The status of trans masculine athletes participating and competing in sports at the present time is precarious at best. So many factors contribute to the experience of any athlete, and being a trans masculine person only further complicates this experience. The nature of these concerns fall into two major categories:
Fairness to the athlete’s team and competitors and the gender dysphoric experience of the trans participant.
Concerns that arise in popular media discussions are heavily influenced by the former, where anyone discussing trans male/masculine competitors keep their focus on the “fairness” of the game. These concerns center around the use of testosterone, considered a performance enhancing drug that have been associated with increased muscle mass and could provide a significant advantage of strength, speed and agility. These discussions are typically ill-informed and presumptive of how testosterone affects individual human bodies, and are typically based on how testosterone affects folks assigned male at birth, where even in these circumstances, there is a broad range of effect.
Most players and officials feel that anyone who takes testosterone should participate on a men’s team and compete against other males. Others feel that this creates an unfair disadvantage to the trans masculine athlete, due to differences in average size and strength, and could result in injury. In terms of fairness to women’s teams, if the trans masculine athlete is discovered to be using testosterone, the entire team may be disqualified from competition, and the individual may be potentially banned from further participation as testosterone usage is considered to be doping based on Olympic (international) guidelines. At the present time, there are no concrete medical studies that have concluded what kind of advantage or disadvantage testosterone provides for FTM in athletic competition.
So, how does this all affect trans guys competing and participating in sports? There is a great deal of debate, which unfortunately, does not favor trans masculine participation. Since the establishment of the Stockholm Consensus in 2004, however, there are new regulations in place that are intended to support transgender identified people competing in international sports, and has been applied to many levels of play – international, premier league, collegiate and private.
The Stockholm Consensus establishes three main regulations, the first being that the participant must have been consistently on cross gender hormone therapy in order to compete on team that is the opposite gender of birth assignment. Their hormone levels must reflect the intended gender’ normal range. Secondly, the trans athlete’s documentation must reflect an athlete’s chosen gender. Finally, trans folks must have documentation from a medical provider that they have proof of undergoing genital gender reassignment surgery. These athletes may also be subjected to further examinations as requested by the governing sorts bodies, such as the International Olympic Committee, the LPGA Tour, USA Rugby, and NCAA.
In terms of documentation, in many states and nations, trans individuals are not able to change documentation such as birth certificates, or other inconsistencies in documentation. Therefore, because documents may classify the athlete differently and are unable to be changed, this would disqualify a participant from competing.
The guidelines for SRS/GRS genital surgery come purely from an aesthetic standpoint, but not from one that would provide an actual advantage to transgender men. These guidelines are have been established based on an MTF advantage model, which expects trans women’s genitalia have the opportunity to generate testosterone and androgens and “can cause an advantage over female competitors,” despite androgen suppressive therapies and heavily monitored HRT regimens. For FTM participants, the ovaries, uterus and other estrogen rich organs are not considered to be a threat in either male or female categories, however, full removal of “female anatomy” is expected in order for trans masculine folks to compete in any type of Stockholm Consensus regulated organization and can disqualify participants based on someone’s genital status. In both trans women and trans men, this is financially burdensome, as most countries do not cover the costs of SRS and may prevent trans folks from participating in competitive athletics based on price. Additionally, this regulation is also very presumptive that all trans folk desire any type of surgery, when in many cases, does not physically affect the athletic performance.
There are consistently many hoops that trans folk need to step through in order to even participate, let alone compete. Recreational participation has potential to cause great dysphoria and anxiety for folks in all areas of the trans spectrum. One of the hardest aspects of participation is making the decision of which gender to play with – for some, this is an issue of presenting as male and personal decisions to use medical resources such as testosterone and surgical options. For many others, especially those who are pre-medical transition, non-hormone and/or non-op, trans masculine folks feel more comfortable participating on women’s teams. For those that are going either of these routes, here are a couple of guidelines for participation.
1. Check the regulations of team you want to play with – even small recreational dodge ball leagues have by laws that regulate gender and gendered competition. Check to see how the league has written their by laws, and if there are any concerns, contact the head of the organization. If they are unfriendly to you or are not clear about their regulations, do not join that organization.
2. Co-ed sports can be great options for folks who identify beyond the norms of the binary gender system, however, do not alleviate problems involving transphobia. You have a right to play and participate without hateful comments or actions no matter how you express your identity. However, there is a limitation in what sports may be available for multiple-gender participation.
3. Private organizations do not have a right to information regarding your healthcare status and is protected by HIPAA law. The organization may be allowed to ask for documentation on your legal sex, but your health is your business.
4. LGBT sports organizations and recreation leagues tend to be more progressive with their gender policies – even if you do not want to participate in their exact sport, they may have members who might have advice finding a team/organization that will be able to work with your needs.
Regardless of which team or sport you have chosen, you have a right to play as anyone else. But sometimes as trans folks, we have to fight for our spots at the table. Find an athletic organization of your choice, make some contacts, do your research, and most importantly, know your rights.