Layshia Clarendon on Bravery, Top Surgery, and the Future of the WNBA

“It’s lonely,” admits Layshia Clarendon, the WNBA’s first openly trans and nonbinary player. The 30-year-old guard for the Minnesota Lynx, who uses all pronouns interchangeably, made headlines in January when they revealed on Instagram that they’d undergone top surgery. Clarendon, who was selected 9th overall in the 2013 WNBA Draft, had come out as gender nonconforming several years prior—another transformational moment in the history of the league.

Clarendon’s Instagram announcement earlier this year came amid a wave of state bills attempting to ban trans youth in sports altogether, an agenda aggressively pursued by the Trump Administration. Just hours after assuming office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order aimed at preventing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, but the debate about where trans and gender nonconforming bodies belong in American sports continues to rage.

Nearly a year after surgery, Clarendon still feels bewildered at times. “You know what it’s like to blaze a fucking trail?” they ask. “That means you’re hacking down weeds in the forest. How do you get through the forest when there’s no fucking trail? It’s not just like the path less taken. There is no path.”

Still, they feel hopeful about the larger role the league can play in this pivotal moment: “The W is perfectly positioned to be the league that is for people who are marginalized because of gender. That’s why the W started in the first place, and I think that’s the league that it still is.” Before the end of the season, Clarendon spoke with GQ about bravery, coming out, and their vision for the future of the WNBA.

GQ: When did you start questioning the structures and systems that make up the sports industry?

Layshia Clarendon: It wasn’t until college that I started to see the difference in how the men’s team was treated from the women’s team. At [the University of California] Berkeley, we were way better than the men’s team, and yet their game on a Wednesday night would be the game that was packed.

I took this sociology class in college and I still have very vivid memories of being angry and being like, “Wow, this is how the world works?” It was the first time I remember learning the word “socioeconomic status.” Unfortunately, I wasn’t raised in a family that was open about many of these topics. My dad is white, and my mom is Black, and they consistently reiterated “You have the best of both worlds” to me. In retrospect, though, I’ve come to realize that my parents were trying to talk about race and self-becoming without actually addressing the fact that I grew up in an interracial household. Same with coming out and queerness.

You’re pretty open about how coming out was difficult for your parents. What advice do you have for young people on the ebbs and flows of becoming?

I have all of those feelings that most marginalized people have around coming out in general. It’s ridiculous that we even have to do it in the first place! I’ve always fallen back on the idea that if I am worthy enough to fully be who I am and that I love myself enough to show up 100 percent for myself, that means I don’t have relationships with certain people who don’t accept those parts of me. I am still sad and mourn some of the relationships I’ve lost [since I’ve come out], but ultimately I love myself too much to put myself through that.

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