My Experience as a Transgender Woman in the Ultimate Community

by Ashleigh Buch

My name is Ashleigh Buch, and I am a transgender woman who plays ultimate for the up and coming women’s club team, Kansas City Wicked. I am writing this piece with the hope of adding my voice to a very small minority of ultimate athletes who are trans or non-binary, and to increase awareness of our experiences as players. My journey as a trans female ultimate player is one that has been fraught with difficulty and heartbreak and, at one time, took me away from the sport, but it is also one that has seen me grow into a strong and confident woman who is unashamed to be her true self.

While ultimate is a large part of my life, I am also a Mandarin-Chinese linguist in the Air Force. I have served in the Air Force for eight and a half years. I am extremely passionate about fighting for trans rights and trans representation across all fields, but my focus has primarily been on the military. It was that fight for my right to exist in the military that ultimately gave me the courage to return to the sport as myself.

Beginnings

Like many, I began playing ultimate in college, and I joined Iowa State Ultimate Club (ISUC) during my junior year of school. I had played the sport a little bit after a few summer cross country practices, and I quickly fell in love with it, but I had absolutely no technical skills, and I could barely throw a disc. The two things I did have going for me were that I could run fast and run almost nonstop.

I was nervous about joining the team for many reasons, but at its heart, it was because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to be my true self. I also knew from my previous experiences with team sports that I was going to end up on the periphery. In the past, I was closed off from everyone because if someone were to discover the real me, I was afraid that I would face negative treatment from those in my life. Not opening up and forming real relationships with my teammates was the only way I knew how to protect myself.

While I learned a lot about ultimate and improved my game immensely during my time playing for ISUC, so many of my fears came to the forefront of my experience. It was an incredibly dysphoric experience trying to keep up this image of somebody I wasn’t. I tried desperately to put forth a masculine presentation, but I failed miserably. I was pretty sure most everyone on the men’s and women’s team at ISU either thought I was gay or just super metrosexual.

Having to hide behind a mask not only hurt my heart, but looking back on it, it stunted my growth as a player. Because I was so distant and often struggled with being around my teammates, it became difficult for me to ask for help regarding different parts of my game or understanding more advanced aspects of the sport. Unless we were at practice or a tournament, I rarely, if ever, spent time with my teammates. It was a suffocating and lonely experience.

Paralleling many of my experiences as a child and teenage athlete, I found myself...