Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Transgender Teens and Sports

Today's New York Times article on transgender teens (Here) really grabbed me.  I've written on a lot of different aspects of transgender identity, mostly in nonfiction, but also in fiction, and this isn't one I've grappled with fully.

The article's gist is this: when high school students transition from one gender to the next (whatever the "direction" or end destination), it is often difficult to figure out which team that person should play on.  The catalyzing agent in this article seems to be the number of legislative initiatives cropping up to support the rights of transgender students to play sports in their reassigned gender.  

What amused me, in a dark way, about the article is that the critics from the conservative side make verbatim the same arguments that were used 17 years ago when I came out as transgender and were used 35 years ago when Renee Richards came out.  I find it baffling that anyone would think that a person would transition from one gender to another merely to get a competitive advantage (unless there are field hockey teams full of MtFs of which I'm unaware).  So unlikely for so many reasons... given the social stigma still attached to being transgender weighs much heavier than any possible advantage one could gain (professional avenues for female athletes being limited).  

I found it heartening that many states and sports governing bodies have policy on this matter -- clear cut standards about who can play on which teams after how many years of hormones or how much reassignment surgery.

Like many issues within the transgender world, this one is of greater concern for MtFs than FtMs (given that someone born biologically male would have greater natural strength and therefore athletic advantage).  However, the article gives a little airtime to FtM athletes as well, capturing with one short vignette how hard it can be for a sporty FtM to give up athletic competition.

It was for me.  I was a three sport athlete in high school and serious about two of them, ice hockey and lacrosse.  I loved to play sports - I loved to run and lift weights and be on a team.  I even loved to play pick-up games in sports I was lousy at like basketball or softball.  When I started living as a man, I felt I had to give up sports.  Briefly -- and with great personal conflict -- I skated for a season on the Harvard womens' ice hockey team.  It is a long story, and perhaps one I'll fully explore in an essay... but the NYT article brought up that sense of loss I felt.  Being an athlete had been a huge part of my identity, and I lost that when I came out.

Once I started taking hormones, years after college, I did start competing again, in running races and triathlons.  I competed against biological men and -- though certainly no superstar -- held my own.  Often placing in the top 5 or 10 in my age group.  It fills some of the gap.  I take heart from the article that, maybe, this generation of trans-folk won't have to cede their spot on a team.

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