Burning the Mask – A Blue Jays Writer’s Announcement

I’m not entirely sure how to start this…

This is going to be the last thing that Ryan Andrews ever writes.

Will it be the last thing I ever write? Probably not. But Ryan is done.

Because I’m not Ryan anymore. Haven’t actually been Ryan for a while. Sure, I still did things in public as Ryan, but it was all a mask. A blurring of my true self.

It feels like I’ve gone over this in my head a million times, thinking of how it would go, how I would lead into something like this. Every time, it’s been different. Different venue, different tone, different year.

In the end, I think it’s best if I’m just blunt about it.

In reality, my name is A.J., and I am a transgender woman.

I should explain fully, as my editor is graciously allowing me to do in this space. Plus then Maxime Bernier and any TERFs reading this will know this isn’t some rapid onset nonsense.

I’ve known for a very long time that I was different compared to other people. I didn’t know what it was at the time, because there wasn’t a lot of information growing up in the 90s in a deeply conservative pocket of Nova Scotia. I was a clever kid but not a very popular one, so I buried myself in my interests. I picked up sports at an early age thanks to some video games that came with a second-hand SNES we got from a relative. Ken Griffey Jr. was my window into a world where narratives erupted and were erased in one swing of the bat. In all honesty, the video games should have been the first sign. I always picked Chun-Li. I always picked Peach. My top picks were always female characters.

As I grew older, my then-small stature combined with my isolation in the Nova Scotia forests meant I rarely got the chance to play sports, so I focused instead on writing about them. I would read the Sports Illustrated magazines that came into the school library every week. One piece sticks out in my mind, released just after I finished high school: a Rick Reilly article back in the days when he was the pinnacle of columnists. He wrote about a friend and fellow sportswriter, Mike Penner, who made the decision to come out as a transgender woman and continue writing as Christine Daniels. He talked about meeting her at a book signing and not recognizing her. It wasn’t a great article, with some flippant dismissals of pronouns and questionable terms like “Extreme Makeover” used to describe the process of transitioning, but it was a groundbreaking entry, highlighting transgender issues in the sports world. However, even in 2007 it was incredibly difficult to be an out transgender woman, especially in the testosterone-filled world of sports writing. The pressure was too much. By the end of 2008, Christine went back to being Mike. By 2009, Mike was dead. I remember reading Reilly’s second piece after that on ESPN. How Christina Kahrl believed that trying and failing to be Christine killed Mike. How being so open and so public with everything ended up crushing her as she was trying to spread her wings. It was a tough lesson.

Around that time, I had washed out of university. The sharp introvert had burned out pretty hard, drinking to forget a lot of problems. Around the same time, I started writing fiction with some people I had met online. It helped keep me sane and gave me something to work on while sports was forced to the backburner as I tried to get my life back together. I kept it up when I was back in university, but as I started writing outside of myself and more into other characters, a trend emerged. I wrote female a lot, and I was better at writing female characters than male ones. It was at the point where I was disappointed if I actually had to write a male character to make sure the gender ratios were even. I didn’t really know what it meant.

I can remember the day I realized it though. It was an overcast March day, the weekend after St. Patrick’s in 2013. I sat on my bed for two hours in an almost meditative state, trying to figure out what exactly everything meant. At this time I was very aware of transgender people. I even had a friend who was transgender. So that entered play. And as I was going through it all— the unhappiness with my identity, the desire to be recognized and accepted as female, the disassociation with my own body— everything kinda clicked. The egg had realized it was an egg. But the egg also knew what happens to eggs when placed in the wrong environment.

So I kept it to myself for the moment. At that point, I was a 24-year-old English major with no job prospects, no place to live after the next month, and no money. It wasn’t the time to be undertaking major life changes, or so I rationalized. This is a pattern: my ability to rationalize things and put them off, especially when they’re so difficult. I bottled it up inside, only indulging in that knowledge when I was by myself. I didn’t even tell anyone else until a year later.

Shockingly, alcohol played a role in delivering that first crack in the shell. I was walking home with my brother from a bar trivia night, and in between the bus stop and the apartment, I started crying. I can’t even remember what the exact trigger was, but he eventually drew the cause of my breakdown out of me. I told him I wasn’t a man. I was a woman.

He didn’t believe me. He thought it was just drunken ramblings.

I went to bed and we didn’t speak about it for a while.

It stayed with me though, and I kept thinking about it. I definitely felt it was more than drunken ramblings.

About six months later, I told a second person. A friend of mine from that writing circle from university. They were more accepting and receptive. They were the first person to call me A.J., a name I had picked out for myself long ago. Whenever I started a new Pokémon game and instantly picked the female character, A.J. was my go-to name. It represented me so well. I now know what A.J. actually stands for, but that’s not for public knowledge.

