Editor’s Note: This story has been translated and edited from the original. Spanish versionwhich appeared on ESPN Deportes on Monday.
Alba Palacios says she finally found happiness and fulfillment by becoming the Spanish Football Federation’s first transgender player, making her rollercoaster experience worth it.
Palacios, who now plays for Torrelodones of the Spanish federation’s newly formed semi-professional third division, began her transition six years ago and began hormone therapy in 2017.
It’s been a tumultuous few years for her and her family, who she says struggled to accept her, and she spent almost a year in therapy to come to terms with how her life would change.
Palacios, who made history when she played for La Rosas in 2018, told ESPN: “In 2017, I took the plunge and started hormone therapy. But a year earlier, I started with psychologists who helped me through the process, which I think was very important to me.
“It was difficult because I was 30. I had a very stable life, had relationships, and I was afraid of losing my job, these relationships, friends and all that.
“After all, with the help of these specialists, I spent a year taking little steps with certain people and letting them know. And once everyone around me knew, I started in 2017 with therapy.”
Palacios became an unintentional role model when she was involved in the struggle for her identity, which she said caused her to be more visible than she would like, as she was seen as a role model for trans athletes.
“I didn’t want to be an example,” she said. “When they talked to me about speaking in public to help others, I said [to myself]: Don’t be so selfish, Alba. Because you were always looking for someone to see if it could be done and you didn’t find anyone.
“But yes, I would like to be known more for football than as trans.”
But to get to this point where she is content with her club and her life, Palacios endured years of indecision and inner doubt, long before she took the step to talk to psychologists in her 30s.
“[At 21] I knew that something was happening to me, and so I said that I decided that I should try to find myself, ”the striker explained.
She said she quit football for eight years, not knowing what to do next, and then “at 29, I started playing for the regional second division.” [men’s] team and played there for two years. The second year was when I started therapy, in the middle of the season.
“I didn’t dare to tell my teammates, only the manager. They noticed that I was growing my hair long and that I seemed to be losing weight, but I never showed signs of being feminine. They didn’t put it together. I left it there and started my time at Las Rozas Femenino, that’s where it all started.”
While she was pleasantly surprised by the reactions from the players and the general public, her family was a different – and complicated – story.
“In public, at work, with friends and everything else, everything turned out well,” she said. “It was much more difficult with the family… more because of fear and rejection. [for my parents].
“At the end of the day, that’s what they don’t understand when you’ve lived with your son for 31 years, in this case, and he tells you that. I have always liked girls, cars, football. This is something very difficult for parents. take over.
“I had a girlfriend and I’m still with her; I made the transition with her, we are still together and in good condition, to be honest. Everything is great. My mom struggled because I was the only son at school. at home. It’s complicated. Now we are doing very well. She comes to watch me play and is very proud of me. This is great”.
It wasn’t just her family who supported her: her local football federation in Madrid and Spain’s national governing body supported her from the start.
“I didn’t know if I could play competitive football, I just wanted to practice,” she explained. “Then I saw that I could play football with my national identity card, which identifies me as a woman, after two years [hormone] therapy.
“But since the Madrid federation knew that I had transferred and trained at Las Rosas, a year before I received [updated identity card]they contacted the club and told me that I can play in the Community League of Madrid without any problems.
“There was a law that I didn’t know about that you can compete with the gender you identify with even if you’re not in therapy. So the Community of Madrid and the Madrid Federation have helped me a lot.”
Palacios recalls how she felt great joy when she found out that she could compete.
“I thought it would be pre-season training, that’s all,” she said. “And when my manager called me to explain everything that was going on, the truth is that I was jumping for joy at the thought of helping my teammates on the field, which is something I always wanted to compete with them. I was very excited.”
However, Palacios is aware of the controversy surrounding trans athletes as the international swimming federation FINA is changing its rules for trans women in elite competition, and sports bodies such as FIFA and the IAAF are considering the same.
But she feels there is a place for trans athletes on the team, no matter what.
“Every transgender is a separate world,” she said. “In my case, for example, you may have noticed that since I am one of 11 players – even if you put in a guy – you can still lose. So it’s very difficult. not allowed to compete.
“And I believe there is a lot of fear, a huge ignorance of what it means to be trans. When people say “trans jock” I know they mean trans girls because with guys I don’t think there will be a problem.
“We have to keep moving forward with new cases. You should never, ever ban transgender people from participating in sports.”
Alba is of the same mindset as American trans swimmer Leah Thomas, who recently said the perception of her transitioning just to win medals is laughable. Both Palacios and Thomas say they just want a chance to compete in their favorite sports.
“I don’t compete for money or medals,” Palacios said. “They used to say, ‘Alba Palacios just wants to be the best, so she plays with women.’ By no means not even true.
“I just wanted to play women’s football because when I first saw [third-division club] Pozuelo played and I saw their women training next to us on the other field, the only thing that came to my mind was that I wanted to be there.
“Where I really feel comfortable is in the women’s locker room, I feel more at ease. I never had a problem with any of the guys. But now that I can enjoy being around girls, I feel at home where you fit in. It’s a wonderful feeling.”
According to her, Palacios found more understanding and support than she could have imagined, and although she lost some friends after the transition, she gained many more.
“What’s funny is that I made friends and didn’t lose them,” she said. “I met a lot more people. I have people who are very supportive, but I have the most female friends, men too.
“Honestly, a friend here or there, we’ve drifted apart and don’t talk anymore, but I always say that if it serves to filter true friendship, then it’s welcome. After all, if people love you, they love you for who you are, not for your gender.”
As for transitioning later in life, Palacios says she regrets letting fear slow her acceptance of herself, but she feels that each person’s journey is different.
“It’s true that I would like to make the transition much sooner,” she said. “But I think every person transitions when they can. In my time it was difficult, there was no such visibility as now, and I was very, very scared. I didn’t even know where to turn, what to do, nothing. I was scared. The stereotypes that existed about transgender people focused most on transvestites, which is not so bad, who always ended up in prostitution, and that scared me.
“I knew I shouldn’t have ended up like this, but when that’s the only ‘example’ you have, it’s not that attractive to take that step knowing how society feels about it… I had gay friends and all that, I saw how hard it was for them.
“I didn’t want to listen to any comments, deal with this pain, so I switched off. I have always regretted it. I think I should have taken this step earlier. my youth is more like Alba. I would love that.
“But it’s important to take that step, continue to enjoy every moment and be happy just the way you are.”