CINCINNATI — Jack Brennan spent decades working behind the scenes for the Cincinnati Bengals as the team's PR director, which meant a lot of time spent in the locker room talking with the players and talking with reporters.
But for all that time, he said he had to harbor a secret — a secret about the way he dressed: It wasn't until five years after his 2016 retirement that he came out as a cross-dresser.
"I felt like I had to be really closeted about everything, especially in the sports field and being in the locker room all the time," he told WCPO.
It was a secret he'd been holding back all his life, he said: He was not quite 4 years old and at a friend's house when he first remembers wanting to wear girls' clothing.
"I was just possessed with the urge," he said. "I wanted to wear her cute, little blouse, so we traded tops and showed our mothers, and they were like, 'Oh, silly kids,' or whatever. But right there ... I knew something was there."
Brennan now identifies as "queer," a term that, over the years, has been transformed from an epithet to an umbrella term embraced by people who find labels like lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender inaccurate or restrictive.
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"I am a cross-dresser," he said. "The simple definition is someone who finds excitement and satisfaction wearing the clothes of the opposite gender. I am not transexual. I do not feel I was born in the wrong body and need to have gender-altering surgery. I'm not a drag queen.
"I know I'm not a girl, but I like to play as one," he said.
Brennan officially came out back in February, reported The Athletic, prompting the magazine to dub him an "unlikely trailblazer." Fast-forward to last week, when Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib came out as the first openly gay, active NFL player. Following that announcement, the NFL released a new commercial stating, "Football is gay," and that "football is for everyone."
But for Brennan, revealing his other self to his team was not something he felt he could do even just five years ago. Multiple Bengals who spoke with WCPO said they had no idea.
He couldn't even tell his wife, he said, until after they were married.
"It wasn't long after we got married that Jack sprung a made-up face on me, and I went bananas!" said Valerie Brennan. "It was on our honeymoon."
She said it took some time to adjust and accept this part of Brennan's identity, but after 48 years of marriage and three children later, she knows it's part of the man she fell in love with.
"I felt I couldn't tell anybody," Jack Brennan said. "I couldn't tell a single soul in the whole world for many years."
But as much now as back when he couldn't tell anyone, dressing in women's clothes makes this man happy.
"It's, well, I get a big kick out of it," he said. "It's very exciting, and I feel, especially as time has gone on, I feel affirmed, you know? This is part of who I am, and it's fun, and I like it. And so, yeah, I feel happy. If I didn't, why would I go to all this trouble?"