Triathlon and transgender athletes

Before I begin I want to acknowledge that there are some transgender triathletes who will strongly disagree with my views on the topic of member protection in triathlon. While anyone who disagrees with me is entitled to those views, I ask you respect mine and that you take the time to consider what I write about in full rather than having a gut-reaction.

***

One of the things I am grateful for is that I live in a society and time where being a transgender person does not prevent me from participating in my chosen sport: triathlon. The sport’s governing bodies at both an international and domestic level took proactive steps in the past to ensure that transgender triathletes, spectators, coaches and officials are protected by member protection policies.

In by-law 7.5 of the Triathlon Australia Member Protection By-Law, Triathlon Australia states that:

Triathlon Australia is committed to providing an inclusive sporting environment where transgender or transsexual people involved in its activities are able to contribute and participate.

And goes on to say that:

We will not tolerate any unlawful discrimination or harassment against a person who identifies as transgender or transsexual or who is thought to be transgender or transsexual.

[section snipped for brevity]

If any person feels they are being harassed or discriminated against by another person or organisation bound by this policy, please refer to our complaints procedure outlined in Part D of this policy. This will explain what to do about the behaviour and how Triathlon Australia will deal with the problem.

In my opinion this is a powerful statement of protection. One that helps me know that I can safely train for and attend triathlon events without fear of my slightly different body or history being cause for harassment or discrimination. See, I don’t have a ‘package’ where most men have one and it’s quite obvious in my tri-suit. Though I have to say, in the 6 months I’ve been back in the sport, I’ve not had any issues at all. If anyone has noticed my unflattering lack of size they certainly haven’t said or done anything about it.

Triathlon Australia follows the ITU’s policies in relation to whether transgender men and women are exempt from doping rules and which gender categories we may compete in. The ITU, for it’s part, seems to follow the rulings of the International Olympic Committee.

For transgender men (i.e. people born with female bodies who live as men), the rules state that we must compete in the men’s categories. This makes sense to me because as a person who identifies as a man I would not want to compete with the women (only because I’m not a woman – not for any derogatory reason). We don’t have to make any declarations about  being transgender – we just enter the event as a man (though I have had correspondence with both Triathlon Australia and Triathlon Qld to clarify the rules).

The only issue arises if we compete at world championship events because these events can be subject to random drug testing. In these instances, we must satisfy the ASADA (the Australian Sport Anti-Doping Authority) that we are taking testosterone (or any other sport-illegal drug) for therapeutic use. In my case, it’s unlikely I will ever again rise to that level of competition, but if I do my entire hormone level history is available right back to 1997 when I started taking testosterone under medical supervision. Those test results would show I have not used the drug for performance enhancement (if anything, my dose has been slightly lowered over the past few years).

For transgender women the situation is more complex. However, I believe the ITU and Triathlon Australia have worked well to find a balance between the need to allow transgender women to compete and the need for an even playing field for all competitors, including biological women.The rules state that;

Any transgendered (male-to-female) person wishing to compete in Triathlon competition sanctioned by TA may do so under the following conditions –

1. Compete as a male, and be eligible for prizes offered to participants in the applicable category (ie. elite or age group)

OR

2. Upon satisfaction of certain criteria, compete as a female, however any placings in the applicable category will not be recognised and the competitor will not be eligible for prizes. The criteria that must be satisfied in order to compete in this way are –

(a) The competitor must provide written verification from a source approved by TA (eg. a certificate from a suitably qualified medical practitioner) that they haveundergone a medical or surgical procedure to alter the gender characteristics of a male, so as to be identified as a female; and

(b) Provide a statutory declaration from the competitor that –

(i) They believe that their true gender is that of a female; and

(ii) They have adopted the lifestyle of a female.

However, transgender women may compete for prizes as women if they meet both these criteria (from 2) and meet the criteria in section 3:

3.Upon satisfying the criteria set out in 2 above, and the extra criteria set out below, the competitor may compete as a female and have their placings in the applicable category recognised, and be eligible for prizes. The extra criteria they must satisfy to compete in this way is –

(a) They must provide a medical opinion from a suitably qualified medical practitioner or exercise physiologist (the person must be independent and authoritative in this field of assessment) which verifies to TA’s reasonable satisfaction that having regard to the competitive nature of the sport of triathlon, that the competitor would have no significant performance advantage in competing as a female consequent to their medical history and gender background.

(b) Provide the identity and qualification of the suitably qualified medical practitioner or exercise physiologist providing the opinion to TA.

While there are those who consider this approach to be discriminatory against transgender women, I personally believe that the real issue is that there:

  • is nothing stopping any transgender man or woman from participating in triathlon in the gender with which we identify
  • are rules that specifically prohibit discrimination against transgender men and women.

These are things to be celebrated.

Early in my transition these rules would have incensed me. I would have gone off on my high horse and argued that the rules discriminated against transgender people and blah blah blah. If truth be told, I probably did rant about these rules when I was younger (trust me, second puberty is worse than the first because adults have more practice with venom than teenagers).

However, as I have come to see myself as a normal part of humanity I have come to realise that, while I deserve respect as a transgender man, I also have to respect the rights of others. And if there was a performance benefit to taking testosterone or (in the case of a transgender woman) starting life in a male body, then that advantage needs to be made more fair for those who were born biological men and women. Because they also have rights as athletes.

I am grateful that the governing bodies of triathlon decided to make by-laws that both protect the safety of transgender athletes and that try to secure an even playing field for all involved in our sport (both transgender men and women, and biological men and women).

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s