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How soccer has helped OL Reign’s Quinn find joy in their body

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Quinn is making soccer a space where they’re in control of and get to enjoy their body.

Chicago Red Stars v OL Reign Photo by Jane Gershovich/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Canadian national team and OL Reign midfielder Quinn became the first NWSL player to publicly come out as trans last September. Though they’ve always used soccer as a means of connecting with their body, they’ve found newfound confidence in the acceptance and support from their teammates.

The “look good, feel good, play good” saying isn’t new to the world of sports, but Quinn said they’ve found it reflects their experience navigating professional soccer as a trans person. “I’m finding that the more comfortable I can be in my body — whether that’s demanding that my team get me a different pair of shorts for training, or whatever the case might be, for some people it’s physically transitioning — that has been so powerful to me,” they said.

“And it’s impacted my job and my performance, I think, being more comfortable in my own skin and demanding these spaces be ones that I can be comfortable in.”

That feeling of connection and power within their own body feels antithetical to the number of anti-trans bills introduced in state legislatures this year, largely proposing laws to limit trans youth from participating in sports and deny trans kids access to gender-affirming healthcare. Given that American ideas of femininity are constructed around whiteness, these bills will almost certainly target Black and Brown trans girls.

“It’s the ultimate control that someone can put on you,” Quinn said, “the control of your own physical body.”

The regulation of trans bodies and the spaces that trans people can inhabit perpetuates the idea that trans people are unworthy of safety, existing in the public sphere or the euphoria of gender-affirming healthcare. “The more that we can fight against those and let folks have control of their own body and see the joy their own body brings— I think it’s scary for people who are trying to oppress the trans community to see a bunch of trans people thriving and owning their stuff,” Quinn said.

Trans people pushing back and embracing themselves in whatever capacity feels comfortable is powerful on a personal level, too. “It’s so empowering and freeing to know that every day I put a piece of clothing on that I truly love,” Quinn said. “I’m not doing it because I feel like— I mean, I feel pressure to look cool every day. But I feel like being confident in my masculine self, I get to explore femininity again in ways that I didn’t feel the same pressure as identifying as a woman.”

They said they paint their nails, but it’s something they do with an awareness of how they want to present themself rather than societal norms around what a woman should be. That knowledge ties into the idea that trans and nonbinary people have to unpack their relationship with gender more than cis people, since they challenge binary and cisnormative ideas around gender through their existence.

“There are questions that trans people are asking that cis people just don’t ask,” Quinn said, “which I think is cool.”

Although they’ve missed the Reign’s past two games with an Achilles injury, they’ve been a huge part of Tacoma’s midfield in the time they saw in the Challenge Cup. They led their team in touches and passes against both the Portland Thorns and the Chicago Red Stars, dictating possession by reading the midfield, getting on the ball and finding their teammates in space.

For Quinn, there wasn’t a set turning point that changed how they interacted with the world as a trans person in sports. But some of that came with being out on the Canadian national team and watching their teammates and best friends work to educate themselves and make the team’s environment more inclusive to trans people, Quinn said. That acceptance dismissed any fears Quinn had — that they wouldn’t be accepted or didn’t belong in a binary sports environment as someone who wasn’t a woman — and helped them build confidence in themself as a person and player.

They said it’s nice to be able to go to training and just focus on the feeling of physically playing a sport. Even if the structures around professional sports are highly gendered — and in a binary way, through the creation of men’s and women’s leagues and the patriarchal hierarchies that exist within that dichotomy — kicking a soccer ball or running sprints isn’t an inherently gendered activity.

“As a trans person, it’s really hard,” Quinn said. “I think I put a lot of focus on my body, and it can bring me a lot of discomfort. So doing something every day that I love to do with my body is a great point of connection, even when there’s that contrast of times that I’m not feeling so amazing in my own skin.”

On a simple, de-gendered level, Quinn told me last year that the reason they play soccer is, much like anyone else in sport, “...to celebrate bodies and to have joy and to express yourself through your body.” Although the pressure that comes with being a professional athlete is different than kicking a soccer ball against a wall as a kid, they said their job is still something they find joy in every day.

“One of the reasons why we all join sports when we’re little is we’re amazed at what our bodies can do,” they said. “I still feel like when I go to practice, and I’m trying a new move, and I execute it, I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, like, how did I just do that?’ That’s pretty awesome.”