Sifting Through the Ashes: A Year After A Blue Jays Writer Burned Her Mask

I remember that brief period in time right after I hit click to publish the article that would officially change my life. The period of limbo in between the action and the result.

I had planned to post it the day before so I could respond to questions if needed, but it was delayed a day to get some final edits in. So in the morning hours of June 18, 2019, I hit publish on it and the short podcast recording I made, dashed off a quick tweet and drove off to work. I had no idea what was going to happen. The optimist in me wanted to believe that there would be some solid responses of support, a couple of unfollows, and people would move on. The pessimist prepared for an onslaught of hate, one that my own festered fears told me was a distinct possibility. For the first half of my shift I worked without even glancing at social media, something that is very tough to do when you work with social media. I finally gave in around 5pm.

I then sat at my desk and cried for an hour. As I struggled to read through all the tweets, the tears continued to fall. I wasn’t even fully out at my workplace yet, so I tried to hide them from my coworkers as best I could. But it was nearly impossible. I was so happy.

Krista, one of my Twitter friends who knew what was going to happen, put it best. “I came to the comment section to virtually fist fight anyone who had anything negative to say. I’m leaving the comment section wishing we could all share a group hug.”

Ah, those precious summer times when the world wasn’t a complete mess.

When I finally came out as a transgender woman on June 18, it almost confirmed everything positive that I thought about the process of revealing my true self to the world. It confirmed I would be much happier when I didn’t have to put on that useless old mask again, that I didn’t needed to hide myself to have a semblance of a career in my chosen field, that people who had doubts about themselves could read it and at least see someone who understood what they were going through and could take a step forward so they could as well.

I didn’t think it would happen immediately, but when someone as prominent in the Canadian sports journalism scene as Scott MacArthur reaches out for experiences with the coming out process, that throws things into perspective in a hurry.

The first few months after finally unleashing A.J. on the world were a giddy blur. I was playing sports again, having joined a rainbow softball league in my adopted home city. I started building my wardrobe and casting aside all my male clothes to be donated to charity. In September, I got to go back to Toronto on my own terms and finally meet some of the people in real life who were so supportive in those times just before the big reveal. Lesley, Shanna, Victoria, people who only knew me online finally got to see how much their help meant to me in person. I got to go to Keegan Matheson, one of my best friends, and give him a big hug for being one of the best allies a girl could have.

But then things changed. It’s my fault. I could have been more prepared for what was to come. Sometimes you see the train light in the tunnel for years, but you still can’t really move out of the way in time. That happened in October, when I became single again.

An adequate representation of what was going on in my head for the rest of 2019. Fires abound.

The partner who I mentioned in my coming out piece last year was very supportive, but at the same time, she knew what she wanted in a relationship, and I definitely wasn’t going to be providing it any time soon. We went to couples therapy, but 10 minutes in, she determined that we weren’t a couple any more. That was that. I completely understand. She is heterosexual. I’m not. Sometimes it’s that simple.

We both grieved in our own ways, but I let it overwhelm me for months. All of a sudden, I felt very alone and the pit of despair that I thought I had left behind instead swallowed me whole. I couldn’t find the energy to do anything. Opportunities that had been given to me because of my article were left wanting because I couldn’t find the effort to get my thoughts in order and type the words.

In addition, I entered a period that I now refer to as the plateau. It’s a time in hormone therapy where the changes that the body undergoes levels off for a period of time. On the other side, it’s understandable, but in that moment, it can be devastating to deal with. A person is left between worlds, knowing the previous gender is left behind but not seeing any progress towards the correct one. When left to compare against others going through the same process, it drives one mad. I stared at myself and grew frustrated that I still saw the man I was trying so hard not to be. The emotional and mental toll of these events tore me up inside. I retreated into myself, not wanting to speak or engage or do anything but sit in my room and cry.

But I had hope for 2020. Hope that was affirmed on New Year’s Eve when the government finally gave me a nod of approval. After 31 years, I finally had my name and gender correctly marked on an official piece of paper. A.J. was no longer a nickname. A.J. became my initials. I went to my brother’s party on a cloud of ecstasy.

The look of a woman who now knows the government sees her as such.

Of course, we now know 2020 is the demon year the Mayans were warning us about and it has been difficult to deal with for everyone. I know for myself, it took away a few things. My now-roommate is heavily susceptible to illness, so I had to be very careful leaving the apartment. Sports were not an option, as my softball league was cancelled and I lost a vital channel that got me out into the world. With no one going outside, I had no need to keep pushing my envelope when it came to being accepted as a woman in public. Instead, I stayed in place and indulged in some of my worst habits that resurfaced under quarantine. Undoing my own work out of self-pity.

But looking back on things now, the corner is beginning to turn. I think I can draw the parallels best with another Blue Jay figure. That would be reliever Tim Mayza. The Blue Jays game I travelled to attend in September ended up being Mayza’s last game of 2019. His arm snapped and hung as he walked off the field. Lesley was heartbroken for the young lefty as we watched him disappear for what was sure to be a year of rehab, the promise of building on a solid 2019 season gone in an instant.

