By Karleigh Webb
JOIN US LIVE: Navi Huskey is joining Outsports on Instagram Live for a conversation about the Transgender Day of Visibility and sports inclusion Wednesday at 8 p.m. EDT, 5 p.m. PDT.
The first thing one notices about Donavion “Navi” Huskey is a dynamic, fluid mix of power and panache. The rhythm of basketball serves as a means of expression and a way to define how they see themselves.
“I always saw the female athlete as the most beautiful form of femininity, so that is what I aspired to,” Huskey said. “That was a space where I could be tall and I could be athletic and be feminine and balance those things.”
Huskey has made such balance an art form. They are a 31-year-old transfeminine nonbinary and their pronouns are she/they/yum — we’ll explain that later — all-conference guard at Long Beach (Calif.) City College who is taking a full course load while also working toward a Ph.D. in psychological sciences just down the freeway at the University of California-Irvine.
In Huskey’s last competitive season in 2020 (the 2021 season at LBCC was scuttled due to the Covid-19 pandemic) they averaged 22 points and 19 rebounds per game for a team that went unbeaten in their division of the South Coast Conference. They also earned Conference co-most valuable player honors alongside backcourt mate Isabel Lizarraga.
How Navi Huskey got here is a story of multiple journeys coming together.
An early hoop dream deferred
They grew up in Tustin, California, as a self-described “Black math and science nerd in Orange County.” They also had a love of basketball that was big, but not big enough make the team at Tustin High. As an undergrad at Harvey Mudd College they were a practice player for the women’s team at the school.
The Los Angeles-based Lambda Basketball League, a flagship within the National Gay Basketball Assn., gave Huskey a team to play for after being denied the chance in the past. The league also introduced them to a community ready to embrace them, and a path to a life-changing journey
“I had said that I really didn’t care about basketball because I had been rejected so many times, but actually I was just in the wrong space,” Huskey recalled. “I wanted to be more fluid with my gender and I wanted to feel free. I had a gender assessment and it just went from there. Eventually I started to come into myself and I learned that everything I wanted to do I could do, if I just embraced myself.”
They attacked finding their best self the same way the rangy 6-footer attacks the rim. Whether in league play, owning the pick-up courts with a sibling who had been a starter at Hawaii Pacific, or fiercely rocking a skirt in the fray at the Gay Games, Huskey was all in with the game as a place to express themselves fully and freely.
“That was an embodiment of the feminine and it was so beautiful to me, running up and down the court and posting people up and you are wearing a skirt,” Huskey said. “I got to embrace my femininity and masculinity and have it all meld.”
They recalled that the first time they had met a transgender woman was when they met an opposing player at a NGBA national tournament. That was another tipping point in Huskey’s journey. By 2018, they were taking their next steps professionally. They had already earned a master’s degree at University of Southern California and had applied for the Ph.D. program they are currently working in as trans, out and proud.
In 2019, Huskey underwent a group of affirming surgeries. Their outside was starting to match the feelings and thoughts they held inside.
They also pursued their dream on the court. Navi Huskey wanted to play college basketball. They emailed the women’s basketball team at UC-Irvine asking for tryout, but the NCAA Division I Anteaters weren’t interested. Undeterred, the net widened to include schools in the junior college ranks across Southern California. Many schools ignored her requests. Long Beach City College didn’t.
Breakthrough at Long Beach City College
“When I joined the team there were only six girls and they had lost their entire team from the previous year,” they noted. “I was worried at first because I know the teams we had to play against and I thought ‘We can’t play against them like this.’”
The LBCC coaching staff brought in more players. The team began to jell quickly and some of that bond was forged from a 31-year-old trans student-athlete and their experiences.
“I had the interactions with these girls before these surgeries and they were like ‘You are going to have all this work done?’ and ‘What are you going to look like on the other side?’” Huskey said. “I tried to be as transparent as possible. I’ve come to a place where I’m so free and can talk about anything, anytime.”
“I was trying to create a culture where people felt comfortable talking to me and positioning myself as an expert as much as I could about my own experiences,” they continued, “but also making it clear that everyone does trans different. I tried to impart as much education as I could.”
Much of their open perspective stemmed from an incident that happened a year before. Huskey and their sibling Juice attended the Coachella music festival in Southern California. For Huskey the festival featured a dream headliner: Beyoncé was in the house.
Before the concert began both were in line to use the restroom. When Huskey reached the front of the line, they were told they couldn’t use the women’s restroom by a facility attendant in a humiliating public display.
“This lady makes it very clear that I am not going to be allowed in the restroom and is this probably one of the most embarrassing moments of my whole life,” Huskey stated. “I’m at Coachella, I paid a lot of money to be here, and I won’t be allowed to use the bathroom and I’m being called out in front of all these people.”
