The following is written by Eli Strong, one of three people whose stories are featured in the Nat Geo special American Transgender, premiering Tuesday, May 1 at 8PM et/pt.
December 1, 1990. A lot of people talk about unforgettable days from their childhood. Their first day of school, the day they move into a new neighborhood, the birthday they got the brand new bike. December 1, 1990 was my unforgettable day. It was the day I attended my first Alabama football game. The Iron Bowl is one of the fiercest rivalries in all of sports. Nothing else you do the entire season matters if you don’t win that game. The rivalry splits families and separates friends. Auburn had won the previous four meetings and it looked as though they’d win a fifth. My mother, by what many in the state would consider a miracle, was able to get two tickets the day before the game. Back then, the Alabama vs. Auburn game was usually played at Legion Field, which was the largest stadium in the state. We rode up to Birmingham, from where we lived in Daphne, with a bunch of friends in an Auburn RV. Every time we passed an Alabama vehicle Mom and I would hold the Bama logo of our sweatshirts against the window, so everyone would know our allegiance wasn’t to the tiger paws on the side of the RV.
Legion Field was like nothing I had ever seen. We were seated high in the end zone, just below the announcer’s voice booming from the scoreboard. Just a few seats away was the Alabama student section, which is the loudest and rowdiest spot in the house. I had heard Alabama football and Bear Bryant bedtime stories for the entire nine years of my life, and I was finally there to see it in person. The Crimson Tide played solid the entire game. I remember yelling “Defense” and my mother responded with surprise: “Hey that was pretty good!” I remember seeing how proud she was that her 9-year-old daughter understood this amazing game that she had been following for decades. Together, we cheered our hearts out for the Tide, hoping to bring home a victory. And at the end of the night, with a score of 16-7 Alabama broke the Auburn winning streak.
Now, 21 years later, my days as a student at The University of Alabama have come and gone. I have two degrees and a lifetime of memories from the Capstone campus. Alabama now plays its home Iron Bowl games at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. Other than that, not much has changed. Mom and I still try to attend games together when I can make it down to Alabama. We still bleed Crimson, we still cheer our hearts out and we still love bringing home ‘the W’ for the Tide. The only difference now, is that we share those moments as mother and son, rather than mother and daughter. That small revision never changed our love for the Alabama Crimson Tide, or for each other.
Eli Strong is a 30-year-old post-operative transman. He was born as Sara Strong into a large Catholic, Italian-American family in Alabama. At the age of 23, he embraced his transgender identity and decided to transition to life as a man. In 2008, he began his physical transition, undergoing top surgery in July and starting testosterone therapy in September. He holds a bachelor’s and a master’s in social work from the University of Alabama. Eli now lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife. They have been together since May 2006 and were married in May 2011. Eli is an avid University of Alabama football fan and enjoys music, wine, cooking, playing pool, going to the driving range, camping, hiking, watching movies, sports, TV, and staying connected via social networks. He is on the executive board for the D.C. Area Transmasculine Society (DCATS) where he is a mentor to two ‘little brothers’ and helps them navigate their own transition.
Don’t miss Eli on American Transgender, a new Nat Geo special premiering Tuesday, May 1, at 8PM et/pt only on the National Geographic Channel. Watch a preview »
For a list of resources on transgender issues, download GLAD’s Transgender Resources.