It felt like I got a tear in my brain in October and I’ve been trying to rehab it ever since. There have been instances when I feel like things are healing, and then I get a setback. Sometimes it’s my own mind playing tricks on me. Sometimes that Twitter universe that welcomed A.J. with open arms is the problem.

I said in my article last year that I was tired of seeing so many transgender people that I respected have to take bullets that I should be able to take, and I have willingly waded into those fights. They have resulted in some nasty insults and disrespect. I have been misgendered more online than I have in real life in 2020, and at least in real life it’s not deliberate. I called out one TERF for their usual snipe-and-block tactics that they did to a friend of mine, and brought the wrath of their closed-off kingdom upon me. One prominent account that claims to be a gay ex-cop decided to viciously attack by misgendering me, calling me a homophobe, trying to get me de-platformed and just being an abusive bigot in general. I did what I’m supposed to do and reported said abuse. Twitter decided what he said was A-OK on their platform.

Two weeks later, the world’s most prominent TERF followed him. Like Voldemort beckoning Wormtail to his side. I didn’t want to be on social media for a while.

Eat it, gender-critical bigots.

I should be thankful though. I have seen far more people standing up against that formerly-beloved author’s fear-induced hatred, and against people willing to exploit it for their own gains and that is part of what gives me hope. Creatures in power that are so desperate to maintain the structures of misogyny, racism, homophobia and transphobia that give them the cudgels they wield are finding that the people aren’t going to take it anymore. The lack of respect they showed to the world-at-large is starting to boomerang against them.

If nothing else, there has been a nice coda to my first year of existence as A.J. that has given me hope. The Supreme Court’s verdict upholding the right to not be fired for being transgender was a much-needed win against the powers of bigotry. Even though I don’t live south of the border, I still have many online friends down there, friends I’ve made over the past year that have helped give me a safe refuge, especially in these solitary times. I don’t know how I would have made it through without all those ladies.

The world around me seems to be accepting of me as well. The lingering tensions between my roommate and myself that steeped for years have been relegated to the past and we’ve entered a stage where it is a legitimate friendship between two women, which I will happily take. Over the past week as the province has opened up, I have gone out and people I have interacted with, from bottle depot workers to taxi drivers, have only seen me as the woman I am. With the news today that the bubble has been popped and Nova Scotia is able to open up even more, hope springs that I’ll be able to get back on the softball diamond before the summer is over.

Even with all the depressive things I’ve gone through, overall, I’ve been happier this year than I’ve ever been. Or at least, I have to believe I am, given what my parents and supervisors and other people have told me. I have the freedom to be myself. Even if I can be overly sassy at times, at least now people seem to be able to tell it comes from a place of contentment instead of bitterness. I’ve pierced my ears. I’ve dyed my hair. My hair has actually been cut by a professional stylist. I’ve got so many clothes now, I have to start culling the stuff I’ve bought since I’ve come out. I actually care about what I look like, and as many people can confirm, that did not happen for a long time while I was in the closet.

But most importantly, I’ve been able to join together with people who I know are travelling the same road that I have and contribute in meaningful ways that go beyond a box score or a podcast.

One of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in the past year happened just four days ago. One of the women in our online community, a pastor in Toronto, officially came out with a wonderfully delivered sermon. I don’t consider myself a woman of faith anymore, unless it’s to baffle some missionaries who stop me in the street. However, watching June finally get to express herself through her teachings and the words she gave was so powerful. The moment she used a female pronoun to refer to herself, I burst into giddy applause as tears fell down my face. To see someone else get to drop that mask and be able to finally embrace who they are completely is so wonderful, and to be able to support her through her process meant a lot. I wish I had heard the sermon she gave when I was younger. Of course, if I did, I probably wouldn’t be where I am now. I suppose everything happens for a reason.

As I enter a second year of public existence as A.J., even if that is only a name for you the reader, and not my close friends and allies, I feel more comfortable and confident in that existence than ever before. My workplace has been fully accepting of who I am and I feel more emboldened to contribute to society. I don’t hide. I don’t fret. I even go outside without a hat on sometimes. I feel as though I am a part of the world instead of continuously shielding myself from it. Like watching Bo Bichette hit a walk-off home run in person, it’s a wonderful feeling, and I am never letting go of it.

Besides, I’ve got a surgery date to plan. Montreal is calling.

A.J. Andrews

Andrews has been immersed in sports from a young age, since she could read Jr. Jays comics that filtered into the backwoods of Northern Nova Scotia. The Canadian has been blogging about sports since high school, writing on FOX’s blogs , her independent Tailpipe Sports blog and Jays Journal prior to joining JFTC. The 30 year old has been with Jays From the Couch since its humble beginnings, and continues to contribute while forging a career in the sports journalism industry. She brings a discerning eye, a smoking keyboard, and a brain that made Jeopardy! briefly rethink letting Canadians onto their program. She will talk about all sports, most Nintendo games, and trans issues for way too long if you give her an opening.