In the small town of Monaca in Beaver County, Pa., Sara Markustic and Jimmy Scott are the parents of a remarkable 8-year-old gender-fluid child.
At home, the child likes to be called "Abby." On the sports field, where the child is a particularly strong player on the Monaca Lil Indians football team, they like to be called Adam.
Adam/Abby is not overly concerned with pronouns at this time and Markustic says that it's OK to use "he/she." This article will also use the gender-neutral pronouns "they" and "them" to reference the child. Despite years of showing signs of masculine presenting, the child's gender identification is just evolving, according to the mother, and this report therefore abides by the mother's wishes to identify the child as gender-fluid.
The unconditional love that Adam/Abby's family shows for their gender-fluid child is one of the brightest narratives among the many inspiring tales of rough-and-tumble youth sports in the new television series Friday Night Tykes: Steel Country, premiering tonight at 10 p.m. Eastern on the Esquire Network.
"Football! Wrestling!" exclaims Adam/Abby over the phone to The Advocate when asked what makes them happy. Markustic says that although her child was assigned female at birth, Adam/Abby began choosing to present as a boy since age 2.
Markustic's child is just beginning to claim his/her identity. That's why the family uses both of the child's names. Adam/Abby has not felt a need to use the boys' bathrooms yet, says Markustic. Like her family physician, who told Markustic about trans-affirmative medical care -- including puberty blockers for children -- Markustic is accepting of her child in all circumstances and she says that she will continue to be so.
"This was the first year that she asked to be called Adam in football," Markustic tells The Advocate over the phone. Markustic notes that Adam/Abby chose their own masculine name and that almost everyone on the football team calls the child "Adam" when playing on the field.
"The coaches noticed a huge difference when Abby came to them ... and asked to be called 'Adam,'" Markustic acknowledges. "They could just tell how much happier Abby was. It was a complete 180."
Monaca lies in former steel mill country in Western Pennsylvania, an area that was once one of the industrial backbones of America. But when the steel mills closed, jobs vanished and the community has struggled to find a sense of vitality. But football has been one of the community's saving graces. It binds the roughly 5,700 residents of Monaca together and gives everyone, be they children or adults, a sense of pride, the series illustrates.
Friday Night Tykes: Steel Country digs deep into the sports culture of Beaver County to show how one of America's most beloved pastimes can become an example of acceptance and understanding for gender-variant youth.
Adam/Abby truly began to thrive when they were allowed to cut their hair. In the clip below, thick, short, tousled brown locks offset an alert, searching, easy-going face.
On the field, Adam/Abby is prodigious, frequently competing against children much older while keeping a dignified composure that is exceptional for their young age.
Advocates have consistently found that strong parental support and the acceptance of one's community are essential for ensuring the health and happiness of gender-variant and transgender children. So too is it key to allow gender-fluid children to transition at their own pace, as they find their authentic selves and explore the gender presentation that feels most affirming for them. A safe, supportive, encouraging home environment is one of the most important tools in combatting the elevated rates of depression, poverty, and risk of suicide that is decidedly more pronounced among transgender people than the general, cisgender (nontrans) population.
"We just ran with it and accepted Abby," says Markustic, noting with joy in her voice that she and her husband tell their child, "You can be whatever you want to be!'"
Watch a special preview of Friday Night Tykes: Steel Country here: