She just wanted to play ball.
Toward that end, she convinced her mom to take her to Hot Cuts at Mohawk Mall in Niskayuna, a soon-to-be extinct clump of stores that would reappear years later as the big-box Mohawk Commons.
Then 8, and the only girl on her Little League baseball team, she asked for a short haircut, the better to accommodate a cap and batting helmet. And she got one. Like, short short.
It made her mom cry, to see her beautiful little girl looking like a little boy, thus introducing Kate Fagan to the preconceived notions people can have about gender and the tight boxes we frequently try to cram them into.
And thus Kate Fagan introduces us to her terrific story in her recently released book, “The Reappearing Act.”
“In seeking uniformity with my teammates, I inadvertantly ostracized myself,” Fagan writes in Chapter 2.
This vivid memoir of her slow, painful and often hilarious self-identification as a lesbian comes along at a time when there is gradual, growing upheaval in attitudes toward athletes and their sexuality, in particular pro athletes.
Fagan’s story is complicated by the fact that, while a starter for a very good Colorado Buffaloes basketball team in the early 2000s, she allowed herself to explore a relationship with Jesus Christ through a Fellowship of Christian Athletes weekly bible study group that included many of her teammates.
This twist makes “The Reappearing Act” even more compelling, but the bedrock goal Fagan tried to achieve by telling her story was to chip away at the isolation lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) athletes experience and to encourage them to feel comfortable in their own skin.
“Most people, once they meet or identify someone as LGBT, there are stereotypes,” Fagan said by phone on Monday. “Through the book, I’m hoping that a young male or female athlete who’s going through what I went through doesn’t feel as alone.”
Fagan, the 1999 Gazette Player of the Year from Niskayuna High School, will be at Market Block Books in Troy at 7 p.m. on Friday for a book signing.
After three years as the Philadelphia 76ers beat writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, she was hired by ESPN as a columnist and feature writer for espnW, ESPN.com and ESPN: The Magazine.
She resisted the urge to make herself part of the columns, but in 2012 recognized a trend in which gay people in the sports world were gaining acceptance and began a column by recounting some of her experience with the Buffaloes in Boulder.
At the time in 2012, Megan Rapinoe of the U.S. women’s soccer team had just come out, as had former Pittsburgh Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy, and same-sex marriage was garnering public support from people like former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo.
Also that year, Patrick Burke, son of Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, established “You Can Play,” a campaign in honor of his late brother, Brendan, with the aim of eliminating homophobia from sports. “You Can Play” is an official partner of the NHL.
Abby Wambach, the 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year, married longtime partner and pro teammate Sarah Huffman last year and happily shrugged off the extra attention. She’s in love. Frequently people who are in love get married, right? No big deal.
More recently, other headlines keep coming.
Brittney Griner wrote her autobiography, in which she couples an account of her sexual orientation with a vigorous and passionate anti-bullying theme. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, young LGBT people are four times more likely to commit suicide than straight people the same age.
Jason Collins . . . Michael Sam . . .
Eventually, these stories won’t be headlines anymore, but Fagan believes that, for now, they need to be.
“I think we’re still a ways away,” she said. “I’m talking years, because there are still a number of sports that don’t have a role model yet. Until they all do, it’ll always be news.”
For one thing, stereotypes continue to enjoy a virulence that makes it difficult, if not prohibitive, for LGBT athletes to come out.
“I can speak from experience that female athletes often struggle with accepting themselves because they don’t want to feed the stereotype,” Fagan said. “A certain segment of the general public has the belief that, in women’s sports, everyone’s a lesbian, and you don’t want to be a cliche.
“For men, it’s a lot different challenge because you’re shattering a lot of stereotypes.”
Fagan’s unique challenge was going through this process against the conflicting backdrop of her FCA involvement. The potential for alienation and estrangement was heightened to mind-boggling proportion.
“The Reappearing Act” makes for an engaging story on its own merit, but also gives clear and courageous voice to an important, ever-evolving issue in sports.
For Kate Fagan, no walls were thicker than those of her own self-containment, and it’s a revelation when she writes toward the end, “I gradually started trying on truth and transparency for size, to see how it felt.”