse. I looked instead at my angry, almost defeated eyes and thought, “Wow, it finally happened. Someone finally beat the gay out of Cait Graves.” I was done. If all being myself got me was this, then forget it. Internalized hate can do more damage to you inside than anyone can do to your exterior.
I hated myself in a way during that time that I had not before, even when I refused to believe that I could be gay. I thought I had accepted myself previously, but I had not and that needed to change. There comes a point in your life where you acknowledge and accept who you are. It is a rough road and it is fraught, but I did find myself there with a semblance of peace. With this final acceptance I decided that I would not spend any more of my life crashing around, hurting mostly myself. During that time of struggle, I still looked around myself for some role model, someone who was like me. I still wanted that relatable figure to see I was not alone. I knew very few people who were gay and bi, but they were so full of pride that they did not understand reluctance. Even as proud as they were, they were all very careful when outside of the safety of school. Again I found no one that I thought I could talk to, no one like me.
A previous supervisor saw me a few days after the incident, still a mess, and turned my head to a lighter future. She was the person I trusted most, and I knew she wouldn’t be pleased I had gotten myself into trouble, but her response was far from anger. I was met with a simple piece of advice and a dose of pity: Move north. Get out of Texas for a while. I had already applied to grad programs in the north, but the move took on a new meaning. In the end I accepted a graduate position at Kent State, and an assistantship at a school in Pennsylvania. I am a stranger in a strange land here, and I am reminded often how deeply rooted habits are engrained, the perfect example being my constant use of “ma’am” and “sir”.
I live differently here, away from my sweet southern state. I live an out life and that is precious. A friend says well-muscled men are hot, and I sarcastically disagree. I joke so I remind myself what’s changed, where I am, and more importantly who I am. The reminder is sweet, especially when I reflect back. I’m in a different place, but I have changed more than my surroundings.
Do not misunderstand when I describe the south. I’m proud of where I come from, and it is progressive in areas. You can’t tell the difference between Houston and Dallas and any big northern city. I grew up in conservative, faith-influenced areas, where my experience was mostly not hostility, but quiet discomfort and the idea that being gay is not tolerated or practiced. North or South, it is not where you live. The first step in acceptance is being at home in your own skin.
I had a long journey of acceptance, but I hold my head up now come acceptance or negativity. It’s an idea I’m trying to shake, but I still see it as an act of defiance to be gay. I am going against the grain, values, unwritten laws, and convention, by being myself. I am going against the thoughts of so many who would look down on my parents for having a gay daughter. They know the person their daughter is, but I still pray the 1500 miles is enough so it does not leak back. I don’t want them to have the pain I did at one time.
It angers me when people say someone coming out publicly should not be news, that being gay is no big deal, that you should not be nervous when you come out. Non-heterosexuality is not widely accepted everywhere, I think that is clear. I am not a prominent figure in the world, a recognized actress, or in professional sports. I am just a Texas girl who likes other girls. Still, that in itself is important. I know the importance of visibility. To show those that share my thoughts, experiences, or background, they are not alone. To show the teenager watching every LGBT movie and reading every article to get a taste of the community that seems out of their grasp that I was there too. At the end of this difficult journey I am a more solid vessel, and I am uniquely and resolutely myself- A Christian. A writer. An advocate for change. A southerner. A Texas girl. A proud and out gay woman.
Cait has been one of GO! Athletes' fabulous social media interns since September. We're incredibly lucky to be able to work with such a bright, talented person. Thank you, Cait.
My name is Shawn. I am a 23 year old, originally from Easton, Pennsylvania.
You see, I am an athlete as well as a member of the LGBT* community. Although my sport is not considered an NCAA sport, I spent many years dedicated to it. I play wheelchair basketball. I was born with a physical disability and began playing at age 10. From the moment I first stepped into the gym and saw it, I fell in love with the sport. There are not enough words to accurately express the impact that Wheelchair Basketball has had on my life. It gave me a physical and active outlet, while I wasn't able to participate in local/common athletic programs available in my area. It provided me a social group that I could relate to, that were like me, who accepted me for who I was, regardless of disability or physical differences. It gave me motivation, something to work hard for, helped me gain life goals and aspirations. I began playing at age 10, and knew from the time I was 14 that I wanted to then go to college and play at the collegiate level as well. I pushed myself to work hard in school and when I was 18 that opportunity presented itself.
