A few weeks ago MMA fighter Fallon Fox made a splash in the news for coming out as a transgender woman. And this week, NBA player Jason Collins came out as a gay man, writing, "No one wants to live in fear. I've always been scared of saying the wrong thing. I don't sleep well. I never have. But each time I tell another person, I feel stronger and sleep a little more soundly."
Collins explained so well what the pressure of remaining in the closet does to most people. This type of fear also frequently keeps trans* people from working out and participating in athletics. I am interested in trans* athletes. I know that we do work out. But what are the barriers? How do we operate in gendered athletic spaces?
Everyone seems to have an opinion about Fox, and a lot of people are wondering why this 37-year-old fighter, who has had only two professional fights, is making news at all. She isn't fighting in the UFC or anything; she is actually kind of small-time at this point. But the thing is that Fox is big news because she is breaking down some of the barriers that trans* people are only too familiar with. Fox has highlighted the fact that transgender people lack access to space for athletic competition, and sometimes even training space.
Fox is not the first transgender athlete to make news. In 2010 Kye Allums came out as a trans man while playing on George Washington University's women's basketball team. Keelin Godsey, a world-class hammer thrower, came out as a trans guy while throwing at Bowdin College and then came just shy of qualifying for the women's Olympic team last year. Both Keelin and Kye competed in the women's division because they had not started taking testosterone, but Donna Rosen (whom I mentioned a few weeks ago here on HuffPost) is a trans woman competing in women's wrestling. And then there are sheroes like Molly Lenore, who played football in the Gay Bowl Championships with the New York Warriors and now plays with the New York Dolls. All these athletes have faced discrimination and barriers to their advancement throughout their careers.
Earlier this month I launched a new athletics website specifically for transgender and genderqueer people, called Trans* Jock. I had been working on the site for a while, and it just so happened that I completed the work in the middle of the Fallon Fox media blitz. The site isn't just for people who compete in organized sports but for all trans* folks who work out.
People might wonder why we need a specific site for trans* athletes. Well, we need our own site so that we can share our experiences and get support. Being trans* ain't easy, and our health is always at risk. Many of us wait to use gendered public restrooms for fear of violence and discrimination. There is also a chance that we might stop working out because of a real fear of discrimination at the gym. Gyms and locker rooms, like bathrooms, are highly gendered spaces.
Last year Evergreen College in Washington caught flack for supporting a transgender student's locker room choice. The fact that this trans woman used the women's locker room became national news. The fear that we might have our name plastered all over CNN for taking a shower after working out is a real fear that trans* people face on a regular basis. We need a space to discuss and support each other in the face of discrimination like this.
Before I started medically transitioning, I was a surfer and played water polo. Once I started hormones, my access to swimming pools became very limited, because I still had boobs, and what was I supposed to wear? At work one of the big benefits I receive is access to world-class athletic facilities. However, like many gyms, the locker rooms only have group showering facilities. How am I supposed to shower in a group shower? Am I safe doing so? At my place of employment I am probably safe. But how will people treat me once they see what is really under my dapper attire? Will they treat me more "like a woman"? Will they see me as a woman with a bad-ass beard instead of as a guy? These questions affect my daily life. These questions affect how people interact with me at work and around town. It is one thing knowing that I am trans in the abstract, but it is quite another seeing my hot naked body.
What about the emotional effects of not being able to work out? Working out is a great way to cope with stress, and trans* people know all about stress! When we start coming out to our friends and families as transgender, our stress increases, and often at the same time, our access to safe workout spaces disappears. This causes even more stress.
We need to change the way we segregate locker rooms and how we see gender-based athletics. The IOC and NCAA have clear and equitable guidelines so that trans* people can participate in gendered athletic competition. These organizations have worked with trans* people and medical professionals to make sure that trans* people can compete. Now we need our facilities and community support to catch up.
Trans* Jock is not just for those competing. Staying fit is important for everyone. Having a regular workout routine is advised by all medical professionals.
I also hope that this site will join organizations such as Outsports, Buff Butch, You Can Play and others in the fight for trans* inclusion at all levels of play. Often trans* folks struggle with this issue in silence. It will take a community of us to rise up and say that we need access to athletic facilities and teams. People have been doing the work individually; the hope is that this site will encourage us as a community and give us a joint voice. I hope that this site will build on and include the voices of people like Kye Allums, Chris Tina Bruce, Keelin Godsey, Molly Lenore and Fallon Fox.
Trans* people, please join in the conversation on Trans* Jock. Let's support each other as a team. It is time for us to join hands and say that we are here, and that we can kick butt on the field and in the gym!