Transgender athletes

Sports are an important part of life for many people, including many transgender people.

Children

For all children, including gender diverse and transgender children, participating in sports can help psychosocial development by teaching important life skills like discipline, respect, persistence, dedication, and patience. Sports can improve a child’s health, mood, and self-esteem. All children deserve to experience those things.

Youth and adolescents

As more and more youth and adolescents make a gender transition, some people have expressed concern about transgender athletes in competitive sports. This is especially true in sex-segregated sports, where some people question if it is fair for transgender athletes to compete with non-transgender athletes. This concern most often arises around transgender women and girls participating in a sport with non-transgender women and girls.

That concern is sometimes heightened by the level of competition and what can be won. For instance, earning a ribbon or trophy is valuable, but winning a local, state, regional, national, or international competition can lead to other opportunities and sometimes has financial value. Notable adolescent athletes who are transgender include:

  • Mack Beggs, wrestling
  • Terry Miller, track
  • Andraya Yearwood, track

Balancing fairness with inclusion is very complicated, and every athletic organization all the way up to the Olympics wants to find the best path forward.

Adults

Transgender adults participate in sports at all levels of ability, from casual participant to professional athlete.

A number of transgender people were noted athletes before transition, but they did not compete in their sports after a gender transition:

  • Michelle Duff, motorcycle racing
  • Caitlyn Jenner, track and field
  • Janae Kroc, powerlifting

Athletes who competed after a gender transition include:

  • Tifanny Abreu, volleyball
  • Kye Allums, basketball
  • Mianne Bagger, golf
  • Schuyler Bailar, swimming
  • Harrison Browne, ice hockey
  • Savannah Burton, dodgeball
  • Balian Buschbaum, pole vault
  • Parinya Charoenphol, Thai boxing
  • Roberta Cowell, motor sports
  • Willy De Bruijn, cycling
  • Michelle Dumaresq, downhill mountain biking
  • Fallon Fox, mixed martial arts
  • Laurel Hubbard, weightlifting
  • Lauren Jeska, fell running
  • Zdeněk Koubek, track
  • Andreas Krieger, shot put
  • Bobbi Lancaster, golf
  • Rachel McKinnon, cycling
  • Cate McGregor, cricket
  • Chris Mosier, triathlon
  • Erik Schinegger, skiing
  • Mark Weston, athletics
  • Patricio Manuel, Boxing
  • Hannah Mouncey, handball and Australian football
  • Renée Richards, tennis
  • Jaiyah Saelua, soccer
  • Natalie van Gogh, cycling

Eligibility and fairness concerns

As with transgender youth and adolescents, most concern involves adult transgender women participating in competitive sex-segregated sports. Discussions about this go all the way back to the 1936 Olympics, and the International Olympic Committee has issued many revised regulations on sex testing and physiological thresholds for sex categories.

In the 20th century, some organizations required physical examinations of athletes’ naked bodies. Several track and field athletes had their eligibility challenged based on these exams:

  • Stanisława Walasiewicz (Poland)
  • Dora Ratjen (Germany)
  • Zdeňka Koubková (Czechoslovakia)
  • Foekje Dillema (The Netherlands)
  • Mary Edith Louise Weston (England)

Some organizations later required chromosome testing. Several athletes had their eligibility challenged based on these exams:

  • Ewa Kłobukowska (Poland)
  • Renée Richards (United States)
  • Erika Schinegger (Austria)
  • Maria José Martínez-Patiño (Spain)
  • Santhi Soundarajan (India)

Later, some organizations began hormone testing. Some created policies for women with “hyperandrogenism,” an unusually high level of naturally-produced androgen like testosterone. Several athletes had their eligibility challenged based on these exams:

  • Caster Semenya (South African)
  • Dutee Chand (India)

Many of the cases above led to long legal fights. In some cases, the athletes were found to have differences of sex development. In some cases, they later made a gender transition and identified as men. Some won their cases, and others lost.

Each amateur and professional competitive sport has its own governing body, so there’s no general rule about how this is handled. The resources below have additional information on this complex topic.


Resources

TransAthlete (transathlete.com)

  • Created by Chris Mosier, this site compiles policies and resources related to participation in sports by transgender athletes.

Rachel McKinnon (rachelmckinnon.com)

  • Transgender athlete who appears in the media and publishes on the topic.

GLSEN (glsen.org)

National Collegiate Athletic Association (ncaa.com)

  • The NCAA governs college sports in the United States. They published a resource titled “Inclusion of Transgender Student-Athletes.” (PDF)
  • Additional resources can be found at: ncaapublications.com

International Association of Athletic Federations (iaaf.org)

 International Olympic Committee (olympic.org)

  • 2015 IOC Consensus Meeting on Sex Reassignment and Hyperandrogenism (PDF)