Athletes have long been segregated on the basis of sex. But what happens to the athletes whose physiological traits that distinguish them as female or male don’t match their gender identity? In her first major public appearance since coming out as transgender, Caitlyn Jenner used her acceptance speech for the ESPY's Arthur Ashe Courage Award to talk about her life as an athlete and a transgendered woman.
By definition, transgender is an “umbrella term” that is “used to describe anyone whose identity or behaviour falls outside stereotypical gender norms. More narrowly defined, it refers to individuals whose gender identity does not match their assigned birth gender. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation (attraction to people of a specific gender). Therefore, transgender people may additionally identify as straight, gay, lesbian or bisexual.”
In a system that segregates athletic competition by sex for reasons of “fairness”, where do transgender athletes fit? The International Olympic Committee (IOC) settled the issue of transgender athletes in 2004, when they released the rules to compete. The IOC rules boil down to three basic points. A transgender athlete must have had gender reassignment surgery, they must have legal recognition of their assigned gender and they must have at least two years of hormone therapy. Given these conditions, the IOC does not consider being transgender an unfair advantage. In 2011 the NCAA instituted somewhat less stringent guidelines, they do not require surgery, and they require only one year on testosterone suppression for male-to-female transgender athletes.
Unfortunately, there are detractors (I’m putting it nicely) who feel Jenner was not deserving of the award and who do not seem to understand why ESPN created the award to begin with. Named after Arthur Ashe, the first (and so far only) African-American male tennis player to win singles titles at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open or Australian Open, ESPN created the award to honour and promote his legacy. Ashe died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1993. The award recognizes those “possessing strength in the face of adversity, courage in the face of peril and the willingness to stand up for their beliefs no matter what the cost”. While Caitlyn Jenner remains in the spotlight, here's a look at the Top 15 Transgender Athletes who have broken down cultural barriers over the years.
15 Balian Buschbaum (formerly Yvonne Buschbaum)
14 Erik Schinegger (formerly Erika Schinegger)
13 Andreas Krieger (formerly Heidi Krieger)
12 Chloe Anderson
Chloe Anderson plays women's volleyball at Santa Ana College in California. In fact she is the first transgender athlete in Santa Ana College.
11 Keelin Godsey (formerly Kelly Godsey)
10 Jaiyah Saelua (formerly Johnny Saeula)
Jaiyah Saelua was the first transgender national soccer player to compete in a men's FIFA World Cup qualifier for American Samoa in 2011. Saelua identifies as “Fa'afafine”, a person in traditional Samoan culture born biologically male but embodying both masculine and feminine gender traits. In an open letter to her Samoan community, Saeula wrote:
9 Kye Allums (formerly Kyler Kelican Allums)
8 Lana Lawless
Born male, Lana Lawless underwent gender reassignment surgery in September 2005.
When Lawless, a retired police officer, won the 2009 Long Drivers of America title, the organization quickly changed their rules stating that female participants must have been "female at birth" to compete. The LPGA removed this requirement after Lawless sued for the right to compete in 2010. She released a statement to help clearly define her position after filing the lawsuit.
"I am, in all respects, legally, and physically female. The state of California recognizes me as such and the LPGA should not be permitted to come into California and blatantly violate my rights. I just want to have the same opportunity to play professional golf as any other woman."
7 Chris Mosier
In 2015 Chris Mosier won a spot on Team USA in the men's sprint duathlon, becoming the first trans athlete to join a U.S. national team that matches his gender identity, rather than the gender assigned him at birth. He is the founder of TransAthlete.com, a site dedicated to educating and helping trans athletes, and the executive director of GO! Athletes, a support network for LGBT athletes. Mosier began competing in triathlon in 2009 as a female and competed in his first race as a male in 2010 when he legally changed his name, and then began to receive testosterone injections.
"When I was considering transition, I didn't see any trans men who were athletes," he told The Advocate. "I didn't know it was possible to continue to compete through transition, and I thought I would go from competitive to middle-of-the-pack in races. But the opposite has been true. I've gotten more and more competitive in the male age group, working toward the elite level. My hope is that athletes who are questioning their gender identity can see me and hear my story and know they don't have to give up their identity as an athlete to live authentically."
6 Dr. Bobbi Lancaster (formerly Robert Lancaster)
5 Caster Semenya
One of the most famous transgender athletes internationally, is Caster Semenya. In 2009 after winning gold in the women’s 800 meters the IAAF began receiving e-mails from people who had doubts about Semenya’s gender because of her “masculine look” and incredible speed. Tests were ordered amidst accusations and leaked results showed that Semenya has no ovaries or a uterus. The IAAF will not confirm or deny whether the leaked results are correct. If the results are true, Semenya is intersex, and not transgender, as she is rumored to possess both male and female genitalia.
4 Fallon Fox (formerly Burton Boyd)
3 Mianne Bagger (formerly Michael Bagger)
2 Dr. Renee Richards (formerly Richard Raskind)
While she didn't dominate the tennis world, Renee Richards helped pave the way for trans athletes like Caster Semenya, Kye Allums, and Fallon Fox to compete in their chosen sports.
1 Caitlyn Jenner (formerly William Bruce Jenner)
Multiple publications have described Jenner as the most famous openly transgender person in the world since she came out in 2015.
Once dubbed “the greatest athlete in the world”, Caitlyn Jenner is more recently recognized as the quirky Kardashian dad of reality TV. A gold medal Olympic athlete, Jenner was one of the first people to land a spot on the front of a Wheaties box after dominating the decathlon at the 1976 Games in Montreal. Jenner became an American hero in such a way that only an athlete can.
After months of speculation Jenner officially identified as a woman, appearing on the June 2015 Vanity Fair cover as Caitlyn. In April, 2015 in a powerful interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, Caitlyn Jenner came out as a transgender woman, stating "for all intents and purposes, I am a woman."
While the athletic world remains an intimidating place for many people who do not fit into prescribed identities, perhaps Jenner’s current spotlight will prompt a re-examination of prejudices towards transgender people.
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