In the Summer of 2020, Mitch Harrison competed on NBC’s The Titan Games becoming the first openly trans athlete to compete in a network TV athletic competition. But before that history-making moment, Mitch went through quite a journey. In this episode, Isaac sits with Mitch as he takes us through that journey from Michelle to Mitch and shows us the peace and stability he developed along the way.
You can find Mitch on Instagram at @theiron_wolf
Inspiring Resilience: The Journey of Trans Athlete Mitch Harrison
In a world where sports often stand as a symbol of athleticism, perseverance, and unity, the story of Mitch Harrison, the first openly trans athlete to compete in a network television athletic competition, adds a new layer of depth and courage to the sporting world. From his beginnings as a nationally recognized basketball star to his triumphant journey of self-discovery and authenticity, Mitch’s story serves as an inspiring testament to the strength of the human spirit and the power of unconditional love.
From the Court to the Titan Games:
Mitch Harrison’s journey began as a young basketball prodigy hailing from Utah, a state deeply rooted in conservative values. His talent on the court was undeniable, and he quickly gained recognition as one of the best basketball players coming out of Utah. Mitch’s story took a dramatic turn when he was named a McDonald’s All-American, becoming the only female to hold this prestigious title from the state of Utah. This achievement, while remarkable, also marked the beginning of Mitch’s internal struggle with his gender identity.
Gender Dysphoria and Self-Discovery:
Throughout his early years, Mitch grappled with a profound sense of gender dysphoria, a condition where one’s emotional and psychological identity as male or female differs from their biological sex. This internal conflict was further compounded by the societal and familial expectations placed on him. Mitch’s journey towards self-discovery was a difficult and intensely personal one, marked by repression and the internalized belief that being true to himself was unacceptable.
The Courage to Transition:
After years of suppressing his true identity, Mitch found the strength and courage to embrace his authentic self. The decision to transition was a pivotal moment in his life, one that would alter the trajectory of his personal and professional journey. Mitch’s path towards self-acceptance and authenticity was anything but easy, as he faced rejection and disapproval from some of the people he cared about the most.
Support and Unconditional Love:
Despite the challenges, Mitch was fortunate to find unwavering support from a loving partner and his newfound community. His journey allowed him to recognize the true meaning of family, where family is not solely defined by blood but by the people who stand by your side through thick and thin. The support he received from colleagues and friends at Thunder Ridge Middle School, where he worked as a security guard, was a heartwarming testament to the power of understanding and acceptance.
Mitch’s Triumph on the Titan Games:
Mitch’s inspiring journey led him to become a participant on “The Titan Games,” a network television athletic competition. Not only did he compete as his authentic self, but he also became the first openly trans athlete to do so on such a platform. His participation in the show was a powerful statement, challenging stereotypes and proving that being true to oneself should be celebrated and respected.
Mitch Harrison’s story is one of resilience, courage, and love. His journey from a closeted basketball star to an openly trans athlete on a national television stage serves as an inspiration to all those who have faced adversity while pursuing their authentic selves. Mitch’s triumph is a reminder that embracing our true identities can lead to a life filled with love, acceptance, and boundless possibilities. His story encourages us all to be better humans, fostering a world where everyone can thrive and live authentically, regardless of gender identity or any other aspect of their true selves.
Life in the spotlight and the pressures to become the face of a larger group…what a pressure! Being a representative for a larger community can put a lot of pressure to nail down the perfect persona.
Is life in the limelight really exposing our authenticity or our facades? And why do we build these facades? Well, in my opinion, we create them to belong.
I can imagine Michelle, the part of Mitch who stepped into the limelight, accepting the award for all of his hard work. Of course, Mitch knew something about his authenticity, even if people called him Michelle. Many of us can recall moments like these in our own lives, moments where we recognize the role we are expected to play and our eagerness to stay in costume. Like Mitch, we can become the face of a community or the face of the good child who lives life either in the wrong clothing or in the closet just to keep our sense of belonging intact. But in fact, when we have to pretend to create “safety,” it really isn’t true belonging.
