Participation in sports greatly enhances my happiness and ability to interact with others. Yes, I’m that guy – that guy who, after any extended period of inactivity will make some sort of UGHHHH! sound, followed by something like, “I need to go for a run.”
The past two years have led to a shocking discovery: it is easier for me to be accepted by, compete in, and feel safe in sports leagues that are not designated as “LGBT-friendly” than is to play with other queer athletes.
My triathlon club, Empire Tri Club, is not a queer club, but is an all-people friendly club with members who have known me before transition and have been supportive throughout. I enjoy the people and appreciate the safe space they’ve created for me to be me. I don’t know of any other queer folks in the club, and certainly no other trans folks, but my identity has never been an issue. I switched pronouns, they switched what they called me. I started competing as male and no one has made a mistake around me since. They get the details right: I went to buy my uniform, they gave me male pieces to try on without question. To them, I am an athlete.
In designated LGBT sports spaces, I have encountered problem after problem, and an unwillingness or lack of effort to correct them. Forms and applications to sign up had only two check boxes: male and female. This wouldn’t be as big of an issue in the “straight” sports, because I know this is the way it works, but I expected inclusion in these leagues. One season passed and I didn’t play because I didn’t feel comfortable with the registration process. They fixed the form and I signed up as trans.
The facility they use for one sport has men’s and women’s locker rooms. Many of the players had played with me when I was in the league before transition, and not much about me had changed beyond pronouns. I had not used a female facility in over a year, but a male coworker is also in the league and the thought of that awkward moment stopped me from using the men’s locker room for the rest of the season. One solution offered to me was to “go to McDonalds to change and come back.”
They found another place for me to change but it was on another floor in a restricted area. Not all of the employees knew I was given access to it. On two occasions during the season I was not allowed into the changing space, and one time I was not allowed into the building at all. I didn’t exactly get the warm and fuzzies there – simply put, there was no space for me. I did not belong.
I stopped playing that sport and joined a LGBT bowling league. What harm could possible come of that? It’s bowling! Last Sunday, a person two lanes over put “Tranny” up on their scoreboard as a player’s name. I went over to say I was offended and before the words came out of my mouth, they asked if I wanted to get my photo taken under the screen that said “Tranny.” (No. No is the answer to that question, should anyone be curious.)
I may have actually breathed fire in that moment. I know it’s just a word (see Stephen Ira’s great commentary and the comments which follow – important conversation!), but this should NOT be happening at an LGBT inclusive event/organization/league. The reason I continue to seek out LGBT sports and play with the league is for this idea of full inclusion – being able to play, compete, participate, and just plain exist in a league where my transgender identity is not an issue, or where someone else there may be like me.
I brought this issue to the attention of the league and was met with a “Thanks for the note. We’ll talk about it at our next meeting.” The next meeting is conveniently happening just before the last week of the season, which means it will be several weeks before anyone even discusses my complaint. I do not feel supported, included, or welcome in that LGB“T” space.
I think it is worth noting – there is a lack of transgender participation in the league and in the other sports this organization puts on. It doesn’t feel safe. It doesn’t feel inclusive or comfortable. I seem to be the only fool who keeps coming back.
I do not believe an organization should be judged by one (or several) ignorant players but I can certainly judge an organization by how they handle – or do not handle – my concerns.
Being a trans guy has taught me to advocate for myself. This is a skill I continue to develop through the bad jokes in bars and inappropriate comments at work and casual conversations with friends. It is discouraging – exhausting, even – to gain the courage and voice to stand up for myself only to have my concerns be dismissed, pushed aside, or entirely ignored. Queer groups hardly seem like a place where I should have trouble finding an ally, but here I am. Again.
I have suggestions and resources, and have offered my services because I want this organization to be a safe space for trans folks, as they indicate. I guess I’m just having a hard time accepting that this might be a space where trans folks are not welcome… but actions speak louder than words.
Fortunately, it’s almost triathlon season again.