Over the past few weeks, I have excitedly read Skyd articles that open up positive discussion on the inclusion of lesbian, gay, and bisexual athletes, and as an openly trans-male athlete I felt compelled to not only respond but to also offer steps that we as a community can take to be more accepting of our gender diverse playing population.
When I first read Will Neff’s “Where are All the Gay Guys” article on Skyd this past month, I was surprised that a cis-gendered heterosexual man was talking about the LGBTIQ scene within ultimate. Will eloquently addresses his privileges, his sexual identity, his gender identity, mobility index and his race privilege, and by doing so I gained a new level of respect for him. He talks about what the ultimate community can do for our LGBTIQ team mates so that they can feel supported within the community, are encouraged to grow as players and can forge strong meaningful, non-judgemental connections – the aspects of our beautiful game that keep Will playing.
But what Will’s article and the articulate response by Charles Naurath failed to mention was the transgender community and whether or not ultimate is ready for us. Tony Leonardo’s article “Identity Matchups” on the 26th of April, and subsequent comments, suggest that perhaps the wider community isn’t quite ready yet for athletes with transgender narratives.
I speak on this issues as someone with many privileges: white, able-bodied and male-passing to start, but also as someone who has experienced ultimate from two very different perspectives – as female and later as male. I have spent the last two years transitioning from female to male, navigating bathroom nightmares, awkward public interactions and feeling terrified that my transition would remove me from the sport I love the most. In preparing this response I sought out experiences from other transgender ultimate players and had the pleasure of speaking with Michelle McCarthy from the University of Illinois, who has just begun her transition and has continued to captain University of Illinois’ Open B team throughout. The Australian and University of Illinois ultimate communities and our teammates have, for the large part, offered us unwavering love and support. However, our experiences in sport are like a rainbow-coloured unicorn: rare. As a community not only can we do better to ensure that we’re inclusive of our lesbian, gay and bisexual teammates but also our trans and intersex teammates, both on and off the field.
5 WAYS THE ULTIMATE COMMUNITY CAN BE MORE INCLUSIVE
Engage Representative Voices for Minority Experiences
Talk to us, connect with us, ask us how we experience the game and what needs to change to make the sport a more inclusive place.
Whilst issues of inequality and discrimination deserve time in the spotlight, more often than not this time is monopolised by the majority speaking for the minority in question. Although the number of transgender athletes participating in ultimate may be small, we do exist and our voices and experiences are an invaluable reflection on what, as a community, we do well and what we need to improve on. The Rainbow Hub published an article by “Mad Moll Green” in 2014 which spoke about the ultimate community and featured almost a dozen LGBTIQ ultimate athletes, including a couple of trans athletes. Unfortunately, this was unable to reach nearly the audience that the recent Skyd articles have, but it did validate our existence within the sport. When writing articles that critically speak of a minorities’ experience or how we can make an environment better for a minority group, the importance of engaging and representing us directly is undervalued. Too often these articles are written and debated by the majority.
Talk about Relevant Experiences
Seek out representative, recent experiences.
Whilst I applaud Tony for igniting a conversation regarding transgender athletes, the experience in which he referenced was “early 2000s”. Let’s, as a community, seek out experiences that are timely and relevant today by talking to trans athletes currently competing, or, at a stretch, the opinions of athletes currently competing against trans athletes. By referencing an experience that’s over a decade old, we do so without context for public perception or attitudes towards trans individuals at that time and without paying respect to the progress we have made to date. Inclusion and anti-discrimination policies through the IOC, USAU, NCAA and AFDA (Australian Flying Disc Association) have been created or modified considerably since the early 2000s, and impact the on-field inclusion of transgender athletes in 2016.
Use Inclusive Language
Respect our identities, acknowledge that our concept of gender identity or gender expression may not look like yours and that’s ok, and understand that disclosure of identity can only be on the trans athletes’ terms.
In Will Neff’s “Where are All the Gay Guys” article, he makes a strong point for inclusive language in order to deconstruct a heteronormative culture. By the same token we must make an effort to move away from the perception that gender is binary and fixed. We must respect one another’s pronouns regardless of gender presentation or the gender-line one plays on field, we must respect individuals’ preferred names, and avoid using language such as ‘transgendered’ (it’s better to say “someone who is transgender” instead). Attention to language for trans athletes can be the difference between feeling comfortable and feeling ostracised. As Kye Allums (NCAA Transgender Division One Athlete) explains “Hearing female pronouns [directed at me] would make me dysphoric. It’s like being sick. It’s like having the flu. It’s like you want to rip the skin off of your body. It’s the most uncomfortable, unbearable feeling in the world. I could not focus on basketball feeling like that. All I wanted to do was escape my body and run away.…” (Time Magazine, 2014). There may be a time when captains need to advocate for their players in the early stages of transition; captains support their players during contentious calls, this should be no different. At my first Australian Mixed Ultimate Championships on the men’s line I asked my captain to clarify with the opposition at the toss that I was playing on the men’s line to avoid unintentional gender mismatches. By having my captain advocate for me I was able to enjoy the tournament without worrying about my opposition interpreting my gender incorrectly and by knowing my team had my back. Disclosures of transgender status need to be in the best interest, and at the request of, trans athletes and not for the benefit of their cis-gender opponents.
Use Accurate and Relevant Research
Inform yourself from relevant sources, understand the policies and the research behind the policies.
The landscape of inclusion policies and anti-discrimination laws, especially in the US, is contentious and ever-evolving. It is therefore important to consider the relevant literature when questioning the place of trans athletes in any sport. For example, the USAU has a policy, as does the IOC, NCAA and the AFDA. These policies, whilst not perfect, are fairly explicit in outlining the requirement for trans athletes to compete at a competitive level and are based upon research by people with a lot more experience than the comments section of an article posted on the internet. The impact of hormone replacement therapy differs greatly between female-to-male and male-to-female trans athletes; therefore, the requirements of these athletes are different in order to minimise any “advantages”.
Let Spirit of the Game Guide Us
SOTG speaks to inclusivity and respect for all; including your transgender teammates and opposition.
SOTG is the principle that makes ultimate unique and so appealing to many athletes. It serves to remind us that the points on the scoreboard at the end of the game matters little if we conduct ourselves in a negative manner. It is a set of principles that is not only applicable on the field but also in life. The inference that trans athletes have an advantage is in direct opposition of SOTG; the obstacles that trans athletes have to face in order to lace up and step on the field far outweigh any theoretical physical advantage. With SOTG as an underpinning foundation of ultimate, we are already light years ahead of mainstream sports in our acceptance of LGBTIQ athletes; and as a community we’re taking the right steps to ensure that this growth continues.
My acceptance, and that of Michelle McCarthy, mentioned above, within ultimate is a testament to SOTG and to our communities; we are proof that trans athletes can be integrated into ultimate without drama, that the policies put in place by our associations work, and that SOTG is still alive and strong within our communities. Our acceptance has not been without angst, careful education and occasional opposition, but we have witnessed a lot of positivity and constructive progress. It is up to all players to continue to educate ourselves so that we can welcome and include all members of the community and continue to ensure the growth of ultimate for all.