As the final seconds of my last college soccer game for Queens College, City University of New York, ticked away, an identity that had shaped my life thus far dissipated with the final whistle. No longer eclipsed by the moniker of soccer player, I found myself confronted with the question of who I was, and who I wanted to become. Though it was painful to not be able to call myself a soccer player anymore, I wasn’t completely directionless. I had just taken my first creative writing workshop at Queens College, which reignited the love for writing and reading that I’d had since childhood, and introduced me to contemporary poetry. I finally saw myself represented in poems by Chen Chen, Cameron Awkward-Rich, and Ari Banias.
As a kid, I loved reading, escaping into different worlds. My life was very lonely, mostly because I’m trans (female to male), and growing up I didn’t know that being trans was a thing at all. There was hardly any representation for trans people at the time, and none that I ever saw for transmasculine people. I pretty much was a boy growing up—I wore my brothers’ hand-me-downs, had short hair, and people often thought I was a boy. Yet, I was still considered a girl by my family and everyone else when they were corrected. I thought I had to accept the body I was born in, that I’d never be able to live truly as myself, which felt pretty awful as you can imagine. So reading was a way for me to live different lives and escape my own reality. I also loved writing and inventing stories in my head where I could be anyone, and have whatever name I wanted. Those are some of my best childhood memories—making up stories alone in my room or outside in the ocean of sagebrush.
I joined a competitive soccer team at age eleven. Soccer became my entire world, my new identity. Reading and writing kind of fell by the wayside. When I was playing soccer I didn’t have to think, I could just run and play hard—everything else melted away. Because it was an all girl’s team I felt pressure to conform and dress more femininely. I stuffed my feelings about gender deep down and tried to pretend they didn’t exist. My identity as a soccer player sort of filled the gap of my gender identity, and I was okay for a while.
I went on to play soccer at a few different colleges. At Sierra College, I watched a documentary about trans people in an English class, and that was the first time I saw a transmasculine person represented on screen. My life was changed on the spot. All of the feelings I’d had as a kid about my gender identity came flooding back, only this time they made sense—I wasn’t crazy, there were other people like me. I knew I was trans. I decided to transfer to a college in New York City, a place that was more accepting of queer people, so that I could experiment with my hair and clothes and not be judged as much. It was at Queens that I came back to reading and writing—like I was returning to my true self, who I was as a kid, the boy that loved reading and making up stories. By the end of the year, I looked very masculine. I would get gendered as male by most people until I opened my mouth to talk. I knew I couldn’t play on the women’s soccer team any longer, so after the first year ended I quit with one year of eligibility left. I felt very lost without soccer and had to return to my hometown—Reno, Nevada—which was difficult, but it was the right choice. I started taking testosterone when I got back, and soon after changed my name. It has taken a while, but I finally feel like I am who I’m supposed to be. I feel comfortable, confident, and free.
I graduated with a BA in English and a minor in Book Arts and Publication from the University of Nevada, Reno, where I have met amazing mentors and professors that have guided and inspired me. Although I enjoy writing prose, both fiction and nonfiction, in my last two years of undergrad I fell in love with poetry. Poetry is everything to me; I find solace and inspiration in reading it, and when I write poetry, I can express myself fully and everything I know as well as represent my community. I decided to continue on at UNR and pursue an MFA in poetry. I am now going into my final semester. I have learned a lot about the literary world so far in grad school, which is why I am so grateful and excited to work with Sundress Publications as an intern and learn more about the publishing industry. I love Sundress’ mission of publishing work by people who are underrepresented in the literary world. Above all, I want to tell my own stories and help other people tell theirs. It’s been a long, confusing, and difficult journey for me, but I finally feel like the pieces are falling into place, and I’m excited to see what’s to come!
Max Stone is in his third, and final, year as an MFA candidate in Poetry at the University of Nevada, Reno. He received his BA in English with a minor in Book Arts and Publication from UNR in 2019. He is originally from Reno, but has lived in many other places since including, most recently, New York City. His poetry has been published in Black Moon Magazine, Sandpiper Review, Night Coffee Lit, Caustic Frolic, KCB Mag, and elsewhere. Max is a book artist and retired college soccer player.