Because it wasn’t time to go public. Not for a 26-year-old shelf stocker with no health insurance who was living paycheck-to-paycheck in a house with five others. There was no feasible way to do it. Not in my rational mind.

The next year, I was accepted into the Sports Journalism program at Centennial College. By that time, I met my current partner. Things started relatively slow but grew serious when the time came for me to prepare to move to Toronto. She wanted to know if she should commit to this relationship, even though there would be some distance between us. So I rationalized that if she was going to make that decision, she should know everything. So she became the third person I told.

She didn’t immediately kick me out of her apartment. I took that as a good thing. We are still together after all this time, and she has been a great source of love and support.

But as I started that program, the Penner parable still rang in my head. You know what happened there. They will do that to you too. Best to keep it to yourself. The rational side of me found another reason to stay in the closet.

That year of Sports Journalism was one of the best years of my life. I did things I never would’ve done in Nova Scotia. I went to Florida and talked to actual Blue Jays prospects at Spring Training. I attended a Mike Babcock press conference after Auston Matthews’ first taste of NHL action. I went to Brazil and covered the Paralympics.

But when the time came to get an internship, I couldn’t nail one down to save my life. My rational self had this planned out: complete the course, get a job in the industry through the internship, get health insurance, work for a couple years establishing myself, then drop the mask and be who I truly was. If I was failing at the first hurdle, then I didn’t have a chance at any of the happiness after. Thoughts of suicide crept in, of just sticking my head in front of one of the TTC buses that raced down Pape Avenue on the way home. I called my professor and had a breakdown in his office, bawling that I had wasted everything.

He put me in touch with the school counselor. She thought she was dealing with a stressed-out student on the verge of a complete meltdown. She was in for a shock when she became the fourth person and first total stranger I ever trusted with the secret of A.J.

But that was a turning point. It felt so good to actually talk about it and get it out in the open. To have someone who didn’t know me as anything else refer to me as A.J. The egg hatched a little more. The mask had a crack in it.

A few weeks later, a certain orange puffball won the election down south, towing with him an avowed anti-LGBTQ vice. The next day I told the rest of the writing group why I wouldn’t be coming to America any time soon. And then I stopped counting the people who knew on my fingers. It turned out I was a trailblazer. Two more transgender women later emerged from that group.

I found a job back home:, a full-time job, one with health insurance. One that allowed me to talk to counselors and psychiatrists to help work through just what keeping this all a secret was doing to me. They encouraged me to stop bottling everything inside and start exploring my feminine identity more, even if it was something as simple as putting on nail polish. Which I did. Which eventually led to my parents finally learning the truth about their first child. Again, they didn’t believe me at first. I don’t know what it is about my family that makes them distrust me so much, but the growing exuberant side of me didn’t care now if they didn’t fully accept it. They told me in the past to do whatever makes me happy. So I took their advice. They have come around since then.

I met other transgender people in my area for the first time, and joined my first support group. I borrowed a pair of my partner’s pants when I went. I still go back semi-regularly and talk to some of the people I have met there. It’s been a critical resource. More cracks appeared in that painted-on eggshell I was using as a mask.

That full-time job I have is in the sports data field, and has a 98% male-to-female ratio on the floor where I work. But I still told my boss when I needed some assurances that I’d be able to start progressing on my transition. He admitted he had never met a transgender person before, but he’s a good man and has been working to accommodate me throughout the process. The cracks started getting wider.

A friend of mine on baseball Twitter connected me with a different social media site, a place where I could use my real identity for the first time and interact without having the mask on at all. It felt so good just to be myself in a social space. It was very liberating.

Because of those interactions, I started getting bolder. I stopped using he/him pronouns whenever I wrote about myself, both here and on the Locked On Jays descriptions. I told the editor of this site why I didn’t want to commit to a new email address. He understood and accepted me and has been a great ally for this process. He kept using my mask name on the podcasts because I wasn’t ready to go public, even though both of us would have preferred using A.J. He supported me when I told the rest of the staff at Jays From the Couch. They were all supportive. Because this is a good crew here. I am so thankful to be a part of it.

On January 3, 2019, I began hormone replacement therapy (HRT). It was something I had been working towards for years. When I started, it was like a cloud had instantly been lifted from my head. The permanent depressed disposition that had infused a lot of my social actions had melted away to something more neutral. More natural. More… me.

On Transgender Day of Visibility this year, I couldn’t fully participate because the mask was still on, but I did tell my university friends, the ones I went with to so many bar trivias. I let them in on the truth: the first group who had known me from before. None of them shunned me. One friend told me I was the third person to come out to them that day. One of them even re-established contact after some time away. Hope grew, the mask started to fall off.

