With Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi enacting laws to discriminate against transgender athletes, and anti-trans sentiment spreading all around the world, Outsports is stepping up in a new way. Every day for the remainder of this month, we’re announcing a new winner of a new set of awards focused on the community of trans athletes and other trans people involved in sports.
The Outsports Triumph Awards, in partnership with NCLR, are aimed at celebrating a wide range of transgender athletes, coaches and all those who are trans and share an interest in trans competitors. Some winners’ names you know; others are only now making a name for themselves in LGBTQ sports. Today we announce our first-ever Triumph Award winner for journalism.
If you don’t know her name, and you should, then maybe you know journalist Katelyn Burns by the handle for her popular Twitter account: @transscribe. Last October, she introduced herself to readers on Medium as “more than just a trans journalist,” while admitting: “People know me as a ‘trans reporter.’ And why wouldn’t they? I mean my Twitter handle is literally @transscribe — trans scribe, ‘trans writer.’”
As of press time, the former sports writer turned Capitol Hill trailblazer and social media pundit has tweeted almost 153-thousand times and has more than 59-thousand followers.
Many of her tweets set the record straight on the issue of transgender girls competing in school sports against cisgender girls.
Bathroom bans? Failed. Health care bans? Failed. Insurance bans? Failed. School bans? Failed. School bathroom bans? Failed. Now they’re clinging to sports as their last great hope.
— Katelyn Burns (@transscribe) February 4, 2021
Like most people trying to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, Burns said social media has been both her way to stay informed and to socialize. “But it’s really frustrating,” she confessed. “I can’t give it up,” but she wishes she could. Right now, she’s contemplating taking an “extended break” from Twitter, and said she has tried to be less active on the site.
“There’s nothing there for me anymore,” Burns told Outsports. “The negatives that Twitter brings to my life outweigh the positives, most days.”
It’s not her tweets that rocketed Burns to fame; It’s what she’s written. Exactly 500 articles over a little more than five years, dozens of them addressing the issue of inclusion of transgender athletes, including student-athletes.
“I started writing pieces that were self-published on Medium, personal essays,” Burns, 39, said, in a phone conversation from her apartment in Washington, D.C.. “They were about my life as a trans person, and at that point, I was still in the closet completely.”
She notes she had fewer than 100 followers when she started in 2016, writing a very personal essay about her eating disorder. Burns described “My Intersection with Being Trans and Fatphobia,” as “how my gender dysphoria and my weight interacted with each other. That actually got quite a bit of attention and ended up with 15- or 20-thousand reads on Medium, which is a pretty good for the first time.”
Six days later, she followed up with “Being Trans in the Paradox of Sports,” and professional sports writers took notice.
“My second piece was about growing up as a closeted trans girl who is an athlete. It was about how the playing field was my escape from gender dysphoria. because I don’t have to think about my gender when I’m on the soccer field or on the basketball court. It’s just me, the ball, the opponent and the referees, when they blow it.”
That one got picked up by a now defunct publication called The Cauldron, once affiliated with Sports Illustrated.
“To me, this is a huge deal,” she said. “I’m just this person who started writing, literally last week. And now my work is something that has an S.I. logo on the masthead. And at that point, I started getting DMs from better known sportswriters.”
Burns was told she had talent and that she should be getting paid for it. “I was like, ‘Wait, people get paid to write?’”
Burns came out as a transgender woman that year, and around that time the New England native started writing about her favorite sport, soccer, for Unusual Efforts. It’s an outlet she described as “produced by people of marginalized genders, everyone but cis men, basically.” She said she was paid just $50 a story but the “swashbuckling” aspect of the job appealed to her, and it fed her passion.
She quit her full-time job to go freelance the following year, and switched her Twitter account from @closettransgirl to @transscribe, announcing, “I want to tell trans stories.”
That she has, for Vice and for 49 other publications including the Washington Post, Playboy and SB Nation, among others. In addition to trans and sports stories, Burns is a politics wonk; one outlet hired her to be their Capitol Hill correspondent, becoming the nation’s first out trans reporter in that role, as far as she knows.
Burns now writes for them, Condé Nast’s LGBTQ news site, and is a contributing writer for Vox.com, which is owned by the same company that owns Outsports, Vox Media.
“Katelyn Burns is a journalist whose work provides a peerless example of the unavoidable fact that some sports stories are bigger than any game,” said pioneering transgender journalist Christina Kahrl, the newly-named sports editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, when asked for her thoughts about Burns and LGBTQ sports journalism. “Trans athletes don’t get to stick to sports. Too frequently, their stories don’t get told well, let alone fairly, if at all. Katelyn is one of the very few who has helped change that, writing and working against a rising tide of mainstreamed misinformation about kids and athletes who merely want to embrace the core ethic of sports: Let me play.”
“I don’t have much hope on the athlete front,” Burns said of that rising tide of 29 states trying, and three succeeding, in enacting anti-trans legislation. “I think that the idea that men are born inherently stronger, more athletic than women is just way too deep for any trans advocate or media outlet to overcome.” She fears what she called a “cascade” effect will happen: as states rule that trans women aren’t to be considered women in the area of sports, other areas of discrimination could follow.
Burns and her friend, Oliver-Ash Kleine, saw a new opportunity as the phenomenon dubbed “Cancel Culture” collided with those waging a backlash against it, amid a third clash with others who counter it’s merely consequences in action. They recently launched a podcast with the wildly creative title, Cancel Me, Daddy.
“The conversation and the discourse around cancel culture has just exploded, and most of it sucks,” Kleine said in a phone interview from Brooklyn yesterday. “There’s a lot of relatively privileged, usually white, generally cis people, complaining about how they’re ‘being canceled.’ And also now we’re seeing it in our government, too.”
They said that the goal of their podcast with Burns is, “to have a place for demystifying that and breaking it down. We are providing a little bit more nuance to that conversation and calling out the bullshit.”
Kleine said they were a fan of Burns even before they met in person in the months leading up to their co-founding of the Trans Journalists Association. It stunned them to learn from Outsports that this Triumph Award was the first one Burns said she’s received for anything since coming out.
“She has been doing some of the most thoughtful, informed, meaningful trans coverage over the past several years in the industry,” they said, “I think hers is really a core voice, a really important voice, that represents a piece of what the industry is missing. She’s one of the few people I know who has really established herself as an authority. She’s someone who is doing a lot of important coverage and work about, and for, our communities, in a way that educates mainstream audiences, to help them understand the experiences of trans communities, and the issues that our communities are facing in a more comprehensive way.”
“I’m honored,” Burns said. “It’s been a really hard year with the pandemic and I haven’t really left my apartment in a year. Just the other day, I passed the one year anniversary of the last time I saw someone in person. Just sitting in my apartment, writing all day, you don’t get a lot of rewards unless you have a piece go super-viral. So, I’m honored, and it’s nice to see a lot of slogging work rewarded.”
For now, you can still follow Katelyn Burns on Twitter (@transscribe) by clicking here.
Click here to read her latest report on trans student-athletes for Vox.com
Download, listen and subscribe to her Cancel Me, Daddy podcast, co-hosted and produced by Oliver-Ash Kleine on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify and more.
To read more about the Outsports Triumph Awards, this year’s winners and other trans sports icons we are celebrating, click here.
Outsports will announce another recipient of a Triumph Award tomorrow and every day this month, including on the Trans Day of Visibility on March 31.