• American football is modern-day bullfighting. Athletes are killing themselves for fans’ entertainment and their teams’ profits. It’s not a secret that the majority of former NFL players have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – brain degeneration from repeated head trauma, such as concussions and subconcussive hits.

    I’d love to see the NFL shift from tackle football to flag football, and create a cascading effect through every level of play. Unfortunately, teams are making too much money off their players to make such a drastic change that could risk alienating their audience. From a business perspective, I understand their logic, but from a human perspective, I can’t wrap my brain around a sport where the risk of developing CTE doubles every 2.6 years that some plays contact football.

    Photo by Roy Harryman (Public Domain)

    Fewer Athletes are Playing Football

    While a top-down approach would have yielded fast results at all levels of play, what it appears we’re seeing is a bottom-up change in American football.

    Even before the COVID pandemic, there was a 48% decline in the number of people playing tackle football in the U.S. between 2006 and 2018. These numbers include players ages 6 and over, so it’s not reflective of high school athletes; however, it supports the data that parents are more concerned about preventing concussions, so they’re less likely to allow their kids to play.

    The latest survey from the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) shows that the 2021-22 school year was the first time less than 1 million high school students in the U.S. participated in 11-player high school football. It’s encouraging to see that the number of people playing this dangerous game are decreasing.

    Photo by John Martinez Pavliga (Creative Commons)

    High Schools Don’t Have Enough Players for a Football Team

    At some high schools, the number of students who want to play football had decreased so much that the school doesn’t have enough players to have a team. The total number of high schools with an 11-player football team dropped from 14,247 to 13,733. It appears some of these school shifted to offering 6-, 8-, or 9-player football instead, but others dropped teams completely.

    This past fall, there were multiple high schools that started their football season and had to cut the season short because they didn’t have enough players. Holland High School in Michigan ended its varsity football season after only 4 games. The roster was filled with sophomores when few upperclassmen went out for the team. When the coaches noticed the substantial different between their players’ size and skill development compared to their opponents, they shortened the football season due to the risk of injury.

    Likewise, Bellevue High School in Ohio cancelled the remainder of its varsity football season due to a “limited number of healthy players.” There were only 20 players on the varsity team, 2 of which had suffered concussions, and the senior captain was playing while wearing a cast.

    Alleman High School in Illinois has already cancelled its varsity football 2023 season due to low student participation. The varsity team had 30 players in fall 2022, including 10 graduating seniors. The school won’t have a varsity team in the fall due to their concern for the health and safety of the remaining players.

    Photo by Phil Roeder (Creative Commons)

    There may be additional factors that are contributing to decreased participation in high school football, such as the decrease in population of high-school-aged children, the decline in enrollment at rural high schools, budget constraints at schools, and players deciding that football isn’t worth their time if they don’t get much playing time.

    Is Football Taking Advantage of the Disadvantaged?

    Where high schoolers are more likely to continue to participate in football is in rural areas and where it’s culturally ingrained for youngsters to participate in tackle football. A study also found that black Americans and people will no more than a high school education were not as negative about tackle football compared to white people and people with a college education.

    “For less-advantaged people, football is seen as one of the only ways they can get ahead in society, which may explain why they support it for kids.”

    Reading this made me wonder if American football will turn into a sport where the educated and the wealthy won’t play, but rather take advantage of the fact that some people are willing to risk their brains and their lives in the hopes of creating a better future for themselves and their families. This prospect makes me sad, and a little sick.

    Photo by Johnny Silvercloud (Creative Commons)

    Football Participation is Down But Viewership Isn’t

    While people are not playing football as much, there doesn’t appear to be a decrease in people watching it. In the U.S. alone, 112 million people watched the Super Bowl in 2022.

    As we’re seeing a decrease in the number of people playing tackle football in high school, I wonder if these people will be less likely to want to watch it as adults. I wonder if parents limiting their kids to only playing flag football as children will lead to a demand from fans to shift the NFL to flag football as well. While I would love this change to happen instantly, I suspect this type of shift will take generations to occur.   

