Layne Ingram on gender transition: 'I can only be me'

Layne Ingram on gender transition: 'I can only be me'

Eric Lacy, Lansing State Journal

LANSING -- Lansing Community College's new women's basketball coach felt intimidated a few months ago in a sports bar. 

It had nothing to do with Xs and Os. 

It had to do with a men's bathroom, and the first time he had ever been in one. 

"It was so great!" Layne Ingram exclaimed to his wife after he relieved himself. "Nobody was talking about their hair, or what this dude did to them. I just went in there, peed and came out!"

Ingram, a 36-year-old born in Lansing, is believed to be the state's first active basketball coach at any level to go public with plans to change from one gender to another. 

Since February, Ingram, who was born female, has followed a strict regimen to attain the physical characteristics of a man. He came out about 15 years ago as gay, while living as a woman.

"A lot of people here have known me for years," Layne said of his hometown. "And now they are going to know someone else."

More than a coach

When hired as the women's basketball coach this year, Layne already had been an LCC employee for nearly five years. 

In addition to coaching duties, Layne is the school's associate dean for academic and career pathways. He oversees five departments and previously held a position as marketing coordinator. 

In December, Layne expects to earn a master's degree in leadership from Central Michigan University.  

"Layne gets things done," LCC President Brent Knight said.

Lisa Webb Sharpe, LCC's chief business officer said, "Layne is not one stuck on process, he's focused on results." 

That focus appears no different, as Layne becomes the person he has always wanted to be - inside and out.

An institution that promotes inclusiveness helps, he said. 

The school enrolls an estimated 15,000 students a year, with nearly 2,500 faculty, staff and student employees, and has made a push to help people like Layne feel comfortable with their gender transition.

There isn't a specific policy regarding the use of bathrooms for people who may identify as transgender, but LCC soon will complete its 15th single restroom. 

The single restrooms, in buildings across the downtown Lansing campus, can be used by anyone. 

The school also has an equal opportunity and non-discrimination policy. 

"Every time we modify a space, we think about how we can be more inclusive and accommodating," Knight said. "We're here for all the people."  

'Always proud'

People in Michigan who identify themselves as transgender or transitioning often feel unsupported by employers and in danger, according to survey results released in May

The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey said 27% of 895 Michigan residents who participated reported being fired, denied a promotion or not being hired for a job they applied for due to gender identity or expression. 

Layne often reminds himself how fortunate he is to be in a supportive environment.

His father, Mike Ingram, is looking forward to sharing LCC's Gannon Gymnasium with Layne, this time as basketball coaches, and said Layne's decision to identify as male won't affect their relationship. 

However, Mike Ingram said he will most likely still refer to Layne as his daughter. 

"I always have been proud of the strength she shows in who she wants to be," Mike Ingram said. "And she's always been that way."

Phebeit Ingram, Layne's mother, said the gender transition won't change the love she has for her first born. 

She added that her Christian faith produces peace of mind and the belief that God gives people the ability to choose how to live their lives. 

"That's not the decision that I would have chosen for her, but Alayne has free will," Phebeit Ingram said. 

A natural step

Layne said LCC's health insurance has a $500 deductible for a breast removal surgery he's scheduled to have on Nov. 27. For testosterone, he pays $10 for two milliliters, which is enough for about four weeks of shots. 

He gives himself a shot once a week and will likely do so for the rest of his life. 

Layne looks forward to the day he can grow a beard and mow his lawn with his shirt off. 

When he first took testosterone, it led to some mood swings, but such side effects have subsided over time. 

"I think that somebody needs to be brave enough or strong enough to withstand what might come so that other people know that it's alright to be themselves," Layne said. "It's 2017, and there's still a lot of kids out there, young adults and adults who don't feel like they can be themselves. 

"It takes time until you get to that place; I decided I can only be me."

Tonya Causley-Ingram, Layne's wife, met him at LCC and describes the transition as part of a natural step in their relationship. The couple celebrated their first wedding anniversary on Sept. 30. 

The couple were married at Herrmann House, the on-campus residence of LCC's president. Causley-Ingram, also a Lansing native, is a project coordinator in Knight's office.  

"Clearly, I met a girl," Causley-Ingram said. "But our relationship, our roles have been very comfortable for both of us. I accepted who she … he wanted to be."

After news of Layne's gender transition from female to male was shared last month in an employee newsletter, faculty, staff and students have appeared to adjust well.

As of Tuesday, Layne said a sticker by the door of his office still read "Alayne Ingram." But one reflecting the new name was ordered this week and should go up soon. 

Staffers in his department already appeared last month to have mastered gender pronoun changes from she, her and hers to he, him and his. 

