Adler Burns was, by his own admission, an 18-year-old small-town boy who knew very little about the LGBT community when he started playing for the Chicago Force women's tackle football team.
"I knew, [before joining] the Force that I was different than anyone else I knew," he said. "Playing for the Force opened my eyes to the world and that being different was OK.
"I never really fit into the lesbian title, and the Force made me realize that in fact I was not. I knew what transgender was, but it wasn't until my third year with the [team] that I accepted it 100 percent. I think part of that was due to the fact that since the age of 5 [or] 6 I grew up doing male things, and was considered one of the boys.
"The Force allowed me to grow into the man I am today within a safe, judgment-free environment, with [the] caring love from my band of sisters and [the] coaches who were always pushing us to be the best player on the field and teaching us how to be the best us off the field."
The Force molded Burns into the Burns he is todaya straight male, 26, who lives in Marengo, Illinois, which is about 90 minutes from Chicago. He is a fertilizer specialist for Remke Enterprise, a job he has held since 2009. Regarding his relationship status, he said he is "single as a Pringle."
Burns played five seasons for the Force, which he tagged as, "the best experiences of my life [and] the hardest thing to walk away from in order to begin my transition." He played outside linebacker, middle linebacker, fullback and on special teams.
Burns also was a three-sport athlete at Marengo Community High School.
Despite the joy of his Force family, with many wins and countless laughs over the years, there also was sadness, no doubt tears, too.
"There were times that I felt very alone, that I didn't fit in with some of the girls," Burns said. "It was something that I had to adapt to. I went from playing football with other men for nine years to playing football with woman. And when you get 30-plus women, let alone [many] women who are gay together, it can be like an episode of The L Word.
"However, everyone in the organization is a great support system to me and I am beyond grateful for them all."
Burns officially started hormone-replacement therapy ( testosterone ) on Dec. 26, 2013.
"I've known that I was in the wrong body since I was about 6 years-old," he said. "I started thinking about hormone replacement therapy when I was a senior in high school, [back in] 2006-2007.
Burns legally had his name changed Nov. 17, 2013, and had top surgery on May 4, 2015.
"I'm currently on a waiting list to try to get into an iron works apprenticeship in the city. I work full time for my dad's company and workout four or five days a week. So, things are at a great point right nowwith both [my] transition and life [in general]," Burns said.
When asked about the transition of Caitlyn Jenner, Burns said the former Olympic gold medalist "was very brave" to take steps she has, especially under the intense media spotlight.
"I'm sure it had to be very hard being on a well-known TV show and trying to be the true her," Burns said of Jenner. "However, I feel like celebrities who do transition end up giving kids of the younger generation false hope. Things with transition do not happen as quickly as their changes occur. There are many kids out there that see how quickly they transform and they expect their transition to go the same way. Transition is not that easy for anyone who isn't wealthy or a celebrity. There are many different things that must take place in order to even begin hormones. Many people don't even realize how costly transition is. Most transgender individuals can't even afford hormones because more often than not insurance doesn't cover anything transgender-related.
"[Transitioning] is a costly thing to do in order to be happy, but to a transgender person it is worth every penny."
Burns has been active on social media, specifically Tumblr and Instagram, where he posts things about his transition, such as videos and more.
"I'm very open to answering [questions] and helping other transgender individuals," he said. "I have donated old binders to those in need and when I do have the money help others who are saving for top surgery.
"I think the biggest obstacle that I had to overcome was self-acceptance and coming to terms that I was transgender, and also taking the first steps in the process to begin my transition journey. I thought that I would lose a lot of important people in my life, and that scared me. We all deserve to be true to ourselves, and I was at a very low point in my life that I needed to do something for me. Transition saved my life, even if I had to give up things that meant the world to me."
Namely, the Chicago Force.
Now, though, he is a fan in the stands.
"Burns was a talented and tenacious linebacker for the Force for four or five seasonsa good tackler who delivered some of the more memorable hits from those seasons," Force team owner Linda Bache said. "I enjoyed having Burnsy on the team, and now as an active member of the alumni."