NFL’s first transgender cheerleader talks coming out, battling anxiety and depression as a teen


NFL’s first transgender cheerleader reveals how gender identity struggles left her battling depression when she was just 12 – before she fled to LA at AGE 14 to be a dancer and finally embraced ‘who I was as a person’

  • Justine Lindsay, 29, was proud to make history when she joined the cheerleading squad for the Carolina Panthers – called the TopCats – back in March
  • She may be comfortable in her skin now, but growing up wasn’t easy for Justine, as she said she was ‘socially awkward’ and struggled to ‘fit in’ with her peers
  • The cheerleader admitted that she battled anxiety and depression as a teen, while ‘trying to figure out who she was as a person’ and questioning her sexuality
  • But when Justine (who hails from the Southeast part of America, but hasn’t specified which state) fell in love with dancing, she said it was her ‘safe haven’
  • At age 14, she decided to leave home and move all the way across the country by herself to California, so she could pursue her dance career
  • Justine said her family ‘already knew’ she was ‘different,’ but it wasn’t until she returned home from California that they really started to accept her sexuality 

NFL’s first transgender cheerleader has opened up about coming out to her family and battling anxiety and depression as a teen – after she was ostracized from her classmates.

Justine Lindsay, 29, made history when she joined the cheerleading squad for the Carolina Panthers – called the TopCats – back in March.

At the time, the professional dancer said she was proud to take on the mantle, explaining to Buzzfeed News, ‘I think more people need to see this. It’s not because I want recognition. It’s to shed light on what’s going on in this world.’

She may be comfortable in her skin now, but growing up wasn’t easy for Justine, who revealed in an episode of her podcast that she was ‘socially awkward’ and struggled to ‘fit in’ with her peers during childhood.

Justine – who hails from the Southeast part of America, but hasn’t specified which city or state – admitted that she ‘battled a lot within herself’ including ‘a really bad stage’ of anxiety and depression as a teen, while ‘trying to figure out who she was as a person’ and questioning her sexuality.

NFL's first transgender cheerleader has opened up about coming out to her family and battling anxiety and depression as a teen - after she was ostracized from her classmates

NFL’s first transgender cheerleader has opened up about coming out to her family and battling anxiety and depression as a teen – after she was ostracized from her classmates

Justine Lindsay, 29, made history when she joined the cheerleading squad for the Carolina Panthers - called the TopCats - back in March

Justine Lindsay, 29, made history when she joined the cheerleading squad for the Carolina Panthers – called the TopCats – back in March

She may be comfortable in her skin now, but growing up wasn't easy for Justine, as she said she was 'socially awkward' and struggled to 'fit in' with her peers

She may be comfortable in her skin now, but growing up wasn’t easy for Justine, as she said she was ‘socially awkward’ and struggled to ‘fit in’ with her peers

The cheerleader, now 29, also explained that growing up in an African American household wasn’t easy, because she faced a huge amount of pressure from her parents to live up to their strict expectations.

‘Growing up in an African American household – the pressure on you, whether you’re a young man or young woman, it’s already put in place the day you were born,’ she explained on an episode of her podcast, Keeping it Sweet with Justine.

‘We put a lot of pressure on ourselves and it comes from seeing our parents going through [so much] to get what they want and to have what they have now.

The now-29-year-old also explained that growing up in an African American household wasn't easy, since she put pressure on herself to live up to her parents' expectations

The now-29-year-old also explained that growing up in an African American household wasn’t easy, since she put pressure on herself to live up to her parents’ expectations

‘I think for a lot of people who are African American, we grow up thinking that speaking to someone, therapy, makes you weak. But that is so not true.’

The NFL cheerleader explained that because she didn’t ‘realize’ that she was a part of the LGTQB+ community at first, it made things even harder for her. 

She recalled: ‘Growing up, I was battling a lot within myself, trying to figure out who I was as a person. 

‘At 12, I was starting middle school and I was at that point of [asking myself], “Who am I? Who is this person standing in front of this mirror? What sets me apart from everyone else?”

‘When I was in middle school, I was that person who just wanted to fit in… I think my anxiety or my depression started because I was not accepted in those cliques that I thought were the well-known cliques that everyone wanted to be a part of.

‘I saw myself as kind of, like, being towards the back. People knew who I was but because I wasn’t interesting enough to them, they didn’t want to hang out with me. 

‘That really set me apart from everyone else. Then, on top of that, just trying to figure out who I was deep inside, I was struggling with that. 

Justine - who hails from the Southeast part of America, but hasn't specified which city or state - admitted she battled anxiety and depression as a teen, while questioning her sexuality

Justine – who hails from the Southeast part of America, but hasn’t specified which city or state – admitted she battled anxiety and depression as a teen, while questioning her sexuality

But when Justine fell in love with dancing, she said it was her 'safe haven' - since she didn't feel judged by anyone in the dance community

But when Justine fell in love with dancing, she said it was her ‘safe haven’ – since she didn’t feel judged by anyone in the dance community

At age 14, she decided to leave home and move all the way across the country by herself to California, so she could pursue her dance career

At age 14, she decided to leave home and move all the way across the country by herself to California, so she could pursue her dance career

‘I was trying to figure out who I was as a person. Growing up as an African American young child, and then also not realizing that I was a part of the LGTQB+ community – I didn’t grow up having those examples or having those people to take me under their wing, I had to just fend for myself.

‘I only had two or three friends, I never really fit in. I was trying to figure out if I liked guys or if I didn’t like guys.

‘I went through a really bad stage of depression. I was even at a point where I was being disrespectful to my family, and they didn’t do anything to me, they were just trying to figure out what was going on with me.’ 

