E Kerr: This trans athlete was forced to choose one part of his identity over another

Original image: Mask with two heads by Kevin Hutchinson

One of the hottest topics within sports these days is that of transgender athletes. An active debate is raging every day on social media and within the press in the name of just and fair policy.

Hormones are fueling these debates: both the natural hormones that nearly all transgender individuals are exposed to during the process of puberty and aging, and the supplemental hormones that many transgender athletes take to become more physically and psychologically in-line with their gender identity.

Testosterone, the primary male sex hormone produced within the testicles, helps to develop male features: larger bodies, increased muscle strength, facial hair, deeper voice, and a whole slew of other primary and secondary sex characteristics. Some of these characteristics, many claim, lead to clear advantages in a multitude of sports.

The story of Lia Thomas, the male-to-female transgender NCAA Division I swimmer who recently won gold in a national 500-yard freestyle (and the first openly transgender athlete to do so), inflamed outrage in the American sports world — outrage that boiled over into mainstream consciousness.

According to NCAA estimates, less than 1 percent of their student athletes identify as transgender.

Because so few athletes, and people more broadly, identify as transgender, very few of us, interested and enticed by the cultural war continuing to rage on, have had the pleasure of speaking with these transgender athletes in person. This week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with E Kerr to talk about his story.

A picture of E from our digital meeting. A proud trans flag is hung in the background.

Kerr is a student, a writer, a poet, an athlete, an activist and a transgender man. Up until his sophomore year, he was a softball player, too.

“I played softball for 16 years of my life, since I was a little kid,” Kerr said, “Just trying to think about my identity in terms of not being a softball player anymore was difficult.”

When Kerr began college at the University of Scranton, he was a pitcher. Now, due to NCAA softball policies, he is currently a manager on his team.

“Once I started taking my testosterone, I was ineligible per the ruling — or the team would have moved to a mixed team status. But softball doesn’t have any mixed team leagues,” Kerr explained.

The NCAA is currently taking a “sport-by-sport” approach to developing policies regarding transgender athletes and hormones. Softball, E told me, is a sport that has a unique identity that is tied to gender.

“A lot of sports like soccer will have a men’s team and women’s team — it’s the same sport. Softball and baseball are so different, down to the size of the ball. There’s no male version of softball to compete at the college level. It’s really difficult to transition, still wanting to play softball,” Kerr explained.

Although the transition from female to male, and from player to manager, has been a challenge for Kerr, his team and his friends have supported him along the way.

“The year I came out, we had a huge meeting, just like our whole team for an hour, where we talked about gender and sexuality and different terminology. We had a representative from our Women’s Center on campus come in and do that. It was really informative,” Kerr said.

I also spoke to two who were (and still are) close to Kerr when he transitioned. They both confirmed the support that Kerr spoke of.

Mia Gianello is a teaching assistant, neuroscience researcher and student at the University of Scranton. She was a freshman when Kerr came out.

“I would consider E one of my close friends,” Gianello said, “They’re quirky, strong, independent, committed and most importantly: a true friend.”

Gianello spoke kindly about E’s decision to transition, saying, “While I was upset with E’s decision not to play softball anymore because I would miss taking the field with them, I understood their decision to do so. I watched E’s coming-out journey unfold, and to say it was a difficult process is an understatement. For this reason, to go through the things they did, E is one of the strongest people I know. I have supported E one-hundred and ten percent throughout their coming out and transition, and nothing will change that. I always have their back like they have mine.”

Jennifer Sweeney is a softball player with an outstanding record — a quick look at her Scranton Athletics page speaks for itself.

“I am E’s friend and teammate,” Sweeney told me, “As E’s friend I was so proud of E for making the decision they did, because it was clear that it was the best decision for them. Their journey throughout their first two years at Scranton was anything but easy for them. Looking at where E is today vs. the day I met them, I can see how much happier and more confident they are in their own skin and I could not be any happier for them. As a teammate, it was upsetting to know that this decision meant that E would not be able to play the sport that they loved and that we would not be on the field together.”

The frustrations Kerr has felt have not gone to waste; instead, Kerr has channeled them into productive outlets.

“I’m president of our Gender-Sexuality Alliance on campus here. I do a lot of work with them, advocating for LGBT students on campus. And as well, I’m really into advocating for LGBT writers,” Kerr said.

Kerr has had his own poetry published in the University of Scranton’s Review of Arts and Letters, Espirit, under the title “I Am Neither Your Daughter Nor Son,” a piece that earned him the Sigma Tau Delta 2022 International Conventional Inaugural Stemmler / Dennis LGBT& Award.

Kerr focuses on a few big themes in his writing, themes that have impacted his life and shaped him into who he is today.

“Queer identity and trauma, and kind of just reflecting on the two of those things, as well as religion. I grew up Catholic and my family is pretty Catholic. And so, just like growing up in church environment, reading a lot of those texts has kind of influenced a lot of the writing I do now,” Kerr said.

Kerr is still on his journey of identity and spiritual development. Currently, he doesn’t identify with any specific religious group, despite his university’s status as a Jesuit school.

Kerr’s journey has led him to believe one thing for certain: the NCAA should protect all athletes.

“I think all athletes, regardless of gender and identity, should be protected,” Kerr said.

When asked if he feels protected by NCAA policy, Kerr said “I don’t feel like they protect me as a person or as an athlete. They just limit my ability to play the sport I love. It put me in a place where I had to choose one part of my identity, my gender, over the other, my sport.”

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