Six trans athletes you should know
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As we celebrate Transgender Awareness Week, we look at six trans athletes who have made history in the sporting arena.

Transgender Awareness Week is held from 13-19 November to increase the visibility of the transgender community and address the issues faced by them. People and organisations across the world participate in activities that educate people about the trans community and advocate for their rights. The week is held in the lead up to I the Trans Day of Remembrance, marked on 20 November, to remember and memorialise those who were killed due to hatred and prejudice against the transgender community.

Discrimination against the trans community is also visible in the world of sport. Trans athletes often have to go through numerous challenges in order to be able to participate in sport. For example, World Athletics has fixed a testosterone limit for trans women to compete in the women’s category, which compels many trans women to medically suppress their testosterone levels. Recently, the International Olympic Committee announced a new framework of guidelines that no longer necessitate medical suppression of testosterone for trans women to compete in the women’s category. This is breakthrough landmark for the trans community as it paves the path for other positive changes. Here are six trans athletes who have beat the odds and made their mark in the field of sports.

  1. Schuyler Bailar

Schuyler Bailar is an American swimmer and the first openly transgender National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I swimmer. He was first recruited in the Harvard women’s swimming team, but he transitioned in 2015 and now swims for the men’s team. Bailar’s career in competitive swimming kicked-off in 2005, when he joined Sea Devil Swimming, a club sanctioned by USA swimming. From thereon, he started actively participating and winning swimming championships, including high school and club swimming. At the national level, one of his prominent achievements was the 100-yard breaststroke swim in 2013, which helped him qualify for the US Open.

In high school, Bailar struggled with eating disorders and body-image issues. He later realised that these difficulties were connected to a bigger problem – his gender identity. This realisation gave him the courage to decide to transition, accepting the challenges that were to come his way.

  1. Laurel Hubbard

Laurel Hubbard is a transgender weightlifter from New Zealand. She competed in the recent Olympics in Tokyo and became one of the few openly transgender athletes to have participated in an Olympics Game. In her initial years as a weightlifter, she was a strong competitor in men’s weightlifting events, as she set records in domestic competitions in New Zealand. However, she withdrew at the age of 23 because she found it hard to deal with the pressure of fitting in. She made her comeback in 2017 as a woman at the North Island Games and won a gold the same year at the Australian championships.

Hubbard’s participation in the Tokyo Olympics has been a significant moment for the trans community, and it is hoped that this will make it easier for other trans athletes to carve a space for themselves in sports.

  1. Quinn

Quinn is a Canadian professional football player and Olympic medalist, who plays for the Canadian women’s national football team. They go by the mononym “Quinn” and are non-binary – they do not identify as either a man or a woman and use they/them pronouns. Upon winning the gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Quinn became the first out, trans, non-binary athlete to become an Olympic champion. Quinn was allowed to play for the women’s team as per their sex assigned at birth.

For Quinn, one of their biggest achievements has been receiving messages of support from young people who had never seen a trans sportsperson before. Their visibility has given hope to many others who may be struggling with their identity too.

  1. Fallon Fox

Fallon fox is a former Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter and the first openly trans MMA fighter. Fox struggled with her gender identity in her teenage years as she faced parental disapproval, and her parents made her think she was a “confused gay man,” forcing her to undergo conversion therapy. Despite these struggles in her childhood, Fox realised her gender identity and underwent sex reassignment surgery in 2006.  

Shortly after, she started her career in MMA fighting. After her initial two fights in the women’s division, she came out as a trans woman, igniting many debates on whether trans women should be allowed to compete in the women’s category. Despite the controversy, Fox met all parameters set by the Institute for Society and Genetics at UCLA on transgender athletes. Further, she noted that the licensing commissions were aware of her gender identity, hence allowing her to continue competing in the women’s game.

  1. India’s all-trans football team

India’s first all-trans football team was formed in 2018 in Manipur, a state in North-East India. The team was brought together by Sadam Hanjamam, the founder of Y-All, an organisation that aims to addresses mental health issues. Sadam realized the need for an all-trans team during Yaoshang, a five-day sports carnival held annually in Manipur. The sports carnival allowed only cisgender participants, even though many from the trans community wanted to take part. Sadam gathered enthusiastic trans participants to officially form a team in 2019. 

The team now consists of almost 24 players, who play every week in a setting they’re comfortable in.

  1. Dr. Veronica Ivy

Dr. Veronica Ivy is a Canadian cyclist and trans rights activist. She is a two-time masters track cycling world champion and the first trans person to have become a world champion in track cycling. She won the UCI World Track Cycling Championship in the women’s category for the 35-44 age bracket in 2018. Her participation in sport has been contested, as many think that her birth sex gives her an unfair advantage in these competitions. However, Dr. Ivy has persistently advocated for trans women’s participation in the women’s category in competitive sport. She has pointed out one of IOC’s fundamental principles that sport is a human right. Dr. Ivy also works as a Professor of Philosophy at the College of Charleston, USA.

Looking ahead

Even though the above-mentioned athletes displayed immense courage in fighting their battles, trans representation in sport remains controversial, especially for trans women.

The scientific evidence that has been used to support the claim that trans women have a competitive advantage over cis women is highly contested and its validity is uncertain.

Even with the IOC’s latest framework on trans athletes, different sport federations are still allowed to keep their rules on trans inclusion and gender testing. This means that some athletes, depending on their sport, will continue to face barriers enforced by sport federations, and they may be unable to play sport competitively. Further, societal pressures and biases serve to add to the barriers for trans athletes to sustain themselves in sport. Moving forward, there is a need to consolidate global efforts to not only strengthen trans representation, but also make sport a safer space for the transgender community.


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