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Judaism, Sports, and College: How I Learned to Feel Comfortable Being Myself

Judaism, Sports, and College: How I Learned to Feel Comfortable Being Myself

Team photo of smiling college students standing and kneeling with their arms around one another while wearing uniforms and posing on some sort of field

“Don’t you hate how everyone always tries to put you in a box?” Throughout my junior year of high school, I received a lot of advice and wisdom from my youth group advisor, Amanda, but that was what stuck with me the most.

I don’t quite remember the first time she asked this question, but it quickly became our favorite catchphrase. When I was assumed to be a lesbian from my short hair and masculine dress, “Why do they have to put me in a box?” When I ranted about living with girls at youth group events, “Why do they have to put me in a box?” I started to make a list in my head of all the boxes my peers and the adults in my life tried to put me into - gay, bisexual, girl, boy, nerd - the list went on and on. I just wanted to be me, and have the space to figure out who that was without being squeezed inside one of those cramped, dark spaces.

NFTY: The Reform Jewish Youth Movement, was the first place to show me what it felt like to live outside of some of life’s boxes. It began with the people I met. Outside of youth group, we were all different - jocks, nerds, popular kids, etc. - but during the weekend of a Jewish youth retreat, we were all friends. We were connected by our love for each other and our shared background of Judaism. The people we pretended to be outside of NFTY were irrelevant. We were ourselves.

By the spring of my junior year I was no longer satisfied with this community. There was still one very clear situation in which I had to pick a box - housing. For every event where I roomed with girls, I felt more constricted, more pressured to choose between being a boy or a girl. I soon made a request to change this situation for myself and subsequently make this process easier for others. I expected the transition to more inclusive housing to take time. I expected resistance and awkwardness and a lot of talking. Instead, I got exactly what I needed - acceptance and immediate accommodation by NFTY's leadership and my youth group community. 

This was the first time I felt really, truly comfortable being 100% me, the me who doesn’t quite have it all figured out, but who is okay with that because of the acceptance offered by the people I love most in the world.

My self-awareness and comfort began in Jewish youth group, but grew immensely during my first year of college. At Oberlin College, the framework for inclusion had already been laid. I didn’t have to break down barriers or forge new paths. All-gender housing was the norm as were all gender restrooms. It was as easy as selecting an option on a form to request that my random roommate be male identifying. For the first time, I had something beyond acceptance - I had people to relate to, people to look up to. I constantly met people who identified or expressed themselves outside of the gender binary.

Even playing sports, a world that is traditionally very binary, I found trans people to look up to. It was my experience playing ultimate frisbee in particular that made me finally comfortable using new pronouns.

Though there is always more work to do, Oberlin has created a community where people of all gender identities can be comfortable and flourish. I hope to be able to use my experiences here to push for that same level of inclusion in NFTY, the Reform Jewish Movement, and beyond.

Lucy Brown just finished up their first year at Oberlin College in Ohio, where they are considering majoring in religion. Lucy is proud to be a former NFTYite and Religious Action Center intern and is a member of Temple Sinai in Washington, D.C.

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