[Editor's note: SB Nation's Sarah Kogod trailed Jamie Neal on the biggest night of her sporting life. Jamie's account appears below in italics.]
Jamie Neal is waiting for me on a bench outside of O.co Coliseum ahead of the Oakland A's LGBT Pride game against the San Diego Padres. It's a cool June night and Jamie is wearing an A's warm-up jacket, skinny jeans and black flats. Her hair is professionally styled, makeup applied in just the right neutral shades with a subtle smoky eye.
She is listening to music while waiting – "Regulate" by Warren G feat. Nate Dogg – and she seems calm and collected.
Inside, she is not calm and collected. Jamie is nervous. After 33 years as Jason, this will be Jamie's first baseball game as a woman.
I contemplated canceling my trip to O.co several times over the week before the actual game. Surely I could have caught the summer bug going around and let's be realistic, the night would go on without me the same as it would have if I were there, right? But I promised myself that I would go to this game and give myself a chance to see what I could do as Jamie.
Showered and clean-shaven from head to toe, except for a stupid spot on my hand that of course I missed because, obviously, I started putting on my makeup. I don't know if I was sweating because of how nervous I was or because the bathroom I was using had poor ventilation, but I had to bring in a desk fan in order to not sweat my face makeup off.
Hours and hours spent watching YouTube tutorials from people like Jaclyn Hill paid off in spades as I applied my Urban Decay foundation, my Benefit blush and bronzer, and eye shadow from the three Naked pallets by Urban Decay I brought with me, just to make sure I had the colors I would want and need for this evening. I just want to blend in, so I went with golds and browns for my eyeshadow choices because they are close enough to my skin tone that they won't draw too much attention and any mistakes I make won't be as noticeable.
I get my makeup done and start fumbling through the clothes I brought with me to put together an outfit that is fitting of a baseball game in Oakland. Pilfering through the dresses, jeans, jackets and tops I brought with me, I finally chose to wear black flats, dark blue skinny jeans, and a gray v-neck T-shirt. I also brought an A's jacket that I had bought when I was still living as Jason. I knew that the jacket would cover my nonexistent cleavage and make me less self-conscious about areas I feel I am lacking as a woman. Dressed and ready to go, I fix my hair, take a few selfies to share with some friends, and I'm out the door and on I-80 headed to Oakland.
There is not an active out LGBT player in any of the four big professional sports. The atmospheres in the locker rooms and stadiums haven't traditionally been encouraging to the cause, but they're changing slowly. Currently, 18 Major League Baseball teams have a game in June dedicated to LGBT awareness, and June 17 was the A's first LGBT Pride night in the club's history. When it was announced during spring training, some objecting season-ticket holders expressed outrage on Twitter that their money would be going to support LGBT awareness. Eireann Dolan, girlfriend of A's pitcher Sean Doolittle, responded by offering to buy those fans' tickets, no questions asked. Dolan, whose moms are "hella gay," as she puts it, started a GoFundMe campaign to buy back the tickets with the promise that she and Doolittle would match the first $3,000 raised. In the end, no disgruntled season-ticket holders took Dolan up on her offer and the campaign raised more than $40,000.
"I never had done anything prior to this as far as getting actively involved in the cause," said Doolittle. "But this has been amazing to see the response that we’ve gotten from our fans.
A lot of our fans are members of the LGBT community, so it was important to send a message. There's just no room for that kind of discrimination in a ballpark."
Most of the donated money came from fans, but Doolittle said that some of his teammates also got involved, donating money and asking how they could help.
"I knew I had plenty of support in here," he said, gesturing to the A's clubhouse. "I also have teammates who say they don't understand why it's a big deal. It's like, read a comment section when someone comes out. That's why it's a big deal."
Half of the money was donated to local LGBT groups and the rest was used to purchase 950 lower-level tickets to the A's Pride night that were then donated to LGBT youth groups in Oakland.
A recent survey revealed that an alarming 41 percent of transgender people have attempted suicide. That number is higher among transgender youth.
The initial negative response to the night and the ensuing surge of support from Doolittle, Dolan and other fans led Jamie to make the decision to come out as transgender. On April 6, she made her announcement on Twitter.
April 6 was significant to me because it was just days after my birthday and the night of my birthday celebration. As I lay in bed after the party, I thought about how wonderful it would be to live every day as I had that night -- in some way, living as Jamie without being nervous or ashamed. The negative reaction to the LGBT night was disheartening, especially being that the A's play in the Bay Area, but it wasn't entirely shocking. I believe everyone is entitled to their opinions, but when it comes to the way some people view and treat the LGBT community, nothing really shocks me anymore. I suppose that's an awful thing because it means there has been enough of it to desensitize me to it and that is a shame because the things that are done to and said about our community are pretty horrific at times.