Back to basics 

The LCC Stars women's basketball team already is becoming a second family.

Players know what Layne accomplished as a player in high school and college and are eager to follow his lead. 

There are expected to be 12 players on the team's roster when its season starts Nov. 3. That includes several who were recruited by Layne when he still had the name Alayne and had not disclosed the gender transition. 

Consider an impromptu 10-minute meeting in a hallway outside Gannon Gymnasium the team's first bonding moment. 

This meeting in July was Layne's attempt to explain his gender and give players time to find another school if they felt uncomfortable with it. 

Some players, unaware of the transition, thought he might be ready to quit. 

Everyone left relieved.

After the meeting and a team workout, freshman guard Jessi Taylor reinforced her support with a text message. 

"As long as you're happy that's honestly all that matters." 

Asked last month about that message, Taylor, an 18-year-old from Stockbridge, smiled and shrugged while dripping with post-practice sweat. 

"It doesn't change all those sprints that we just ran," Taylor said smiling. 

"It never will," said Layne, who overheard the conversation. 

'It's necessary' 

The Ingram family is basketball royalty in Greater Lansing.

Mike Ingram, Layne's father, is beginning his 28th season as LCC's men's head coach. He's been on the basketball program's staff for 31 years. 

Layne's younger brother, Justin, joined the University of Toledo's men's staff this year to be its director of basketball operations. 

The name Alayne Ingram has long been associated with scoring, focus and toughness. 

That reputation grew over three decades. 

Layne recalls, as a 4, 5, or possibly a 6 year old, refusing to leave the Gannon Gymnasium court while his dad conducted a skills camp. 

Mike Ingram told his child to stop shooting at a nearby basketball hoop and leave the floor so he could instruct the attendees. 

The kid didn't budge, and cried until dad ceased and let him throw up more shots. 

Fast forward to high school, a time when "basketball was my boyfriend," Layne said. 

Alayne became a high-scoring guard at Waverly, then the 1997 Greater Lansing area girls player of the year and an all-state team honoree.

Alayne left home to thrive at the University of Michigan for four seasons, starting 110 of 119 games, and ended up drafted in 2002 by a WNBA team. 

Layne knows his previous name is hard to escape. He intends to legally change his name to Layne at some point, but is fine with keeping Alayne on any trophies or in record books. 

And there are plenty of honors and milestones. 

At U-of-M alone, Alayne Ingram is listed among the top 15 in each of 14 career 

statistical categories.

Before working at LCC, Alayne coached Lansing Sexton High School's girl's basketball team for two seasons. 

Layne is proud of what he accomplished as Alayne. He feels it's just time to move on. 

"I look at this as a positive thing, but I also look at it as something that's necessary, it's happening," Layne said of the transition. 

Gender and sports

Based on the experience of others who have undergone a transition, athletics isn't necessarily the easiest field to break into. 

Kaig Lightner, 37, of Portland, Ore. transitioned from female to male in 2007 and describes it as "a really strange, wonderful and weird process." 

Lightner is the Portland Community Football Club's founder and director. The soccer club serves an average of 75 children a year, ages 3 to 17.

"In the sports world, it's a whole different situation," Lightner said. "There are so many structures and rigid ideas of what men are and what women are, who can do what and what rules apply."

Layne's transparency at LCC as a coach and associate dean can help transform how gender identity is perceived by a variety of people, Lightner said. 

"It's complicated and really does push a person's comfort zone," Lightner said of understanding a gender transition. "Is someone in a place where they want to be supportive? That's the first step."

Layne's breast removal surgery will likely keep him away from rigorous physical activity for up to six weeks and require him to wear a compression binder across his chest. 

He can deliver a sense of humor in what may be, at least temporarily, a painful process. 

"The good thing for the officials is that they won't have to worry about me following them up and down the sideline," Layne said grinning. 

Looking back

It's scary for Layne to think where his life would be without LCC.

The employee newsletter Layne used last month to share his gender transition with colleagues is the one he helped create. 

The newsletter is aimed to help boost staff morale and drive conversation and interest among those who may otherwise not mix. 

When Layne told his story, he quickly received over 30 emailed responses. 

Now he's ready to take his message further, despite occasional thoughts that it may have been easier to do this in another community.

October 11 marks the 29th anniversary of National Coming Out Day, a day that promotes openness and safety for people who may identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender or queer. Queer is a term often used for someone who doesn't believe they fit in dominant norms. 

"As the state's capital, we can move some things forward," Layne said of gender identity education and outreach. "It's about understanding, it's about acceptance. I don't need anybody's tolerance. I don't need anybody's approval, because I approve of me."