The dreams and promises of sports don’t include transgender people

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When someone asks what my childhood was like, I generally respond with “I try not to think about it too much.” All I remember was being lonely, unhappy and uncomfortable.

The only social events that I ever wanted to participate in were sports, mainly soccer. It helped that in elementary school soccer, teams were made of both boys and girls, so I didn’t have to feel like I was “one of the boys” just because of the gender I was assigned.

I was a fast runner, one of the fastest in my school, and I was proud of that. It was one of the things I could do and actually receive praise for, so I kept doing it. Still to this day, I think best when I’m on my feet walking around. 

Being physically active was and still is one of my favorite things to do, so it only made sense that I would enjoy playing sports, but I didn’t.

I never got to join a girls’ soccer team. I never got to join a girls’ volleyball team. When I was in cross-country, I had to go to the boy’s showers even though I got along so much better with the other girls. But that doesn’t matter. I had a penis, so I had to be a man. Joinmen’ssports. Be naked around men.Never cry. Never show emotions.

Suck it up, buttercup.

In high school, I hated enforcement of a world in which I had to suffer, and I hated falling behind in classes because I couldn’t bring myself to care about anything when nobody cared about me. Even in therapy, I was told that wanting to be a girl was “selfish” because my parents would have to deal with it, too. They put me on drugs that fucked with my head, told me all the things that were wrong with me, and may as well have left me to die.

Sports were a distant memory by then. I didn’t have the luxury to pursue them unless I wanted to continue standing naked in a shower with a dozen naked men or live the life of a man and wear a skin that never belonged to me. That didn’t seem like much of an option.

Recently, trans women in women’s sports has been a hot topic. It’s impossible not to bring up biology when talking about something like physically intensive sports, and it’s been stated a million times that trans women have a physical advantage over cis women. But that doesn’t take into consideration hormone replacement therapy that eliminates hormonal differences. 

The argument even goes that the bone structure and physiology of someone who’s been exposed to testosterone has an innate advantage. It wouldn’t be the first time “bone structure” has been used to support discrimination, and it won’t be the last.

The current system that separates sports by gender mostly excludes trans women and non-binary folks. It gives a variety of men and women the chance to follow their dreams of being an athlete and doing what they love, including those with disabilities, but not us. 

Sure, some athletes are born into bodies that might give them an edge in sports, but isn’t the point of most sports to be positive and encouraging? Isn’t part of sports about being inclusive and treating everyone equally? Why does that all crumble when transness is introduced?

Themes of positivity and encouragement rarely has trans people in mind. For that matter, few things at all have trans people in mind.

Even if we’re inconvenient for the world, we do exist, and some of us are athletes.

Some have proposed leagues specifically for trans people to get rid of any doubt when it comes to biology, but if we separate trans women from cis women and trans men from cis men, we defeat inclusion. If someone says that they believe trans women are women, then say that trans women don’t belong in women’s sports, then they don’t actually believe that trans women are women.

Being a part of a girls’ team in school would have meant the world to me, and I certainly wouldn’t look back on my childhood with such disdain if that had been the case. While it’s too late for me, there are still trans students and potential athletes who only want to follow their dreams like anyone else. They deserve that.

Heather Maloney is a writer, editor, and creative thinker from Atlanta with a vested interest in gender and sexuality.

This column originally appeared in Q magazine. Read the full issue below.



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