The way Sean and Eireann handled the negativity was as classy as it gets. I couldn't ask for better people to set expectations than those two and everyone else they inspired to donate to the cause. What a wonderful and selfless thing that Sean and Eireann were able to do and how amazing for them to bring a whole community and its supporters together for a wonderful night at a baseball game.
April 6 was by no means the start of Jamie. My mind flashes back to when I was in seventh grade at Bernal Middle School in San Jose, Calif., and I went to a San Jose SaberCats game with a church group. I had snuck into my mom's room and borrowed a pair of her nylons to wear underneath my jeans. My little secret that no one would ever know about. I felt like I was getting away with something right in front of everyone. At the time, my mom and I were fairly close in size, so the nylons fit like a glove. I got a chance to just sit back and enjoy being myself in a world that wasn't accepting of who I was. I had an opportunity to understand what my heart could feel like because I was being true to myself, even if I was the only one aware of what was going on. The nylons were restricting and I was aware of them the entire evening, but the physical feeling I got from the nylons will forever pale in comparison to the way they made me actually feel. My heart was full, I had an enormous smile on my face, and there was nothing anyone could do to take that away because this was my little secret.
Jamie isn't a secret anymore, but the walk to the stadium makes me feel as free as I did that day in seventh grade. The wind catches my hair in ways I am not used to. I see people glance at me and go about their business, and I see some people flat out ignore me ... a fairly typical day in the life of anyone.
This would prove to be the most significant walk of my life.
There is no fear, no embarrassment, only anxiety and nervousness for how I would be received. No one makes a scene, so that helps to set me at ease. I'm not embarrassed to walk to will call dressed as a woman because there is nothing shameful about being a woman, but I am nervous because I think of all the wonderful women I know and I don't want to do them wrong. I don't want to be an embarrassment to women when the majority of women I know have supported me unquestioningly.
The atmosphere in the stadium on this night is nothing short of celebratory. Rainbow everything -- flags, socks, wigs and signs -- fill the stands. The team runs rainbow graphics on the scoreboard and hands out rainbow wristbands with Oakland's logo stitched onto to them. One daring fan parades through the lower level with a sign that read "Get a load of Sieman," a play on an Oakland A's player's last name.
It is clear that that the stadium is overwhelmingly supportive of the LGBT community, and seeing this makes Jamie relax. She has conversations with the fans around us, talking about the team, the weather and where everyone is from. These are the same conversations she had as Jason, and it furthers her realization that her gender is scarcely a concern to anyone around her. Aside from almost removing her wig for the national anthem as a result of being conditioned to remove her hat out of respect, the night is event-free for Jamie.
We talk comfortably for a while, but more than halfway through the game I realize that Jamie is shifting around uncomfortably in her seat.
I have to pee.
Clearly I don't want to use the restroom because, well, it has the potential to be a huge ordeal, and anyone who knows me knows I hate ordeals of any size. Sarah offers to go with me and reluctantly, I agree. Had she not been there, I surely would have waited until the game was over to try to find the least crowded bathroom I could have found. Unfortunately, that is not an option because two hours of driving, seven innings of a baseball game, and two enormous drinks is not a recipe for being able to hold out until the end of the game to use the restroom.
At any typical game, the only reason I would hesitate about going to the bathroom is because I don't want to miss any of the game. Having never been in a women's restroom, nervous doesn't begin to describe the emotion that I feel thinking about going into a women's restroom to use the facilities. The trepidation is probably more due to the fact that I am nervous about all of the Conservative thoughts I've read about why someone who was born a man would want to use a women's restroom rather than what I actually thought would be my experience in the women's restroom. Am I really just a pervert who wanted to join women in the bathroom? Am I really abnormal and an abomination?
Nope. I am just another woman whose bladder is far too full and have to use the below-average facilities to relieve pressure and hopefully that relief will help me stop waddling like a duck as I walk because I have to pee so bad.
We make our way up the aisle and that feeling of being watched crept over me again. Everyone's eyes are on me and I immediately think it is due to the fact that I am presenting myself as a woman. Then reality kicks in and I remember that everyone looks at everyone walking past and convince myself that this is no different. Be real, Jamie. The world doesn't revolve around you. Gosh.