Justine said that her family 'already knew' she was 'different,' but it wasn't until she returned home from California that they really started to accept her sexuality

Justine said that her family ‘already knew’ she was ‘different,’ but it wasn’t until she returned home from California that they really started to accept her sexuality

But when Justine fell in love with dancing, she said it was her ‘safe haven’ – since she didn’t feel judged by anyone in the dance community.

At age 14, she decided to leave home and move all the way across the country by herself to California, so she could pursue her dance career.

She explained that she stayed with a ‘host mom’ while training with a series of well-known dance professionals.

However, she eventually started to ‘clash’ with the woman she was staying with, and decided to move back home when the woman said things about her family that she ‘didn’t appreciate.’

‘I was very outspoken, resilient, and rebellious and sometimes that clashed with the woman I was staying with,’ she said.

‘I was putting a lot of pressure on myself because I was trying to figure out what lane to get into or what lane fit me. I was having a hard time dealing with that, I honestly didn’t know what to do. 

‘I found myself becoming very rebellious, no one wanted to deal with my attitude. At one point, the person I was staying with was saying things about my family that I didn’t appreciate. 

‘When someone talks about your family, I don’t care who you are, that’s off limits. I felt like a nuisance in [her] home and the only way I could handle that is to get myself out of that situation and that’s what I did.’ 

Justine said that her family ‘already knew’ she was ‘different,’ but it wasn’t until she  returned home from California that they really started to accept her sexuality. 

‘At one point, I started to feel like my grandma was trying to change me. My family already knew, they knew early on I was different,’ she shared.

‘When I came back, that’s when they were like, “OK, this is my child, this is my grandchild, I’m gonna love on this person no matter what society thinks.”‘

Now, Justine said she is much 'more secure within herself,' and she is thankful her mental health issues 'didn't get to a severe place'

Now, Justine said she is much ‘more secure within herself,’ and she is thankful her mental health issues ‘didn’t get to a severe place’

She came out as transgender to the world back in March via Instagram. Although the post was flooded with support, she also received some hate - but the backlash hasn't bothered her

She came out as transgender to the world back in March via Instagram. Although the post was flooded with support, she also received some hate – but the backlash hasn’t bothered her

Justine said dealing with the negativity taught her 'patience,' as well as how to differentiate between those who are 'trying to BS' her and those who have her 'best interest at heart'

Justine said dealing with the negativity taught her ‘patience,’ as well as how to differentiate between those who are ‘trying to BS’ her and those who have her ‘best interest at heart’

Now, Justine said she is much ‘more secure within herself,’ and she is thankful her mental health issues ‘didn’t get to a severe place.’

‘When you get older you start to weed out certain people who are just there and bringing you down,’ she explained.

‘Now, as an adult, I am more secure within myself, I don’t think I’ve dealt with anxiety or depression in a while and if I have, I’ve caught whatever was causing it and figured out a way to get through it in ways like self care.’

She came out as transgender to the world back in March, while announcing her acceptance onto the TopCats team.

‘Cats out the bag,’ she wrote on Instagram at  the time. ‘You are looking at the newest member of the Carolina Panthers TopCats Cheerleaders.

‘As the first transgender female, I would like to thank the beautiful and talented dancers who supported me along the way … I would not have gotten to this moment in my life if it wasn’t for the support. 

‘Also to my beautiful coach @chandalaelanouette, you are a special being that I truly cherish thank you taking that leap of faith on me to be apart of your legacy and so many others. 

‘This is a moment I will never forget and I cannot wait to show you all what this girl has to bring. Thank you @topcats a dream come true.’

Justine is also making history as one of only a few professional cheerleaders who is black, according to Allure

Justine is also making history as one of only a few professional cheerleaders who is black, according to Allure

Justine is also making history as one of only a few professional cheerleaders who is black, according to Allure

She concluded her podcast with an important message to others who may be struggling with anxiety or depression. She said: 'Don't put so much pressure on yourself in terms of fitting in'

She concluded her podcast with an important message to others who may be struggling with anxiety or depression. She said: ‘Don’t put so much pressure on yourself in terms of fitting in’

Although the post was flooded with support from online users, she also received some hate from nasty internet trolls – but the backlash hasn’t bothered her. 

In fact, Justine explained on her podcast that being in the public eye and dealing with the negativity has taught her ‘patience,’ as well as how to differentiate between those who are ‘trying to BS’ her and those who have her ‘best interest at heart.’ 

'Not everyone is meant to fit in. Some people are meant to stand out so stand out,' she added. 'Don't feel like you have to fit this mold of what your friends or family want to see you as'

‘Not everyone is meant to fit in. Some people are meant to stand out so stand out,’ she added. ‘Don’t feel like you have to fit this mold of what your friends or family want to see you as’

Though the NFL does not keep a record of its cheerleaders, Justine is believed to be the first openly transgender female in the league. 

Justine is also making history as one of only a few professional cheerleaders who is black, according to Allure

‘I’m happy because I was able to break down that door and tell people, “Hey, we are not just sexual beings, we are actual human beings who want to better ourselves,”‘ she told Buzzfeed News back in March, adding that she felt relieved when her coach said she could keep her bald head.

‘[I’m happy to] inspire other girls who may be insecure rocking their bald look.’

She concluded her podcast with an important message to others who may be struggling with anxiety or depression.

She said: ‘Don’t put so much pressure on yourself in terms of fitting in, not everyone is meant to fit in. Some people are meant to stand out so stand out for the right reason.

‘Don’t feel like you have to fit this mold of what your friends or family want to see you as. 

‘The only person who has the answers to that is the man upstairs and yourself. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself. 

‘If you feel like you are going through depression or anxiety don’t hesitate to seek out help because there are professionals there to help you.’

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