Column: ‘You can be who you are.’ Ducks organist Lindsay Imber shares her transition journey
Before she could be legally recognized as the person she always knew she should be, before she could enjoy the life she was meant to live, Lindsay Imber had to navigate rows of bureaucratic hurdles to establish who she has become.
Imber’s transition from male to female, launched when she began receiving hormone treatments in June, accelerated during the summer when she filed a court order to change her name and her gender, registered her new information with Social Security, and with that done, applied for a new driver’s license. Getting that card was a momentous step toward fulfilling a need she had felt before she could express it, since she was a child and silently wished she were a girl when she blew out the candles on her birthday cake.
“That was super exciting,” she said. “For the first time in my life I actually like my driver’s license photo.”
It’s not a stretch to say that also was the first time she liked herself without reservation.
“That could be accurate too,” said Imber, who is the Ducks’ organist, a sometime basketball referee and creator of closecallsports.com, which rates and analyzes baseball umpires.
“This has been a long journey to get here. The one thing, sort of this constant thing, is you have a whole lifetime of sort of suppressing and hiding and being secretive because that’s what you’re taught by whatever to be. Society. So it takes a long, long time to properly assess that shame and its attribution. It is not me that’s wrong. It’s not necessarily a tangible or finite concept that’s wrong. But there’s an issue.”
Imber, 33, grew up in Los Angeles and attended Harvard-Westlake and UC Irvine. She remembers being upset when she was 5 or 6 and her class was divided into boys and girls and she had to go with the boys. She wasn’t allowed to play with her girl cousins.
She was expected to behave “like a boy,” to play rugged games, because that’s what boys did. Those expectations smothered her spirit. She gravitated toward baseball and track, which don’t involve contact.
“I don‘t want to stereotype it too much, but I was always averse to the more physical sports,” she said before a recent Ducks game at Honda Center. “But at the same time, obviously, I work in hockey and I love hockey. It’s this whole process. These are things that are not gender specific, per se. It’s just holistically speaking.
“I think when everything sort of blends together on that elementary school playground, is it really sports or are you just using this as an excuse to beat each other up? And I hated the whole thing. It’s all these things that I did not fit in whatsoever with, so of course if you don’t fit in you think, ‘Well there’s something wrong with me because I’m not fitting in.’ And that lasts a long time.”
She was getting crushes on girls, “the normal stuff,” but became confused after she was sexually assaulted by a woman during a high school field trip. “And then it’s where I definitely liked a girl and I definitely liked a boy and then they ended up dating and I was like, ‘This is really not good,’” Imber said. “It’s great to be able to like everyone but not when this happens.”
The umpiring website and an interest in politics — she was elected to the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council — are secondary to her passion for music. She has played organ for the Ducks since the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs and has been featured on several albums. It was natural, then, that that her decision to come out as transgender and bisexual included a significant musical component.
She began to plan a coming out album in June, selecting songs from a wide range of musicians and weaving them into a narration of her journey and her I-don’t-belong angst. She chose Oct. 11 — National Coming Out Day — to release “For Lindsay with Love: Baseball and Hockey Organ Pride” and come out on social media.
Because her name change hadn’t yet been approved Imber included her then-legal name on the album cover — with a twist. “I put a tombstone. Block lettering. Dead name. That’s the last thing that this person is going to be doing,” she said.
The same day, Outsports.com published a coming-out essay Imber had asked to contribute. Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of Outsports, said the organization has seen a greater understanding of LGBTQ people overall and especially in sports.
“We know that when people come out in sports they find widespread acceptance, whether it’s in front offices or in clubhouses, because the interesting dynamic when LGBTQ people experience when they come out is that people already know them and already like them and respect her and her profession,” Zeigler said in a phone conversation. “So that makes it a little bit easier when you share with people who already like you that you might be a little different. They already like you and they generally find a way to accept you.”
Outsports, working with the University of Winchester (England) and the Sports Equality Foundation, surveyed 820 high school and college athletes in the United States and Canada about their experiences coming out as LGBTQ while competing. More than 95% said their teammates’ responses were neutral or better. “Everything that we’ve been told is that the acceptance levels and behaviors of people in the pros are much better than those in high school and college,” Zeigler said.
The Ducks’ annual workplace training session for employees included a new segment on transgender rights in the workplace and gender identity, giving Imber courage to tell the club’s human resources department about their plans. They changed her name in the system and gave her a new, slimmer jersey that fits her changing body. Her face is rounder, softer and her muscle mass has decreased to the point where she said she can no longer carry three grocery bags at once. “I’ve never been so excited to be so weak in my life,” she said.
In the ways that matter, she has never been stronger.
“The take-home of the whole thing, the reason I do it, is because I feel like I’m talking to myself as a kid. It’s OK. You’re fine. And you can be who you are,” Imber said. “If this representation in sports helps you, that’s all I really want to do. I don’t want kids to have to go through what I went through.”
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