What the Women's World Cup victory means to me, a former sixth grade soccer player

I was a terrible soccer player.

In 6th grade, my soccer team won our local championship in an undefeated season, no thanks to me. I played right side defense and my coach taught me to crowd the opposing player to the edge of the field, in hopes that she would kick the ball out of bounds. This was all I could be counted on to accomplish — and just barely.

I was asthmatic and uncoordinated, and I was only somewhat interested in winning. Nonetheless, playing soccer was the only time I remember feeling joy in my body during my childhood. Soccer also provided a rare opportunity to receive adult attention and encouragement even when I was obviously bad at something. It was one of the few times I felt a part of any kind of team. Best of all, soccer provided me with my first queer women role models.

Even as a 12 year old, I knew that the U.S. Women’s National Team had a better record than the men’s team, and that some of the players were gay. Don’t ask me how I knew; I don’t remember. Little queer kids know a lot of things they have no obvious way of knowing. However I came by that knowledge, I stored the idea that queer women could be better at soccer than men in my bones and let it strengthen me.

Seeing queer women excel on the international stage didn’t make me into a better soccer player, but it did help me survive middle school. Today, Megan Rapinoe and the U.S. Women’s National Team are helping me survive the Trump administration.

Queer women, forgive me while I explain something you already know: Queer people have loved Megan Rapinoe for years.

My admiration for Rapinoe started in 2016 when she began kneeling in support of Colin Kaepernick’s protests. Of her protest, which continued during the World Cup, she said, “Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties. ... It's important to have white people stand in support of people of color on this.” It was her clarity about her own privilege that impressed me most.

Megan Rapinoe has claimed her place in the tradition of athletes who used their fame and the power of their sheer excellence to fight for justice. The U.S. Women’s National Team has also taken up the struggle for equal pay for equal work — or in this case, better work. I’ll be cheering and protesting beside them.

For now, though, and for the little queer soccer player I once was, I’m basking in the exhilaration of victory. Queer women won the World Cup.