Marina Mangiaracina sets sights on public service 

Marina Mangiarcina poses for a photo at the Oklahoma State Capitol, Tuesday, May 31, 2016. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Marina Mangiarcina poses for a photo at the Oklahoma State Capitol, Tuesday, May 31, 2016.

The poll on a blog post introducing Marina Mangiaracina to the readers of Welcome to Loud City (WTLC) reads, “Would you continue reading WTLC if you knew it was run by a transgendered blogger?”

Four percent voted “Please, fire this clown.”

Ninety-six percent voted “Who cares?”

WTLC is a Sports Blog Nation (SB Nation) blog Mangiaracina started under her birth name, Zeb Benbrook. Zorgon, as he was known, came to prominence as a Thunder fan, wildly cheering at games and dancing during breaks. Now she hopes to make a deeper impact on Oklahoma City by running for Oklahoma City House District 99.

Finding identity

Mangiaracina’s path to public service and self-acceptance has been a long one.

“I kept it repressed until I was 23,” she said. “I thought before that maybe I was a cross dresser. I was afraid of how negatively trans people are seen in society.”

Her personal turmoil colored her younger years with depression.

“I couldn’t figure out how to represent myself personally or professionally,” she said. “I felt like I didn’t exist. I just retreated into myself.”
That internal battle culminated when she was granted press credentials to a Dec. 28 Thunder game against the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center under her birth name. That night, she blogged about sitting in a hotel room a mile away from the game, “consumed by fear and anxiety.”

Her blog seemed to brace for the end as she worried that readers and her bosses would not accept a trans woman writing about Thunder basketball.

“I was trying to buy male clothes, but I got so stressed, I couldn’t go,” she said. “It was a breaking point. I started seeing a therapist and going on hormones.”

The original post is filled with doubt and self-recrimination.

“All I’m doing here is trying to make myself a story, destroying what little reputation I have and alienating the majority of my audience,” she wrote. “But all of those things are better than continuing to live my life as a lie.”

Luckily, Mangiaracina had nothing to fear. As the poll reflected, SB Nation and blog readers accepted her for who she is.

“I’ve received nothing but support from Thunder fans,” she said.

Because gender identity has nothing to do with loving basketball or studying the team, she said, they care about what she does, not who she is.

Some of her physical changes, induced by hormone treatments, include softening Mangiaracina’s skin and spurring breast growth. They obviously cannot change her 6-foot-5-inch-tall frame or her wide shoulders, she said. But the treatments help her feel more feminine and more comfortable with her gender identity.

“Hormones are the cheapest thing a trans person can do to test the waters,” she said. “There are two or three surgeries I’m planning to get: top, bottom and facial reconstruction.”

Building confidence

Each change brings with it new confidence in who she is. Her passion for public service is genuine. She credits a work ethic and civic pride instilled in her by generations of family for preparing her to be a servant of the people. Her desire to run for public office was galvanized over the last several months as she watched Oklahoma lawmakers propose anti-transgender legislation and cut school funding.

Her website,, explains her ideology on subjects including the war on drugs, taxes and voting reform. Chief among her concerns are LGBTQ rights.

Specifically, she is critical of the Oklahoma Senate’s attempts to mirror the controversial “bathroom bill” passed in North Carolina.

Mangiaracina described Senate Bill 1014 as an attack on people like her, who physically do not present as their gender identity. She said the bill addresses problems that don’t exist while discriminating against a class of Americans.

Bills like the one passed in North Carolina and the one that stalled in Oklahoma’s Legislature this spring claim to protect women and children from sexual predators by banning people from using bathrooms that don’t coincide with their “biological gender,” despite a lack of statistical evidence of there being a need to create or enforce such a law, she said.

On her campaign site, she said, “I will introduce legislation that specifically protects trans people’s right to use the restroom of their gender identity.”

Equal rights are her No. 1 focus.

“The LGBTQ population has no protections for equal housing, jobs or public services,” she said. “These are rights that are afforded to everyone, and yet this part of the population faces harassment.”

Mangiaracina’s success as a writer — on Welcome to Loud City, Sports Illustrated Online, Dime Magazine and others — is owed at least partially to her education. She attended Classen School of Advanced Studies and received an international baccalaureate degree.

“Classen is basically getting dismantled,” she said.

Her stepping stone to a career, like so many other schools across the state, was caught in the state’s budget crisis, which she pledges to fight by increasing education funding, raising teacher pay and making college more affordable.

Independent voice

Running as an Independent, she doesn’t seek support from Democratic or Republican establishments.

“I want to draw attention to how unfair the voting system is,” she said. “It seems candidates have to play to big money on one side or the other.”

That’s another area her online success will help. Since its inception in 2008, she has grown the WTLC audience by leaps and bounds. The site has more than 150,000 likes on Facebook, and she hopes to harness her understanding of social media to spread her message to voters this fall.

If elected, she said she will push for an optional preferential voting system, which would give voters a more nuanced voice about who they want to represent them outside of the predominantly two-party structure in Oklahoma.

“Instead of voting for one candidate, you can list candidates in order of preference,” she wrote on her website. “Ultimately, this will allow for more political candidates and parties. This will allow more issues to be put onto the table, which will mean a more well-informed and effective government.”

(Cover by Erin DeMoss / Oklahoma Gazette)

(Cover by Erin DeMoss / Oklahoma Gazette)

Print headline: Transitional government, Oklahoma City Thunder blogger Marina Mangiaracina wants to help the state by running for District 99 Representative.

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