They decided to bury what had happened and tried to enjoy seeing a favorite artist. At the next day’s show, Huskey’s sibling, who identifies as transmasculine, had a similar experience in being turned away from using the men’s restroom. Huskey had shared what happened the previous day and both agreed that they couldn’t just let this slide.
“This seems like this is more than just a one-time thing, this is a systemic thing,” they noted. “I felt like we had to do the right thing.”
The right thing began with an email to the festival organizers of what happened, according to the Los Angeles Times. Getting no initial response, they also contacted attorneys and the California office of the American Civil Liberties Union got involved as well.
A letter demanding upgraded policies was sent from the ACLU to the Anschutz Entertainment Group and its subsidiaries, AEG Presents and Goldenvoice, who run the festival. The organizers of Coachella, which advertises itself as a safe welcoming space for LGBTQ people, responded by meeting with both Navi and Juice in 2019, as they were setting up preventative policies and trainings.
Both returned for the 2019 show and made an on-site inspection of Coachella’s new policies. Concert organizers praised the siblings’ proactive, bridge-building stance.
“They said ‘We want to bring you in. We want to hear your feedback on what we can do better for you’,” Huskey recalled. “Juice and I pitched them an idea we had to create a pipeline for underprivileged individuals to attend Coachella. They were all on board with the project pending on when Coachella is back up and running.”
“They’ve hired Juice and I to be trans consultants and we made our own seats at the table where there were no trans people,” they beamed. “We’ve created a back door to get more trans people seats at the table. Restorative justice is a beautiful thing, and with it you can create space.”
Huskey’s power and panache built an opportunity in a boardroom. Those same qualities translated to the hardwood, too.
A successful season and a bright future
“Every time there is a new venture, like our first game I get really nervous,” they said, looking back. “I start shaking, and I’m a mess. My whole body just feels like numb and dead but like the shakes would be so bad.”
That first game for them in the 2019-2020 season as a LBCC Viking was a 61-53 loss to Rio Hondo, but Navi Huskey shook off the nerves to put in 22 points and a freakish 27 rebounds. That performance was only the beginning.
As the calendar flipped to 2020 and conference play began, the word was out. The player wearing #33 for Long Beach City College was living up to what they termed their true preferred pronoun — “yum.”
“For me, nonbinary is the most accurate way to describe me and the least restrictive. For me the pronoun I’ve been preferred to use is actually ‘yum,’” they explained. “Every time you say ‘yum’ you are happy and I feel like ‘That’s me!’”
Long Beach CC fans were certainly happy as Huskey’s scoring and rebounding started piling up wins. They were also serving payback on the schools who didn’t reply to their emails as they sought a place to play ball.
“I reached out to all the Southern California schools I felt I could get to from Irvine on a daily basis. One of those schools was East Los Angeles College,” Huskey noted. “I got a response saying when they were going to have tryouts. When it came time for the tryouts, I didn’t get any more responses. That was disheartening, but we ended up playing them.”
On Jan. 17, 2020, Huskey made ELAC wish they did reply to those emails with 39 points, 28 rebounds, and a 89-83 win for LBCC. “They were a ranked team and we were unranked and I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder,” they smiled at the memory. “I was thinking like, ‘This is a good team, so maybe I am as good as I think I could be.’ This is when I realized that my talents were a real thing.”
The win was the second victory in a 12-game win streak that propelled Huskey to postseason honors and the Vikings into postseason play. The only loss came in a season-ending 70-66 defeat to Allan Hancock in the first round of the California Community College Athletic Assn. regional tournament.
However Huskey earned the respect of fellow players across the league. “Nearly all the girls that I encountered gave me basketball respect,” they said. “On the floor things were cool. Most of animosity was from coaches and people in the stands. The girls were super respectful.”
“Often during the game or after the game I was told, ‘You’re really good and I respect your game,’” Huskey stated. “I really appreciate that because I wasn’t expecting that.”
Huskey said they’ll be back in LBCC red and white next season while continuing work toward a Ph.D. they aim to finish by 2023. They said they have an eye towards taking up another degree so they can play in NCAA Division II or Division III competition.
Beyond basketball, they are aiming even bigger. They hope to turn the work they are doing with Coachella into a full nonprofit organization for education and social development. They also hope to angle for a presidential cabinet spot one day while also being an example for trans youth.
“My advisor told me a lot of times that I can’t say I want to be Secretary of Education. I say I can, and I will,” they declared. “You have to believe, you have to try, and not be the ceiling in your life.”
Navi Huskey will be talking with our resident trans athlete Karleigh Webb on Outsports Instagram Live Wednesday at 8 p.m. EDT, 5 p.m. PDT.