Sarah and I find a bathroom near the top of our section and I take a deep breath. I walk in and find a stall that I could get to fairly quickly. I rush in, make sure my shoes are pointing in the right direction, and breathe a huge sigh of relief. The bathroom is completely nondescript, nothing exciting, but my heart is pounding out of my chest. As I walk out of the bathroom stall, I have a slight panic attack as I look for a sink to wash my hands in and realize that I'm in the middle of a women's restroom and probably look like a deer in headlights. I finally find a sink, turn on the water after fumbling with the handles for what feels like forever.
For many transgender people, the restroom issue is the source of incredible anxiety. Some establishments have graciously adopted the policy that patrons can use the bathroom of the gender they most identify with. Most public places don't offer such an accommodation, turning the simple act of using the restroom into a stressful and potentially dangerous situation.
Jamie revealed that when she goes out with friends, she makes sure to research ahead of time multiple places near the bar where she can go and be safe if she feels unsafe as a transgender woman. She also says that she tends to not use bathrooms, choosing to hold it in discomfort rather than face the possibility of harassment or worse.
Currently, 37 states do not have laws that permit pre-op transgender people to use the bathroom they're most comfortable in, leaving it up to each business owner to enforce their own restroom rules. It has led to stories of bullying, harassment, arrests and charges of trespassing.
Both well before the game and that night, I reached out to multiple people within the A's organization to ask how they would handle LGBT situations, specifically the issue of bathroom use. With multiple transgender fans in attendance, were staff trained to respond to harassment complaints? Would transgender fans be allowed to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with? If a cisgender fan complained, would stadium workers be trained to handle that complaint without discrimination?
The A's actively refused to answer my questions both before the game via email and in person that night, a concerning practice for an organization that was about to host thousands of fans who would most certainly benefit from knowing the answer.
Billy Bean, MLB's Ambassador for Inclusion, was in attendance for Oakland's Pride night and spoke with me before the game to help shed some light on the A's silence.
"Remember it's new," he said, of MLB teams support of LGBT issues. "It takes time, and that's probably the biggest challenge for me, is, on the left I have the art community wanting to push, push, push and on this side I see we have our foot in the door for the first time in 146 years."
Five days after the game, the A's finally sent an email response through a spokesperson. The only answer that specifically addressed the LGBT questions I asked was related to the bathroom issue.
"There are private family bathrooms available for all fans to use -- including transgender fans -- which are located throughout the stadium."
According to the team's stadium guide, there are only two of those family bathrooms.
Currently, there is no league-wide initiative to address issues like bathroom policies for transgender fans and there isn't a league-led program to train employees on LGBT sensitivity issues, leaving the initiative up to each individual team, and LGBT sensitivity training is not mandatory. Bean says that a cohesive plan is on his agenda and that he met with leaders from various LGBT groups to discuss how to move forward. He also understands that needs within the community vary.
"There's massive diversity within the LGBT community and to pretend that there's not is just generalization," he said. "We'll find a solution. Even the front offices haven't had it. It's not far away. The fact that I'm here is the start to that conversation."
Billy, Sarah and I have a great conversation about the day in general and what the hopes are for the future. Billy reassures me that I am making the right choice, sharing that he is proud of me, and assuring me that all of these things are happening in the right time and that progressive steps are being taken to make sure everyone feels safe at baseball games. I can't articulate how amazing and meaningful that conversation is and how warm, caring and genuine he comes across. I will remember this single interaction for as long as I live because it feels like there is no one else around at that moment, just he and I, and it isn't important what I am wearing or what the night is about. All that matters is that I am a person and I deserve to be treated as such.
As I drive back up to Marysville, Calif., roughly two hours north of the Bay Area, I sit smiling, stuck on perma-grin, the entire way home. I didn't die. The world didn't end. I didn't get into a fight. The day was as perfect as it could possibly be.
I guess what I learned through this whole experience is this: My life mottos all work in a variety of ways and I am thrilled that there are people who view life through the same lens that I do because it means I am able to surround myself with quality people.
I'll part with this -- be yourself. There is no more empowering, freeing and wonderful feeling than people accepting you for who you truly are. It took me my entire life to this point to be honest and live my life the way I want to, but I will tell you that I have never had a more important day in my personal life than I did yesterday and yesterday was my best day. I was able to do what I love, with people who I am beyond blessed to know, as my true self and they never batted an eye, never cracked a joke, and never made me feel anything less than amazing and they're the type of people I want in my life.
As Oscar Wilde famously said, "Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken."