Chase Philbrook: A transgender soccer goalie who kills with kindness
ROCKLAND — At first, one is struck by the broad grin and friendly openness of this 21 year-old young man, who once was a woman. Then, as conversation gets franker, there emerges the even more revealing: A human being with a deep reservoir of courage and strong sense of self. Chase Philbrook, of Cushing, is transgender, or trans man — a female who changed her identity to that of a male. Not easy in any sense of the word or world, especially in a Yankee culture that can be simultaneously tolerant, and harshly judgmental.
Not that fear doesn't fill him now and again; yet, Philbrook is following a path he has recognized since he was very young.
"When I was 3 years old I fought about wearing dresses," he said. "I played with trucks, not dolls."
His mother did not dictate his identity, allowing Chase (formerly Chelsea) to shape his own — cutting his hair short and wearing clothes as he chose. While he always liked sports, he started playing soccer in second-grade, and that grew into a lifelong love of the game.
“My favorite part is when the andrenaline is pumping and I dive for the ball, knowing it didn’t go by me, and then getting up and kicking it,” he said.
In high school, he found friends in the local group Out As I Want To Be, for area gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning teens and young adults, ages 14 to 22 — and their straight allies. There, he made other transgender friends.
And he has a larger network of friends, including staff at URock, where he is pursuing a degree in mental health. His friends support him — and they caution him as he breaks new ground, even if it is where he grew up. He is among the first and few of female-to-male transgenders who are publicly talking about their change of sex. And he is certainly the first transgender male who wants to play NCAA Division III soccer for a Maine university.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" his friends asked him, when he wrote a personal paper (see sidebar below) about his transgender journey, and then submitted it to Penobscot Bay Pilot.
It's the same question we asked him: "Are you certain you want to put yourself out there? Are you ready for backlash?"
‘I am now far more satisfied because my body is matching what my mind is thinking.’
He answered succinctly.
"People are out there changing laws," he said, citing Wayne Maines, and his longtime effort to change social and legal convention on behalf his own transgender daughter, Nicole. Philbrook heard Maines speak at the University of Maine in Machias, and subsequently began communicating with the Air Force veteran, who is director of safety/environmental management, transportation and security at the University of Maine. Maines is a fierce advocate for transgender rights in the state and the country, and that sparked something in Philbrook.
"If I am benefiting from his work, I feel I should advocate for myself," he said. "Education is kind of what I want do, and no one is going to understand better than someone actually living it. "
Philbrook graduated from Georges Valley High School with the Class of 2010. At that point he was a girl, and the girls soccer team's goalie. As a girl, Chelsea went out of state to Becker College, then transferred to the University of Maine at Augusta for financial reasons. She then enrolled at the University College in Rockland, a division of the University of Maine. And in those three years, she also began the journey of her life to live as Chase.
The tattoos on Philbrook's arms and shoulders illustrate his core philosophies as he undergoes such a monumental transformation. On his arm, there’s the Hindu symbol for Om, the universal spiritual vibration. Wrapped around another arm is a set of musical notes, and the words “Live Strong.” Philbrook plays the baritone, and especally likes jazz. He also has a tatoo with the Swahili phrase hakuna matata, "no worries." There is the transgender symbol at the base of his throat, and there is the tree of life, with the words: "The mind is everything. Think and you become." On his ankle, his zodiac sign: Scorpio.
Every journey carries its own set of markers and his tattoos represent that. He adds a line there: "Every time I make a significant step. A step for when I went to college, when I had my name changed. Every journey has to start somewhere and I always try to be better."
He chose his name "Chase Marcus" because Marcus is his father's middle name.
"I wanted to keep it in the family, and for a first name I narrowed down names that started with ‘Ch’ (Chase, Chance, Chris, Charlie) so the transition from ‘Chels’ would be easier. To be totally honest, I put those names into a hat and let a friend pick it out. I think it fits well."
