Trans Day of Visibility 2022
29th March 2022
Trans Day of Visibility is an annual awareness day celebrated around the world.
The day is dedicated to celebrating the accomplishments of transgender and gender nonconforming people while raising awareness of the work that still needs to be done to achieve trans justice. I also enjoy it because it suggests that for the rest of the year, trans people are running around invisible and so are able to carry out their many “nefarious” plans in peace. Alas.
In fact, for a community that is stereotyped as all having brightly dyed hair and an array of shiny badges to signal our incoming queerness, it is strange that we are still so invisible when it comes to representation in sports.
I became “visible” for the first time in 2018. I had been out as trans since 2016 and had begun to medically transition in 2017. But 2018 was when I was really “visible” to the outside world as trans, both in sport but also in my career. At work I was working as a Sabbatical officer for the University of Dundee (DUSA). I had not campaigned on a “trans ticket” or even mentioned my transition in any of my campaign material. Mostly because I believed it would lead to a decrease in votes.
I was the “first ‘’ trans person to hold this role, and so came the invitations to all the subsequent university committees, working groups and even the occasional diversity photoshoot (that my second-puberty face did not appreciate as much), that came with this new position and responsibilities. I was the most visible trans person on a campus of over 18,000 students. To this day I’m not entirely comfortable with this, as I am sure there were a number of opportunities and responsibilities I was given that I was not qualified or ready for at the time. I was not offered them because I was the best person for the job, but because I was the only trans person that they were aware of. Once I was in office, I felt morally obligated to use the (relatively tiny) amount of power, influence and visibility I had to try to improve the representation and provisions for trans students. When would another trans person have this opportunity again? If I don’t do this, am I expecting my cis colleagues to do it in their own time? We have all seen even the most well meaning attempts crumple when they have clearly not consulted with trans people. While many of us I’m sure have seen or attended events where a well meaning attempt would have been a wild improvement.
In sport, 2018 meant the “Year of Young People” and the start of me volunteering with LEAP.
I never remembered seeing any trans people in sport or the gym growing up, but that is getting better. The 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing had at least 35 openly LGBTQ+ athletes competing, twice that of PyeongChang in 2018 and five times the number at Sochi in 2014. In the 2020 Summer Olympics we saw New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard and USA’s Chelsea Wolfe, a reserve on the BMX Freestyler team, as the first trans women to represent their countries at the Olympic Games. They were joined by the USA skateboarder Alana Smith and Canada soccer player Quinn as the first openly transgender non-binary athletes. Quinn won a gold medal! But even then, the representation we got was overshadowed by the debate on whether we belonged there.
As I was transitioning I found activists such as Aydin Dowling, and athletes such as Schuyler Bailar or Chris Mosier, but that was it. I never considered myself particularly sporty growing up, but I think that was more based on a lack of public accolades or titles, as opposed to a lack of enjoyment or participation. Suddenly, through LEAP, I was getting to work with LGBT+ sportspeople from across the world. All of them, regardless of where they came from or their identity, shared a common goal of wanting everyone to be able to experience the simple joy that is sport.
Exercise has the power to improve your physical and mental health ,obviously, but it can also build community, self confidence and even friendships.
From a trans perspective, the gym allowed me to build the body I had always wanted but had been told was “unfeminine” or “not pretty”. Now… I’m a self made man. The gym allowed me to build the shoulders, back, legs and arms that I had always wanted for so long but had been told were undesirable for women or I had been told I would have to wait for HRT to achieve.
Outdated and harmful gender norms and beauty standards aside, being able to go to a gym regularly during my transition kept me sane and healthy(er). It gave me something to look forward to and a project to work on while waiting the months/ years for that first appointment at a GIC.
But for all the benefits that there were, I really struggled to convince my other trans friends to join me. Unlike me, they did not have the casual few years of experience pre transition to acclimatise to a gym environment. For them, it was not an opportunity to reclaim bodily autonomy and thrive, but instead was a revisiting of some of their worst memories from high school. It wasn’t a place for them to battle their dysphoria, it was a place when their dysphoria was at its worst. There are several barriers that trans people can face to gyms. Gendered changing rooms, a lack of gym knowledge compounded by a lack of understanding if we were even “allowed” in these spaces, negative personal experiences and a fear of being outed as trans and the discrimination that can follow. Even the difficulty of working out in a chest binder. (A chest binder is a compression vest that flattens your chest area and gives a more masculine aesthetic, often worn by trans men and masculine presenting non binary people who are afab). A very practical piece of armour for many trans people…but again, it is a compression vest. Have you tried jogging in spanx, or benching in a corset? I would not recommend it. However, in order for me to “pass” and use male spaces or be perceived as male in the gym, I had to wear one.
I am the man I am today because of sport, because of exercise, because of the gym.
My pecs, once a significant weight on my chest, have been achieved and maintained through hours in the gym and a very nice surgeon. Being able to walk around with my chest out and shoulders back, without having to hunch and try to hide myself away, has been life changing. The confidence, the skills, the friendships I have made, all have been achieved because I was able to find gym spaces, facilities, and amazing teams and people that let me in and gave me a space to be myself. Even if they didn’t know it. The road has been long and definitely bumpy, but it was made easier every time I saw someone like me also achieving and thriving in sport as their true selves.
Now, I work as the trans policy officer here at LEAP, where I get to work with sports governing bodies and coaches to try to increase awareness of LGBT+ players and their needs. Additionally, for all those days when I am not in the office, every time I step in my local gym I wear my trans rainbow laces. They are my new armour. It isn’t much, and in the face of all the “debate” around trans participation in sport going on right now it can sometimes feel like nothing.
But, I know what it would have meant to me when I was starting out if I had seen someone else wearing them. It would have been enough to know that I was not doing this alone. That no matter how tired, or sore or sweaty I was, that I was not doing it for nothing.
Sport should not be a thing reserved only for those of specific gender, or sex, or sexuality, or race or ethnicity or religion. Sport should be open and inclusive to everyone, from elites to grassroots, from the Olympics to your local 5 a side on a Sunday morning.
Sport and exercise (access to) is a human right. It is essential to live a healthy balanced life, and it is essential that all people feel able and safe to take part in sport if they so choose.
If you are not trans, but want to help out and be an ally, there are a number of things you can do. An easy step is to get a set of rainbow laces of your own. Read up on why demonstrative ally ship is needed and understand what it is we are up against. You can see if your club has an LGBT+ players policy, does your coach know what the rules are for trans players? Are there any resources or training available to you to help you through this? (Yes, see LEAPS website for more information).
Even just volunteering to go along to the gym or to a training session with a friend who doesn’t feel the most confident. Accompany them the first time they use a gendered changing room if they need it. There are so many ways that all of us can work together to get more people, regardless of their identity, into regular participation in sport and exercise.
Happy visibility day.
Trans Policy Officer for LEAP Sports