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Transitions: Transgender Athletes

TransImage1by: Kevin MacKinnon

Chris Mosier worked hard hammering his power, strength and endurance. For years he’s been plugging away, gradually moving his way up the competitive ranks, but never making it high enough on the podium to make a national team. Last June that changed when he finished seventh in the men’s 35–39 category at the US national duathlon championship, which was enough to earn his a spot at next year’s world championship race in Spain.

No big deal, right? There are lots of people who strive to make national teams and do that. Chris Mosier’s journey has been dramatically different, though. He competed in his first triathlon in 2009 – as a woman. Two years later he would compete in the same event, the New York City Triathlon, as a man.

Since making the transition in 2010, Mosier has become both an advocate and a resource for trans athletes. He founded the website transathlete.com.

“When I was considering transition, I didn’t see any trans men who were athletes,” he told The Advocate magazine. “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.”

Shortly after Mosier’s duathlon success, an athlete who had planned to compete on Harvard’s women’s swim team, Schuyler Bailar, was wrestling with whether or not he should compete at all, let alone as a man or as a woman. After being recruited for the women’s team, Bailar had taken a gap year, during which he “came out as transgender,” the school’s newspaper, The Crimson, reported. Here was his dilemma: he loved to swim, but he wasn’t sure how long he could continue “the girl thing,” he told the newspaper. Eventually Bailar was given the opportunity to swim on either the women’s or men’s teams at Harvard – he chose the men’s. He’s since started hormone treatments and has been competing on the men’s team. While he’s gone from being one of the fastest swimmers in the pool to one who is hanging on at the back of the lane, he’s happy with his decision.

TransImage2In order to be eligible to compete in sanctioned triathlon events, trans athletes must follow the standards set by the International Olympic Association, which the International Triathlon Union has chosen to follow.

According to transathlete.com, those standards include that in order to “participate consistent with their gender identity” an athlete must have:

  1. Undergone sex reassignment surgery
  2. Had hormone treatments for at least two years, and
  3. Received legal recognition of their transitioned sex.


For years Mosier’s testosterone levels have been regularly monitored by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). Now that he’s made a national team, those levels will also be monitored by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). His participation at next year’s worlds remains uncertain, though, because he has not undergone sex reassignment surgery. “While many other sporting leagues are unsure of how to handle transgender participants, the IOC policy affirms that transgender athletes exist, but in the same breath it tells me that I’m not good enough to compete as a man if I do not have an extremely expensive, complicated and imperfect procedure done to modify my body,” he said in an interview with the Huffington Post.

While Mosier is finding challenges, things seem to get even trickier for athletes who make the transition from male to female. Even though research has shown that after their treatments, transgender athletes have hormone levels that are in line with their competitors and that they have no advantage over their competition. That’s still a hard concept for many athletes to get their heads around. A trans athlete who won her age category in an Ironman event a few years ago found herself dealing with an appeal of the results after the race, not to mention some unwelcome comments at the awards ceremony. Michelle Dumaresq, a trans downhill cycling competitor, found herself on the podium accepting her third Canadian championship medal next to one of her competitors, who removed her cycling jersey on the podium to reveal a T-shirt that proclaimed her to be “100% woman.”

Why would these athletes put themselves through this type of abuse? An athlete who has made the transition (and has asked not to be identified) pointed out that she simply loves her sport. After her transition she tried other sports, but found herself gravitating back to the one she had competed in as a man.

A much more public example of the transition comes in the form of American triathlete Jamie Good, a trans athlete who was featured on the Discovery Life Channel’s New Girls on the Block series. While she was featured crying on one show when her mother told her that a race director wasn’t going to let her compete in his event, she has, for the most part, found herself welcomed by the athletic community. She routinely finishes amongst the top in her age group and even won a race overall. Her times, though, are slower than those she posted as a man – almost a minute slower per mile on the run. Her training partners applaud her success because they know that how hard she trains.

Mosier can completely identify with her concerns about her gender reassignment becoming known. Possibly the world’s most famous transgender athlete right now, Caitlyn Jenner, was known around the world as the world’s fittest man when she won the gold medal in the decathlon at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. Jenner’s very public transition is likely to inspire more men and women to do the same. As more athletes make the transition, hopefully they will find themselves welcomed by the triathlon community and given the chance to pursue the sport they love.

“In the past two years, I have placed consistently in the top three of the most competitive men’s age group in the sport and in the top 10 per cent overall at each of my races, and recently won my age group and placed fourth overall in an iron distance triathlon (4 km swim, 180 km bike, 42.2km run),” Mosier told the Huffington Post. “The happiness and a feeling of accomplishment – proving wrong everyone who said I would no longer be competitive after transition to male – was indescribable. So too was the concern that it would all be taken away if the right person chose to Google me.”

Top Five Points For Transgender Allies to Remember

Respect transgender people’s name and pronoun. In all interactions, address them as their preferred name and the pronoun they use. Respect their privacy by not outing them or telling others of their identity without permission.

Protecting the privacy of transgender student-athletes must be a top priority for all athletic department and affiliated school personnel, particularly when in the presence of the media. All medical information shall be kept confidential in accordance with applicable state, local and federal privacy laws.

Listen and be supportive. Allow trans people to control who they tell about their identity and how they tell them.

Some trans people use hormones, some do not. Some have surgery, many do not. Every trans person’s journey is unique. People have both a gender identity and sexual orientation, but some trans individuals don’t identify with one or either and don’t consider these descriptions part of their identities. Trans people can be
straight, gay, bisexual, asexual, or have a different sexual identity.

Challenge your own notions of gender roles and expectations. Use inclusive language. Continue your education on trans topics; do not expect trans people to be responsible for educating you. Do not ask invasive questions.–TRANSATHLETE.COM


Special thanks so to Sara Gross whose article ‘In Transition’ appeared on witsup.com in September 2015.