I stopped forcing my voice deeper whenever I was talking about sports. It was subtle at first, but if you compare the first episode I did of Locked On Jays to the later episodes I’ve done, it’s like going from listening to a cement mixer to listening to Carly Rae Jepsen. I’m actually very fortunate among transgender women that I can hit a feminine register with my voice, even if it doesn’t always translate through the recordings.

Where I face the biggest battle in my day-to-day life is my size. Mike Penner was 6’3” when he came out. I’m taller than him. It’s a pain to try and find clothes that actually fit my frame, especially when I’m in the early stages of figuring out what that frame will eventually be. But I’ve done a pretty good job. Most of my wardrobe has been converted, even if it’s mostly feminine jeans and tops and hoodies at this point. Not much of a change, but still infinitely more comfortable.

I think that’s one of the main things I wanted to put out there as part of this coming out article. Yes, I am changing a lot of things. But I’m still going to be me. A better version of me. One that can be more open. One that doesn’t have to feel they have to hide away in fear of what the outside world thinks. Me, just under a new label.

I don’t want that label to be everything, though. I want to be a good sports podcaster who happens to be transgender, not “that transgender sports podcaster”. But, I know that it’s going to be unavoidable. I can still count on my fingers the number of transgender sportswriters that I know about. Hopefully I can help change that. I have been told that my podcasting style is appreciated because I am willing to tell the truth, no matter how good or bad it is. Imagine how much better I’ll be at it when I am truthful about myself at the same time.

Nobody needs to feel the fear I felt for so many years, trying to be myself. Despite what the rest of the world seems to want people to think.

In the six weeks prior to preparing my thoughts in this piece, there have been multiple instances of sports and gender blurring together. The Caster Semenya story— about being barred from certain women’s competitions because of her body— was a huge talking point. Women, especially white women, couldn’t help but pile on in the effort to get Semenya banished to men’s competitions. She was too good, so it was determined she must be a man. Pure nonsense, but sports doesn’t like it when things don’t fit into one of two neat categories.

In baseball, transgender writer Sheryl Ring helped break the story of the Cubs, the biggest garbage organization in MLB, and their attempts to do spin doctoring on Addison Russell’s return, as if he didn’t verbally, emotionally and physically abuse the mother of his child for years. They wanted him to be portrayed as “redeemed”. Sheryl, along with Bill Baer and Mike Gianella, all reported on it, but Cubs VP of Communications Julian Green’s lone target in his media diatribe was Sheryl, and the Cubs fanatics desperate to get Russell’s subpar bat back into the lineup oozed out of their hiding holes and posted unspeakable things to any inbox they could find. Sheryl had to drop her pen for a bit until the sub-human trolls got bored and moved on. Thankfully, she is still active and moving on to bigger and better things.

That’s the final reason why I have to come out now. I’m tired of watching as other transgender writers I follow on Twitter take the brunt of the punishment from trolls that know nothing other than hate and fear. I know they live among the Blue Jays fandom as well. One account with 3,000 followers who used the Blue Jays brand tweeted the idea of adopting Brunei’s draconian capital punishment system for LGBTQ people. That account is still active on Twitter, even after mass reportings from concerned Jays fans. The account quotes verses from scripture, as if that makes it somehow justified in its behaviour.

That hatred burns even brighter in this day in age, the flames fanned by people who only know hate and only want to punish people they can’t control. Today’s content curators—Twitter, Facebook, YouTube—give that fire a platform in the name of “free speech” and profit. Even now, my rational mind keeps telling me that I don’t have to do this— that I could keep silent, change my display name and go on my merry way. That I can keep the Ryan mask and just use that for sports and public appearances. But I know better. I look and feel less and less like a Ryan with each passing day.

Besides, I’m ready to join the fray now. I want to join the fray. When I first realized I was transgender, I probably wouldn’t have taken it so well if I had emerged publicly. I was still fragile, still fearful of criticism from other people. The second I came under attack to the level of some of the absolutely hateful trash I’ve seen thrown at other people, I probably would have followed in Mike Penner’s footsteps and found some way to end my life.

Putting off my transition for so long gave me time to harden. To steel myself for any possible attacks that may be hurled at me like a Josh Towers fastball, and to crush those attacks much like hitters crushed Josh Towers’ fastball. All this time on the sidelines has strengthened my resolve to finally be myself. To make my dreams happen. To go on Jeopardy and knock some of the cyborg’s scores down the list. To find a pair of cute shoes that fit my massive feet. And finally, to keep talking baseball with y’all, and to do so without any kind of mask in the way. Because if my hallmark is going to be speaking truth to power when it comes to baseball, then it needs to be completely unfiltered.

So that’s the way it’s gonna be, and if I have to be the one to take some bullets so other people can be comfortable enough to be themselves, then so be it.

My name is A.J. Andrews, and this woman is going to keep doing what she does best: talking about the Blue Jays.

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