Becoming a man
Legally, in the eyes of the state of Maine, Philbrook is now a man. In order to be recognized by Maine as a man, a psychiatrist must fill out paperwork and send it to the Department of Health and Human Services, where employees agree to change one’s gender, “if they feel enough evidence is provided, which is something I have done already,” said Philbrook.
Chase Philbrook wrote the following essay for a civil rights class at URock.
Fears Beneath the Uniform
To be a part of something bigger than yourself and to work toward a greater goal after spending time, hard work, and dedication towards the building of a team can be a great experience. The thrill of scoring or winning a game or even a championship is something almost every athlete aspires to accomplish. Not me, I just try to make sure nobody knows what is beneath my uniform.
My name is Chase. I am an athlete, a one-time NCAA tennis champion and force to be reckoned with on the tennis courts and soccer field, but you will not find that history by searching my name on the Internet, because until just this past year, my name was not Chase. I played on the Becker College Women’s Varsity Tennis team during my freshman year of college in 2010, but in early 2011, I came out as a transgender male, meaning I was born biologically female but identified mentally as a male and felt as if my body should match my gender identity.
Going into my sophomore year of college I transferred to the University of Maine at Augusta and took a year off of athletics to focus on my transition and education. I knew who I was, but I needed to take the time to fully discover that being myself was perfectly okay and that I could achieve far more of my goals when I was able to live life in a more comfortable way.
I missed the competition of athletics, so I decided to contact the soccer coach at the University of Maine Augusta and sign up for the soccer team. I had to look into the NCAA transgender laws and luckily I was legally able to register with the men’s team.
The law states "A trans male (female to male) student-athlete who has received a medical exception for treatment with testosterone for gender transition may compete on a men’s team but is no longer eligible to compete on a women’s team without changing the team status to a mixed team." (NCAA.org)
I have been on testosterone since September of 2011 and by law my gender is now recognized as male in the state of Maine.
I have a lot of fears going into this soccer season set to begin in the late summer of 2013. I am worried about long trips with the team, restroom use, locker rooms, and my team mates finding out that I am transgender. I fear that they may reject me from the team, or that I could be asked not to play by some of the other team members because of my gender identity.
Though in recent years transgender acceptance has been on the rise it is still not well heard of in athletics. In most cases teams are split up by gender so to have a female bodied individual on the male team can be hard to understand and accept for some people.
I have to go to practice and hope that my coach does not slip up and out my gender identity. I need to hope that I am not faced with any situations that may put my mental and physical health in jeopardy, and if my team finds out, I need to hope that they are accepting and understanding.
I silenced myself for so long when it came to athletics in part because I worried that it would have a negative impact on my athletic career and my future. Playing college tennis was one of the best experiences of my life, one I will never regret, but the story is one I rarely share because I feel like the person on the courts was not myself.
I was silenced by the fear of losing everything I had ever worked for as an athlete and student and the name I had made for myself as a great tennis player and a brilliant student. I had an unrealistic fear that changing my name and making my physical gender match my mentality would erase my history and accomplishments. In all reality I was the same person, just fixing my body so it would match what was in my mind and soul.
I often wish I had the chance to be a college tennis player with my true identity, on the male team, not forced into skirts that made me feel so self-conscious that I would rather wear the warm-up pants in the 80 degree weather and over-heat than be seen in the female uniform.
I can only hope that by raising awareness through this article, advocation for myself and other young transgender people, and school presentations, I can help educate the public on transgender individuals and our role in society and athletics.
I hope that my opening up can help future transgender athletes have a smoother and safer transition in the world of sports.
I do not play at a different level of soccer than the other men on the field, and I do not need to be treated any differently than my team mates. I am a highly educated, well rounded, and multi-talented athlete. My athletic ability is equal to everyone else on the team and I can hope that I portray myself in that way.
This fall will be a true test of my ability to face my fears and start living the life I should, after all I am a human as well. I have the ability to do great things as a student, educator, and athlete. Nothing should hold me back from achieving success. I’ll see you on the soccer field!
