An Iron Man
BY Advocate Contributors
November 23 2010 6:20 PM ET
Being an athlete has always been a primary part of my identity. I love competing, being on a team, and experiencing the camaraderie that comes from interacting with other athletes. When I began to consider transitioning, I knew that choosing to be open about my gender identity would require that I negotiate my identity as an athlete. Living authentically as the person I know I am and continuing to be a competitive triathlete, runner, and cyclist were both important, so I am trying to do both.
Triathlon is an individual sport, but competitors are scored against others in the athlete’s gender category and age group. Just thinking about standing at a starting line with a group of women as my competitive peers makes me uncomfortable. Competing as female didn’t fit, but competing within the male category puts me at a severe competitive disadvantage against cis-gendered men who had a lifetime of hormonal influence to their body and muscle structure development. I am not an elite athlete by any means, but I was finishing in the top 20 in running races and triathlons, winning my category in my first triathlon, and placing as high as fifth early this year. But I would hesitate to share my results with anyone because my category of competition did not fit my identity.
On November 5, I competed in Ironman Florida, a triathlon consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run. I was totally physically prepared for each of the three disciplines and the long day of ultra-endurance racing. I had been training about 18 hours a week, often two workouts a day, for six months, and had the specifics of my nutrition and hydration, pacing, and gear planned to the last detail. I did not, however, fully prepare for the challenges of being myself in such a gender-oriented system.
In general, the system of athletics is structured in a way that results in transgender athletes being excluded or discouraged from competing, or experiencing discomfort participating on athletics teams or in competitive events that use birth sex to categorize gender for competition.