When others are pleased with our costumes and our performances, they will be easily angered when we start to play more authentic roles.
And as we begin to recognize that we can’t tolerate the itchy costume any longer, we start to daydream about true belonging. We might ask questions like, “Who am I beyond athlete or beyond an LDS poster child?” This is where the sacred unraveling begins to take place.
I experienced this as a stripping, maybe more like a crumbling of all the pillars of false safety and false stability I had placed to prop up my sense of security. When the stripping of our temporal comforts happens, when our fake belonging and shallow roots are uprooted, suffering and sorrow become our guides.
Suffering and sorrow take us through the dark seasons and the empty weekends, never-ending moments when we fear loneliness will devour our lives. But as we watch the crumbling of all the falsehoods we believed, we begin to see a new truth that is ultimately fulfilling because it comes from the inside out.
No longer relying on our costumes and parades, we begin to see genuine acceptance in others, those who see and cherish our undecorated selves. When we finally have this moment of eureka, we turn to thank suffering and sorrow because they actually led us to life.
I say, “to unhealthy people, healthy boundaries seem unhealthy.” This is another gift of the sacred unraveling, that painful stripping: we leave behind the willingness to be harmed by others’ lack of boundaries. Love teaches us what we are worth and what we truly deserve. Unconditional love teaches us how to embrace the knowing that we are already enough. It also gives us the compassion that refines our ability to not only lovingly hold appropriate boundaries but also insulate our self-esteem from others’ immature opinions. Healthy boundaries give us compassion and compassion allows us to love those that hurt us. This time from behind a protective relational barrier.
From here we are able to embrace our total self, the unwanted parts of our past that built the foundation for our present and the present iteration who is right here, right now. Integration is the ability to transcend the outdated and include what we learned.
Today’s guest said it best, “Without Michelle, Mitch couldn’t be.” What a powerful statement of self-acceptance. What I heard in Mitch’s voice was a deep and tender tone of self-love. What a true testament to the ability to transcend and include.
When we undo the shame of what we did, who we were, and how we looked on paper, we acknowledge that we needed the shitty rough draft. That cursory version of who we were, gave life to becoming.
Shame—on the other hand—is debilitating because it keeps us focused on what role we should play, always hoping to gain access to a larger stage with better costumes. As we deconstruct the shame that stabilizes our lives, we also deconstruct the narratives and the roles that block our true selves from maturing.
I was that son who drank like a fish and crashed his car on a drunken early return from a gay bar. I was that lost Latinx kid who failed out of college, and he had the courage to bring me here. I stand on his decisions. I benefit from his toil and his fight, and I love now because he was willing to be loved.
I felt my core shift when Mitch said, “If anyone could take on all the pain, it was her,”.
What if, just what if, the closet is our training facility? What if in the closet, the place where we wrestle with pain, inequality, invisibility, and conditional love is also the place where we cultivate the strength to go beyond typical limits. What if it gave us the ability to empathize with deeper pains, reach higher levels of compassion, gratitude, and gave us the ability to love others no matter their condition? What if your closeted self was the only self who could tolerate the pain of the sacred unraveling? Now that part of me, and that part of you, is worth embracing and the part of which we should be most proud!
As a counselor, I get to be on that journey and see lives literally change right before my eyes. In today’s episode, we listened to how Mitch did this in an astounding way.
I believe iron sharpens iron. Sometimes I am the hammer to shape another into their best form. Other times I am the sword being hammered into shape. Today, I want to express my gratitude for Mitch for being my hammer, giving me an even sharper edge to pierce through the shame and fear that commonly plagues us all.
If you know of an LGBTQ+ someone who needs to hear Mitch’s story or any other story found here, please share these episodes. Let’s get encouraging stories like Mitch’s out there! Please leave us a review, give us a like, and subscribe. The more we unite the further help for the LGBTQ+ community can spread.
I hope you enjoyed Mitch and his enlightened love. I am so proud to be part of the LGBTQ+ community with him.