I chose to attend the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, a small state school with a big name in athletics. Known for their championship Division III football team and other athletic achievements, there is also something that Whitewater is known for world wide....Their wheelchair Basketball program. The men's wheelchair basketball program at Whitewater began in the 80's, and has grown to be a name known around the world. They are the Duke or North Carolina of Wheelchair Basketball. However when I chose to attend Whitewater, the women's program was just beginning. My freshman year at Whitewater was the first season for the Women's wheelchair basketball program. We started with just six players and spent most of our first season struggling, to be honest. However, by the time I graduated five years later in 2013, we were two time National Champions. In just five years, we built a championship winning program that is known world wide, just as the men's team is. This past season that just concluded in March, the Whitewater Men's and Women's team both won the National Championship again.
As I enjoyed growing as an athlete and student at Whitewater, I also enjoyed growing as a person, gaining confidence in who I am as a human being. One of the many steps I began taking in college to grow as a person, was to come out as a lesbian. This began pretty quickly once I came to college. I had known and felt it for years, but attended a catholic high school and just wasn't comfortable coming out. At Whitewater it was like a whole new life, I could be whoever I wanted, nobody knew me, I had the chance to create whatever life I wanted for myself. Coming out was a wonderful feeling, just being honest and open with who I am. Not hiding it or feeling uncomfortable talking about it. This extended to my teammates as well. I was able to be open from day one with them. It was never a big deal or some huge team meeting or conversation that needed to happen, it was just sort of known and I talked about females the same as they discussed the males they were attracted to, had crushes on or were dating. This was awesome for me, to have a team full of girls who were totally open and accepting of me. I was also an active member of the student LGBT* organization on campus, and my coach was totally supportive of my activity there outside of basketball.
However, my coming out process wasn't quite done. I spent the next four years of college enjoying life, dating, competing in basketball. But then my fifth and final year of college, things began to change for me again. You see, I had been internally struggling for some time with my gender identity. Outside of knowing that I was attracted to females, there was more to me that I struggled with. But again, was afraid and unsure of coming out. I had never been very much of a "girly girl", never been into dresses, make up, fashion, things like that, things that females are "supposed to be in to". It just didn't fit me. I wanted to shop in the men's section for clothes, talk about sports, have short hair, and be called handsome rather then pretty or beautiful. But I never was able to put words to this, a label to this. However, my fifth year of college, it finally came to the forefront and I was able to outwardly express the level to which I had always struggled with this. It went beyond just not being a girly girl. It was a matter of being uncomfortable, being forced into the box of "female", the expectations and everything that came with that. So around Thanksgiving of my fifth year at Whitewater, I began to come out as Gender Queer. Not transgender, saying that I felt that I was a male, but rather saying that I felt that I belong somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, not just male or female, but a combination of the two. This was by far the hardest experience of my life. I began with just a few close friends, and slowly came out more and more. To friends, family, and eventually my teammates, too. I was a bit nervous to come out to my teammates, as this was something a lot less common then just coming out as gay.
After our season came to a close, resulting in a second national championship, I wrote a letter to all of my teammates, explaining how I identified and what it meant, that I was going to be going from Beth to now being called Shawn, pronouns, everything. I sat anxious as I sent the letter via email out to my whole team, and waited for responses. About fifteen minutes after I sent the email, I got the first text from a teammate....it read "Hey Shawn, I just wanted to let you know that I love you and am so proud of you". That felt incredible. As the day went on, I got more texts and emails, every single one of them was supportive, accepting and full of love. My teammates accepted me totally as I am, nobody struggled or even second guessed any of it. I was a teammate, a member of our Warhawk family, and they were happy for me that I was taking steps in my life to be happy.
That took place about a year ago now, and things have just kept going up. While I have taken this season of basketball off due to some health issues, I still love the sport and plan to return to it. I have kept in touch with my teammates after graduation, and they have continued to support me and be a quiet, loving presence in my journey to find myself and be as happy as possible.
Even though wheelchair basketball, even at the collegiate level, is not a huge, publicized sport that many people know about or support, it is a sport that matters. It is a sport that requires just as much, if not more, dedication, work, time and effort as able bodied basketball or other collegiate level athletics require. So I wanted to share with you my story, a type of story that you may not have heard about so far in your project, as wheelchair athletics are not often recognized. As far as we known, I am the only out collegiate wheelchair basketball player with a non binary gender identity.