Last fall, Reeves Gift was living a double life.
He was making great strides in his high school classes and on the soccer field at Chesapeake Math and IT Academy. At the same time, he was invaded by fear at the prospect of going home.
The girls on his soccer team knew he was transgender, but he had never talked to his parents about it. To make matters worse, he was named homecoming king at his school’s dance.
“I left for the dance in a pre-approved outfit and then changed into my homecoming king outfit,” says Gift. “I had a blast that night, but I was terrified that I would be caught. There would be consequences if my parents found out.”
Everything came to a head for Gift when he finally told his parents at the end of the year. The reaction was not good, and he did not feel safe in what he describes as an abusive situation. On Jan. 2, he left home and a case worker came and picked him up. He bounced around the DMV area until he found a place to stay so he could finish high school.
Through all of his struggles, he experienced acceptance and release through his sport of soccer. His teammates and coaches found out he was homeless and stepped forward with emotional support.
“I was surprised by the love that they showed me. It’s hard for me to process good things without being suspicious,” Gift says. “I was feeling deep emotions and deep worry. That all falls away when I am playing soccer. It’s important for me to be with people who want to work as a team.”
Gift played varsity soccer as a goalkeeper through all four years of high school. At his school, the boys’ and girls’ soccer teams ran the same practices and did drills together. Even though he wasn’t able to play on the boys’ team, it was a good experience to practice with them.
“It made me feel good to know that I was on par with the boys’ goalkeeper,” says Gift. “Both teams knew I was trans and I felt like one of the guys.”
His situation at home that once felt like a “dark cloud of terror” evolved through his final semester of high school. He turned 18, emancipated himself and obtained a protective order against his parents. While living on couches, he earned his high school diploma along with an associate degree through an early college program.
“I have my teammates, friends and case manager to thank for all of this,” Gift says. “It was really hard dedicating the time to school and soccer with everything going on and I was afraid I wouldn’t graduate.”
Coming up for Gift is one final summer in the D.C. area. He will play soccer as a goalie with the LGBT-based Summer of Freedom Soccer League, which is hosted by the Federal Triangles Soccer Club.
This fall, Gift will enter the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. With no money coming from his family, he had to get creative to come up with the funds for college.
He is using a combination of Pell Grants, gift aid, work study and a financial aid scholarship from USC. Locally, he received a Team DC sports scholarship and a Youth Leadership Award from SMYAL.
“It took a lot of reaching out to people, marketing myself and relying on the LGBT community,” says Gift. “I am hoping my journey gives me the tools and resources to help other kids in my situation. I picked film school because I want to influence the world and change the way the world thinks.”
He says that this summer he wants to focus on healing, getting to know himself and finding closure before he heads off to college. Leaving that feeling of terror behind is important for him to move forward. Sports at USC will be on his own terms and he hopes it includes rugby.
“I want to learn, be curious and explore while being in a safe space,” Gift says. “I want to temper that with compassion even if it is impossible. Everyone’s path is different, and it is my time to rise up.”