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Christina Kahrl continues to blaze trails
Extended for the Online Edition of Windy City Times
by Ross Forman
2010-07-14

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His roots as a baseball fan dated back to his childhood, while growing up an Oakland A's fan who lived near Sacramento. Chris Kahrl listened to baseball on the radio back then, often while doing his daily chores.

In the mornings, it always was a race—against his younger brother, Ben—to see who would wake up first to get the daily newspaper, so they could read the box scores in the sports section about the previous night's games.

"Being a fan of baseball as a kid was, well, just part of growing up as an American kid," said Kahrl, an admitted history buff who fell in love with, among other things, the historical aspect of baseball. After all, a great-grandfather long talked about rooting for the New York Giants in the 1920s.

Chris eventually went to school, married a woman, and always maintained his passion for baseball.

And it's still there today, in Chicago, where Chris is now Christina Kahrl, the transgender Rogers Park resident who turned that childhood passion for baseball into her profession.

Kahrl is one of the co-founders of Baseball Prospectus and, starting with the 2009 baseball season, a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America ( BWAA ) . So, she is now eligible to vote on Major League Baseball postseason awards and ( eventually, after 10 years' membership ) nominees for the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Kahrl is a Jackie Robinson of sorts.

"I consider myself immensely fortunate because of the women who did have the courage to come out [ before me, ] " Kahrl said. "They made life so much easier for people such as me who transitioned [ after them. ] Sure, the challenges are still there, but there is so much more knowledge.

"The trans community is so much more part of the public dialogue today than it was years ago. It is so much easier to come out today in the transgender community than it was in the '60s, '70s and '80s. I can only imagine what they had to go through.

"My baseball work now … I'm just going there to do the job. The fact that I am transgender is no different from, say, the blind sportswriter who is at the park all of the time. It's interesting on an abstract level, but not really relevant to how well I write a game story or just cover baseball as a whole."

Kahrl is a pro at the park, period. Be it Wrigley Field or U.S. Cellular, when she reports from home games for the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox, respectively.

Or earlier this season when she attended home baseball games of the New York Yankees, New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates.

Stress-free and issue-free—that's been Kahrl's baseball world.

"I have not run into the kinds of problems that a lot of people would anticipate," Kahrl said. "I think that's reflective of the fact that there's more capacity for acceptance and good in American society than bad.

"I'm just different from what I used to be in one aspect; but I'm still writing the same stuff and still enjoying the same work."

Kahrl talks baseball with the best of them. She talks to heterosexual fans at the park and at book signings.

Baseball is just her passion, and her profession.

And this summer she'll be with all the names of the game when she covers the annual Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Anaheim, Calif., in July.

"Everyone is civil, polite and grown up; there is no rioting in the streets because there's a transgender sportswriter in town," said Kahrl. "I easily could be someone you're related to, someone you have a random conversation with, someone living in your condo building; I just happen to be a sportswriter."

She attended the annual baseball winter meetings in December and met several baseball executives for the first time.

Again, no issues.

So, does that mean baseball is ready for an openly gay active player?

Hmmm, eventually, she said. Within 20 years, mainly because it's already happening at the high school and college level.

"I'm looking forward to the day when it just doesn't matter that there are out gay athletes in the major sports, and there basically is no closet because, well, no one really cares," Kahrl said. "The bottom line is, all everyone really cares about is, whether or not that [ gay ] athlete helped them win the game.

"So will it happen? Yes, eventually, "and I think the capacity for society at large to accept [ him ] is stronger than most people anticipate."

After all, they accept Kahrl, in her sorority of two.

Kahrl and Bobbie Dittmeier of MLB.com are the lone out transgender sportswriters covering the national pastime. The late Christine Daniels of the Los Angeles Times was a trans writer who committed suicide last November. The three were profiled this spring on HBO.

"Bobbie and I are very close; we IM almost daily, about baseball mostly," Kahrl said. "I think we've benefited from each other. We're just working professionals in this industry. I think it's helped each of us as far as positive reinforcement.

"Losing Christine Daniels was something of a wakeup call.

"One of the reasons we participated in the HBO thing was, it's important to remind people of the positive examples in part because we take for granted that there are so many unhappy examples of how trans folk are not accepted. The bigotry and difficulties that so many of us confront, or have to deal with, those are very real. In the wake of yet another unhappy story—Christine's—I think it really kind of brought home to me the obligation to also point out that not all of our stories end up unhappy. That being trans does not automatically involve an unhappy ending. We have achieved a lot in the last several decades, and we will continue to achieve."

