The Next Genderation

The significance of identity in a binary world.

Susana Davidson

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From the  moment you are born you have existed in a world of binary gender. Baby boys are greeted with swaths of blue balloons, trucks and toys to prepare them for the aggressive masculinity they will have to endure in later life. Girls on the other hand, are expected to have an affinity for pink, Barbie and housekeeping. These rigid gender roles will follow everyone for the rest of their lives.
The athletic world is relatively slow to catch up with the changes the rest of the world has made in regards to diminishing and eradicating the prejudices that have put us into binaries from our first day on this planet. This is mainly due to the strict guidelines sports often have in regards to hormonal levels.
The aim of the organizations and doctors that create the rules regarding athletic competitions are to make sure every athlete that steps up to the starting line is evenly matched, at least in the measurable ways. The most common doping scandals are caused by illegal testosterone intake, essentially making the body more male, more explosively powerful, and more efficient with its oxygen intake.
“Cis [gender] women [athletes] have a cap on the levels of testosterone to prevent taking supplements,” said Garfield history teacher and cross country coach John C. Leslie. “For an intersex athlete who naturally has higher testosterone levels, the big question is: is it fair? It is an issue that hasn’t been resolved.”
The dispute over gender neutral and non binary athletes is a fairly new one that not many have a clear solution for. Even trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming athletes have no clear answer. Sam Scheckler, a genderfluid Garfield sophomore and avid rower says, “I can see why it’s [binary sports] because it is what your biological body can do. But being forced to click a box that says what your gender is rather than what your sex is in order to sign up, is hard.”
The backlash that sports integration has received is very mixed. Some deny the very existence of transgender or gender nonconforming people. Others seek to question the equity and fairness related with athletes who may receive some kind of advantage over their privileged cis counterparts.
“These are still communities that suffer a lot of discrimination stereotypically in sports; that is an area where there are many issues of discrimination that come up because of gender,” said Leslie. “So I think [equitable] treatment of non binary or transgender athletes is first of all paramount to ensure safety and equal opportunity, in the same way that we worked to challenge the discrimination that women who entered in traditionally gendered sports suffered in the past.”
Though the struggles of cis women are very different from those of gender non conforming or trans people, their experiences in the athletic world both hinge on being denied access because their identity.
On the high school level, rules and regulations vary from state to state, and from team to team. Washington state has a relatively inclusive policy regarding trans athletes, allowing athletes to compete in their identifying gendered team without taking hormone supplements or undergoing operations. The Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA), which has authority over all Washington schools, including Garfield, put forth a formal statement in their 2013-14 handbook stating that, “All students should have the opportunity to participate in WIAA activities in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on a student’s records.”
However, those in other states are not so lucky. Texas, for instance, possesses discriminatory policies regarding trans athletes. That is, requiring a birth certificate change, and a hormone wait period or operation. In February of 2016, school superitendents voted to require the use of a birth certificate to place a student in a gendered sports team. This was seconded by the governing body of Texan high schools, the University Interscholastic League (UIL) and took effect on August first, ratified by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath.
Last February, these rules were challenged when a seventeen-year-old female to male transgender athlete, Mack Beggs, won the girls 110 pound state tournament. He chose to wrestle with the girls when he was given an ultimatum: either wrestle with the gender he doesn’t conform to, or give up his sport entirely. The choice was simple.
“I’m most proud of my State Title win. I was so relieved when I won,” said Beggs, who has remained calm despite the backlash he has received. “I try to ignore the haters and just move on with my life.”
“We have to do so much more to fight back against this institutional binary, gender wise or sex wise, because it completely erases people- intersex people, non binary people,” says trans Nova sophomore Theo Laski, a former figure skater, roller derby skater and current dancer. “As long as we continue to focus on the binary, nothing is going to change. I hope Mack’s win in a first step in that.”
Despite all the challenges they’ve faced, most trans continue to stand by their beloved sports. “It’s nice to rely on other people,” says Sheckler. “But I feel like I have to work more to be more accepted if I do choose to come out.” Those who have come out continue to experience struggles that go along with their non conforming identity.  “I felt kind of singled out because I didn’t fit in with the girls or the guys,” says Laski. “I wish I could unabashedly be myself.” Notwithstanding, they have hope for the future. As the current social climate shifts, new laws will be created, facilitated by the next generation of policy makers focused on gender equality. However, as Laski says, “As long as we continue to focus on the binary, nothing is going to change.”

Art By Brianna Kleckner

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