Trans Representation in Sports

Trans Representation in Sports

Amelia Coleman, Staff Writer

On April 15, 2021, the Texas Legislature proposed Senate Bill 29, which requires transgender students to compete in sports that correspond to the sex recorded on their birth certificate. The complications of this bill have led some LASA students to speak out about the difficulties of being a transgender or nonbinary student athlete in sports.

According to Sophomore and LASA Pride Alliance (LPA) officer Emily Polio, there is often a struggle between what students identify with and what they were assigned at birth when it comes to athletics. Polio said that the current system makes students feel as if they are not allowed to participate in sports. 

“If you are a trans student it’s very hard,” Polio said. “You want to play a sport and then you feel like you can’t play or the school won’t let you play because [your gender] doesn’t correspond with what they have on record.” 

According to junior and LPA officer Eva Schwarm, denying a student the right to play with the gender they identify with can contribute to a student’s gender dysphoria. Schwarm believes this makes students who are transgender or nonbinary feel uncomfortable in spaces that are supposed to be safe and enjoyable. 

“It could probably make some students feel uncomfortable if they were constantly referred to as a gender they didn’t identify as,” Schwarm said. 

Polio believes that an important part of ensuring that students feel safe in their environment is making sure that they feel just as accepted and welcome as anybody else on the team. Polio believes that athletes’ assigned gender at birth doesn’t matter in these situations. 

“I think making sure that there is awareness in sports [will] make people feel like they’re part of that community, as well as letting students play for the teams that they identify with, as opposed to whatever they were assigned at birth,” Polio said.“It can feel a lot like you’re being shoved into a box that you very much don’t fit in.”

Polio believes that gender-based discrimination is a big issue in the school system. According to Polio, schools don’t have enough policies in place to normalise being transgender or nonbinary.

“There’s a lot of discrimination we don’t think of in very small ways,” Polio said. “Access to their bathrooms is always a big deal, the locker rooms are also very stressful because it feels like you’re being forced to out yourself in a way. Then there’s the city regulations about allowing them to play sports based on the gender they identify with.”

Freshman tennis player Caty Mueller says a lot of restrictions on transgender and nonbinary students in sports come from the state and are the result of ignorance. Several states have passed laws that make it difficult for members of the LGBT+ community, especially transgender women and nonbinary students, to compete in their sport. 

“The biggest struggle they have to face is the roadblocks, political powers, that prevent them from playing with the gender they identify as,” Mueller said. “There’s a lot of roadblocks for medical transitions and a player’s physical status. But these roadblocks should not be there and players should be allowed to play.”

Another factor that is critical to this issue is the extent to which sports rely on gender. According to Mueller, some sports rely on gender less than others due to the difference in the physicality required. Mueller argues that in some sports, the biological differences between genders would make the competition unfair, while in others, it doesn’t matter as much. 

“With some sports, it’s a big difference, because a lot of it is physicality,” Mueller said. “Testosterone biologically makes you stronger than estrogen, but with some sports like tennis [it doesn’t matter as much]. Sports like tennis and ultimate frisbee shouldn’t be gendered as they don’t require physicality as much as other sports.” 

While some students, like Mueller, believe that biological gender is more relevant to some sports than others, students like Polio believe the opposite. According to her, everyone should have an equal opportunity to play any sport.

  “I think gendered sports are something we can learn and move away from,” Polio said. “We know enough about people to know that it doesn’t really matter whether you’re a guy or girl, or nonbinary. If you want to play football, you should be able to play football in a way that makes you feel comfortable.” 

Polio also said that gendered sports tend to pander to boy’s athletics teams, often excluding female-dominated sports. According to Polio, this difference can especially prevent transgender or nonbinary students from participating in boys’ athletics. 

“I think there’s this misogynistic idea that certain sports are only for certain people,” Polio said. “It’s hard, especially when you want to do something and you feel like you don’t have a place in that community.”

According to Schwarm, your biological gender becomes increasingly irrelevant in athletics as time goes on. Schwarm believes that with enough practice and dedication or the use of hormones, there is less of a disadvantage. 

“It’s more about trying your best and practicing than who you physically are as a person,” Schwarm said. “Once you get into higher levels, people have probably transitioned to the point where they have gained or lost an advantage equal to the gender they identify as. I’ve heard [hormone theropy] studies that give people capabilities equal to those of their cis counterparts. But at the school level, it’s probably not as big a deal.” 

According to Polio, trans students should have every opportunity a cis student would in every aspect of their lives, not just athletics. Polio said that normalising people being transgender and making it more socially acceptable for younger people depends on the environment in which they are raised. 

“The school district needs to start acknowledging that there is a much broader base of students who want to be participating in sports,” Polio said. “Things like more gender neutral locker rooms or areas for them to change can really help make the student feel like they’re a part of the community and not just being treated as other because of whatever they identify with. Also obviously allowing them to play sports based on the gender they identify with.”