    Photo by Ryan Johnson (Creative Commons)

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  • Misgendered for Medical Care

    I use an LGBTQ-friendly doctor’s office. They even provide trans-specific medical care, including prescribing hormones for trans men and women. Their website says, “We strive to provide judgement-free, affirming care that allows our patients to live healthy, authentic lives.” If anyone understands how important it is to address patients appropriately, it’s my doctor’s office.

    But even the most gender-affirming medical practice can fall short of providing quality care to all its patients because they can’t overcome the fact that health insurance forces non-binary people to lie about their gender to maintain coverage.

    Photo by Terry Ross (Creative Commons)

    Here’s What Happened

    I recently made an appointment for some routine bloodwork. Shortly after I hung up the phone with the receptionist, I received an email that directed me to download an app to use to receive messages and results.

    “Sure, whatever,” I thought. I downloaded the app to my phone. When I logged in for the first time, I saw the disheartening information across the top:

    Ruth Carter, 43, Female

    I was instantly hit with a gut-punch of disappointment.

    I spent the rest of the day feeling frustrated and dejected, once again reminded that I live in a binary-centric society, that often doesn’t acknowledge that I exist.

    The System is Broken

    I assume the app is connected to my doctor’s office, which is connected to my health insurance, which says I’m female. (Grrr…) I would not be surprised if the developers who created the app have no idea that non-binary people are being discriminated against.

    Hang on. Let me go send them an email.

    We’ll see if I get a response.

    I get it. Most people are cisgender. Their genitals match their gender from birth. Even trans men and women are having an easier time updating all their records to accurately state their gender.

    Non-binary people make up only 2% of the U.S. population. Two percent doesn’t sound like a lot, but it equates to over 1.2 million people.

    Until the Social Security Administration adds the non-binary gender option, health insurance plans will continue to exclude us along with software, systems, and policies for designed to support the practice of medicine.  

    Even if there’s nothing that can be done to change my gender in the app from what’s on my health insurance, it would have been nice, when my doctor’s office sent me the email inviting me to download the app, if they included a note like:

    Hey, we know you’re non-binary. However, this app can only use the gender specified on your health insurance. We want to give you a heads up that that’s what you’re going to see every time you log on to the app, and we’re sorry.  

    My Lucy Jane – I love this pup.

    Going to the Appointment

    The night before my appointment, I was ready to walk in, be polite but short with everyone, stick my arm out, and try to get through it as fast as possible. Thankfully (for all of us), I mellowed a bit overnight and was in a better mood by morning.

    With my dog in tow (yes, Lucy Jane is an emotional support dog who goes where I go), I went to the appointment, and the staff was lovely as always – friendly and thorough, and they didn’t give me a hard time when I said I don’t get on scales.

    I mentioned how the app misgenders people like me, and the nurse agreed it was so frustrating, especially given the type of practice they have. That was the right answer. She did not make a single excuse or try to downplay the issue.  

    Maybe it’s Not So Bad

    After my appointment, I began to wonder if I over-reacted about the app misgendering me. I was especially happy because my blood pressure is 98/62 and my defective heart (born with a PFO) is still pumping perfectly.

    The next day, I received a message asking me to provide feedback on my appointment. I clicked on the link, and it took me to the app where I saw it again:

    Ruth Carter, 43, Female

    Ugh. I immediately felt like shit.

    When I filled out the survey, I told them that I’m less likely to refer people to my doctor’s office because I feel like shit every time I open the app and it misgenders me. As a non-binary person, it matters that I’m perceived and addressed as the person I am. (I’m sure that’s true for everyone.) Maybe it’s even more important for non-binary people since we’re regularly excluded and/or misgendered by so many people, systems, and institutions.

  • When Your Adult Child is Trans

    Last year, two of my cis-hetero friends told me that their college-age child recently came out trans. I immediately shifted into protective Oggy Ruth* mode and wanted to protect all of them and make sure they had the resources they might need.  

    Photo by Ted Eytan (Creative Commons)

    Free Mom Hugs

    Free Mom Hugs was started by Sara Cunningham who is the mom of a gay son. Her advocacy started by offering to stand in as anyone mom if their biological mother refused to come to their child’s same-sex wedding.