That goes for the LGBT community and Major League Baseball as a whole, especially in Chicago, where Laura Ricketts is now part of the ownership team/family of the Chicago Cubs. She was one of four Ricketts family members who sang "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" on Opening Day at Wrigley Field.

"It is a wonderful opportunity for the LGBT community under the Ricketts family, and also for Wrigleyville and Lakeview, and so much more," Kahrl said. "I'm kind of hopeful that the Cubs become an active social institution within the community, and I think that's where the Ricketts [ family ] is going with the team. I think that's going to be good for Chicago as a whole, especially the North Side and the LGBT community, because there are a lot of gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual baseball fans. I think the Cubs should be reaching out to the LGBT community as much as they reach out to anyone."

Growing up

Kahrl first realized she was different from most of the boys in fifth grade, in health class. She then had no clue about the term transsexual or transgender was, "but I knew that was me.

She earned her undergraduate degree in 1990 from the University of Chicago and her Master's degree from Chicago's Loyola University in 2000. And during her undergraduate days, that's when she first realized she's wasn't alone.

By the mid-1990s, she was busy working, really busy, which, she admits, "might have helped me ignore that kind of inner voice of dealing with my gender issues," she said.

"If I had tried to transition in the mid- or late 1980s, I probably would be dead because you're a kid and you think you're invincible—and I did my share of stupid things in the late 1980s, even without acting on my gender issue.

"On the other hand, if I had gone to [ the University of California in ] Berkeley, who knows, maybe I would have been happier and come out earlier, transitioned earlier and, oh, would teaching modern European history on some college campus. The number of things that seemed possible to me at various points in my life, things that I was excited about, they were endless."

Kahrl married, and then got divorced.

The marriage, she says, was a matter of "trying to be the best heterosexual man that I could."

After all, since Kahrl was a man at the time, getting married to a woman "was what was expected of me; it was what I interpreted as my family's wish for me, what my friends expected of me, what I thought would, perhaps, make me happiest."

Not so, he realized.

And, by late 2001, he was taking the first steps to becoming a woman.

"That's when I followed through with a long-term plan for my transition because, of course, it is a difficult, fragile point in any transgender person's life," said Kahrl, who changed his diet, changed his exercise routine to help make his body thinner, to lose muscle mass. He went to the gym in search of lean muscle, not bulk.

In late 2002, Kahrl started on a low dose of hormone therapy to see how his body would adapt.

Then, he started coming out to friends and co-workers; and he also flew home to California to tell his parents.

"My family has always been important to me. My friends matter a lot to me," Kahrl said. "I think any success in transition, or in life in general, it's good to have a solid support network, one that you definitely can lean on.

"Initially, there was a lot of confusion [ from family and friends ] , but a lot of support nonetheless.

"I stressed to my parents that I had a great childhood. Being transgender had nothing to do with them [ or my childhood ] ; this was just what was/is innately me. There was nothing that they could have done one way or the other, nor anything they had done wrong as parents. They were wonderful parents."

Kahrl was accepted after the revelation by his best friend from childhood. Same for his best friend from college.

All quickly realized that Kahrl was the same Kahrl they knew. "I'm just now the me who I needed to be. I didn't undergo a personality transformation," she said.

Kahrl achieved her full transition in 2003.

"It was a scary time, but, because I had invested all of the time up front to get to that point, it was OK," she said. "Ultimately, people were accepting, which really helped. My work colleagues were fine with it, too."

No friends or family members turned against her.

"I wouldn't say it was smooth sailing entirely because it never is going to be entirely easy transition. But ultimately it turned out really well," Kahrl said. "When I think about so many of my sisters in the trans community who had it really rough, I know how lucky I am; I know I had a remarkably pain-free transition."

In addition, she is also on the board of directors for Equality Illinois.

More about Christina Kahrl:

—Dating: "After transitioning, I dated men exclusively for several years, then [ played ] for both teams. Now women [ only ] , and I'm dating Charley Wannamaker, who moved to Chicago last fall."

—On attending baseball games this year in New York, her first time to both stadiums: "Everyone was entirely gracious. The Yankees were great; the Mets were great."

—It's a fact: Before the 2009 season, she asked the BWAA if they had any concerns or hesitations, knowing she is transgender. She was told they support her 100 percent.

—On the real Christina Kahrl: "The real Christina Kahrl is someone who is very interested in family and love, loves cooking, loves living in Rogers Park, loves walking her dog at beach, watches the sunrise, enjoys hanging out at The Glenwood, does volunteer work on behalf of the LGBT community."

—Final thought: "I love being in Chicago and all that Chicago has to offer—not just the baseball. It is the best of all American cities. Accepting communities, a great cultural scene, incredible restaurants and so much more."


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