He has been taking hormone therapy for two years, injecting himself with testosterone, a process that carries a price tag of $90 per 90 days. To maintain levels of male hormones in his body, Philbrook will need to inject himself in the arm twice a week for the rest of his life. There is also a gel that can be rubbed on the skin, but Philbrook does not use that because it can inadvertently be transferred to pets and small children. That, he does not want to have happen.
When he first started the hormone treatment he suffered from mood swings, with anger and aggression bursting forth periodically and unexpectedly.
"That leveled out," he said. “I am now far more satisfied because my body is matching what my mind is thinking.”
After a few months, his voice lowered, hair grew on his face and muscles began to develop.
He is saving money for surgery to remove his breasts, a cost of $10,000 to $12,000, at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. It is not something covered by insurance; nor is the genital sexual reassignment surgery, which Philbrook said he will not undergo.
And this summer, as a male, Chase has joined the men's varsity soccer team at the University of Maine-Augusta, an NCAA Division III team. This will be a first for Chase, and will be a first for the men's soccer team at UMaine-Augusta, if not the entire university system. Practices have started, with games scheduled for September, and Chase is on the field.
"I've never played on an all-male team," said Philbrook.
This is no light statement; while female teams battling it out on the field can be rough, male teams emote differently. Philbrook understands what he calls "typical girl drama" after playing all his life on female teams. And there is no lack of trash talk. But on male teams, the trash talk can be brutal. He understands this, and has prepared himself.
“I will react in the ways I’ve always reacted to negativity,” he said. “I will kill them with kindness.”
He has girded himself for hostility, for meanness.
“What’s the point of engaging with them if they aren’t ready,” he said. “I can’t let them affect me.”
And, he grinned. “They’ll probably give me more adrenaline, help me competitively.”
But there are the troubling doubts. He knows that men in the 20s may not want to have what they think is a girl playing soccer with them.
“Yet, if I don’t do this, I don’t think people are going to understand,” he said.
As for the UMaine-Augusta men’s soccer team, the Moose, this will be the second year of its existence. And the team did not win a game last year.
“I guess I can’t hurt the team,” Philbrook laughed.
This season, the Moose will play a range of other teams: Machias, Bates, community colleges and Unity College, as well as travel to Vermont for some farther afield away games.
Just a human
Chase Philbrook has outlined solid goals for his life. He wants to be a crisis worker for youth in trouble, to help them learn coping skills. He wants to play soccer. And he wants to teach society that transgenders have the same life intentions as most other humans.
“I want people to understand that there are transgenders in the community and they are no different,” he said.
Philbrook also wants to stay in the Midcoast. He went to college in an urban environment.
“The city is not my place,” he said. “My life goals are simple. I want a family, a career, a house. I am comfortable here. I grew up here.”
What is transgender?
The precise definition for transgender remains in flux, but includes:
• "Of, relating to, or designating a person whose identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender roles, but combines or moves between these."
• "People who were assigned a sex, usually at birth and based on their genitals, but who feel that this is a false or incomplete description of themselves."
• "Non-identification with, or non-presentation as, the sex (and assumed gender) one was assigned at birth."
The concepts of gender identity and transgender identity differ from that of sexual orientation. Sexual orientation describes an individual's enduring physical, romantic, emotional and/or spiritual attraction to another person, while gender identity is one's personal sense of being a man or a woman. Transgender people have more or less the same variety of sexual orientations as cisgender people. In the past, the terms homosexual and heterosexual were incorrectly used to label transgender individuals' sexual orientation based on their birth sex. Professional literature now uses terms such as attracted to men (androphilic), attracted to women (gynephilic), attracted to both or attracted to neither to describe a person's sexual orientation without reference to their gender identity. Therapists are coming to understand the necessity of using terms with respect to their clients' gender identities and preferences. For example, a person who is assigned male at birth, transitions to female, and is attracted to men would be identified as heterosexual.
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