Try to imagine what it would take to give up your family, you successful career and your physical gender and return to play Women’s College Basketball as a transsexual in front of crowd loaded with haters and you may never again think about transsexuals in the same way. Try to imagine doing this 32 years after your last college game as a man and you will be begin to understand the courage of Gabrielle Ludwig.
Today, we will share a story that in a few minutes will make it clear to anyone who is willing to keep an open mind that no one has any idea of the pain and suffering felt by a human being going through a lifelong gender identity crisis and there is not one of us on this earth who has the right to judge. Today you will meet Gabrielle Ludwig and she may simply rock your world.
Thirty two years ago, in the fall of 1980, Gabrielle Ludwig was Robert Ludwig and he played college basketball at Nassau Community College. But he was a bit of a wild child and he quit the team after one semester. Ludwig remembers a mostly happy youth with one notable exception. Every time he looked in the mirror, he didn’t quite recognize the person looking back at him.
Even before puberty, Robert was trying on his mother’s dresses and using her makeup. Always fearful of being caught, he would manage to put back the clothing and wipe off the makeup before mom or dad walked in on him. Although he knew something was wrong, he didn’t know how to explain it and he didn’t feel he was gay since he was only attracted to girls from an early age.
Finally the stress got the best of Ludwig and at 15 he tried to commit suicide by emptying his parents medicine chest and taking every pill he could find. The attempt failed and before another crisis struck, Ludwig began to grow to a muscular 6 ‘ 8″ and basketball became his saving grace.
After his short stint as a college hoops player, Robert drifted for a few years and then did an eight year hitch in the US. Navy, seeing the world as an aviation anti-submarine warfare technician. His experiences in Desert Storm left him disgusted with politics and he recalls tearing up his letter of commendation from President Bush.
The years slowly passed, one marriage failed and the sense of being out of balance continued. Ludwig began to take female hormones behind the back of his second wife and eventually their 11 year marriage fell apart, leaving his daughter and an overwhelming feeling that he betrayed his wife.
“But how do you hide that from your wife? It’s like you coming home, undoing your shirt and there are boobs there. Sure your wife would have some questions. Marriages are hard enough without a husband’s boobs. I feel I betrayed her trust. That is a cross I have to bear the rest of my life. What would you do?”
Slowly Robert began to understand he was a female on the inside but he had no idea what to do or where to turn.
“You look in the mirror and you have breasts and are developing a woman’s body, and you have male genitalia. You kind of feel freakish. It’s like you are stuck in the abyss.”
It wasn’t until his daughter, Janelle, now 19, came to him and spoke to him that he finally understood the choice he has to make.
“Maddy (a combination of mom and dad), it’s time you do what you need to do. If you want to become a woman, I will always love you and will always call you dad. I have one father and one mother. No matter how you present yourself, you’ll always be my dad.”
Ludwig had a top flight career as a system engineer at Roche Molecular Systems. He helped design robots that are used in DNA research. One day in 2007, he strolled into the Human Resources Department, took a deep breath and announced that he needed some time off. He told his employer that Robert Ludwig was leaving and Gabrielle Ludwig would return in his place.
He sent a letter to his co-workers that read in part:
“It’s become clear to me that I cannot proceed with my life without finding union between my body and my spirit.”
Gabrielle Ludwig completed her sex change surgery in July of 2012. Her employee insurance, to the great credit of Roche Molecular Systems, paid for the entire gender reassignment operation and all the aftercare. When Gabrielle return to her job, her business cards, cubicle nameplate, email and paycheck all displayed her new name and and a new life had begun.
Through all of her trials and tribulations, one passion has always sustained Gabrielle and that was basketball. After she recovered from her surgery, the idea of actually playing college basketball slowly crept into her mind and she began to wonder if she might be able to play as a woman.
Enter Mission College coach Corey Cafferata, who was willing to act on Gabrielle’s friendly joking about trying out for the team and actually made it happen. Mission College athletic director Mike Perez helped cut through all the red tape, important documents were gathered from around the world and Gabrielle enrolled for 12 credits at Mission to qualify as a student.
Perez addressed the significance of their efforts.
“We can look at it like this is a student-athlete who wants to play basketball. No, this is much more than that. This is a student-athlete who is really opening up to what is going on in her life. What we can do is support her, as I would any student-athlete …This is a special time for all of us in awareness – not athletics – but in the world we live in, a great opportunity for all of us to learn.”
Gabrielle made the team and her teammates, many of whom have also experienced prejudice in their own lives, took to her like a charm; calling her Gabbi, Giant, or Big Sexy. At 6′ 8″, Gabbi towers over her teammates; all of whom are between 18 and 21 years old. They joke with her about her age and when Big Sexy begins to reminisce about how easy it was to dunk when she played basketball at Nassau College, the kids ask her if that was back in 1920.
Gabbi’s first college basketball game as a a woman came against College of the Siskiyous last Saturday, She scored three points and took down four rebounds in a 69-62 losing effort. There were some cheers and a few unkind, angry words, but as far as the team was concerned, her debut was an unqualified success. In the weeks ahead, she will work harder on her conditioning, get the old skills going and improve her game. Its a bright new day in the life of Gabrielle Ludwig.
“If the example I can set for the kids who are transgenders in high school, for the people who hate transgender people and for those learning to deal with transgenders, transsexuals, if they see me as a normal person and we are not the bogeyman and love life and raise kids just like you. Maybe some of this mystery of who these people are will be taken away and there can be more blending into society. People are afraid of what they don’t know. I am willing to put myself out there. It was not like that before. It was just about playing basketball. It’s about more because I see an injustice.”
“Robert Ludwig is gone. And the person you have is Gabrielle Ludwig with everything Robert embodied and was … That person [Robert] should be honored. He was a great guy. Robert is gone. He was a great father. His spirit is still here. It’s just that the spirit matches the body, as it should be.”