    Now there are Free Mom Hugs chapters throughout the U.S. Their members often attend pride events wearing “Free Mom Hugs” and “Free Dad Hugs” t-shirts, giving hugs to whoever wants them. It appears to be a great organization for parents who want to be involved and show support for the LGBTQ community.

    Photo by Hayley Tschetter (Creative Commons)

    Trans Education from Jammidodger

    Jamie Raines is a bisexual trans man in the UK. He also has a Ph.D. in psychology and dissertation on something related to transgender people.

    Jamie has a YouTube channel, Jammidodger, where he talks about and responds to a wide range of topics related to LGBTQ issues. He’s also been quite open his experiences taking testosterone as well as having top and bottom surgeries. Jamie also does videos where he responds to transphobic statements made by well-known people.

    One thing I appreciate about his channel is when he responds to transphobic statements, he cites studies that support what he’s saying, so he’s not just telling his opinion, but providing evidence.

    Where to Buy Clothes

    One issue I had to deal with when embracing my non-binary gender is figuring out what size I wear in men’s clothing. I also wanted to try different looks, and I didn’t want to buy a bunch of stuff online, knowing I’d have to send most of it back because most menswear doesn’t fit an estrogen-generated body.

    The place I first felt welcome to try on whatever I wanted was Buffalo Exchange. The staff is open to all types of people, and they don’t care what you want to try on. The only downside of Buffalo Exchange is they have dressing rooms labeled for men and women. I’ve also had good experiences trying on men’s pants at Lululemon and Eddie Bauer.

    If you’re lucky, you live in or near a city that has a clothing store that specifically caters to trans people, like Margie’s Closet in Cleveland, Ohio. 

    Where to Get a Haircut

    Not everyone feels comfortable getting their hair cut if they want a style that doesn’t conform to the gender they were assigned at birth. Thankfully, there’s the website Strands for Trans. It helps people find trans-friendly salons and barber shops.

    Photo by Ted Eytan (Creative Commons)

    How to Legally Change Your Name and Gender

    I’ve worked with several parents who needed guidance while helping their adult trans child legally change their name and gender. The process is not rocket science, but it can seem overwhelming at times with the various forms. It’s also easy to get confused about the order in which you have to update everything.

    Legally changing your name requires a court hearing. Check the county court where the child lives for information and the forms needed to change their name.

    Thankfully it’s much easier to change your gender on your passport. It’s just a matter of applying for a new passport and select their correct gender – no additional proof needed. If they’re a trans man or trans woman, they can just as easily update their social security record.

    Once they have their new passport, they can likely get their corrected driver’s license. If they want to correct their birth certificate too, contact the Office of Vital Records where they were born and them what documents they’ll need.

    Where to Ask for Help

    While there are plenty of resources for trans people and their families, they can also look to Reddit for help from strangers on the internet. There are subreddits for trans people, trans men, trans women, nonbinary people, and LGBTQ people. There’s even a subreddit to ask transgender people questions.

    If your trans kiddo has a question about sex or relationships, they may want to check out advice columnist Dan Savage and the Savage Love podcast. If he hasn’t addressed your kid’s concern to date, they can call or email him with their question.

    Dan and his partner also started the It Gets Better Project, which is an incredible place where LGBTQ people share their stories and messages of hope. Speaking of it gets better, if your kid is ever having a “baby trans” moment where they feel small, scared, or discriminated against, here’s a song that might help: It Gets Better by Rebecca Drysdale.

    How to Protect Yourself

    I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t mention this, and I’m really sorry this is how it currently is in the U.S., but violence against trans people is disturbingly high, especially trans women of color. There have also been mass shootings at gay night clubs, including at Pulse in Orlando in 2016 and Club Q in Colorado Springs in 2022.

    Your kid may want to take some preventative measures like taking a self-defense class or carrying something for self-defense like pepper spray or the Go Guarded ring. I own the Go Guarded ring, and I’ve considered getting a bulletproof undershirt, but that thing costs hundreds of dollars.

    Photo by Quinn Dombrowski (Creative Commons)

    * There is no gender-neutral term for aunt/uncle, so I created my own title: oggy. It rhymes with “doggy” and “foggy.”