If you identify as a trans, non-binary or gender-fluid athlete, registering for a race may not be inclusive. For people unaffected by this issue, the answer may seem cut and dry. However, it’s not as simple as adding another category, or hormone regulation. If you identify as cisgender, we’ve heard from you long enough. Where our running community can help support the gender evolution in sports is by giving trans and queer individuals a platform to share their ideas. Susan Gapka, a trans activist, half-marathoner and policy-maker in Toronto will be part of a Divas Marathon panel taking place at the Gladstone Hotel on March 11th at 7 pm. Here, Susan shares her story with Lindsay Van Gyn of the Divas Running Series, sponsoring the event.
Q: Why do you think a panel like this is important to the running community?
Susan: This panel will ignite a much-needed public conversation on inclusion for running and other sports to provide opportunities and access for trans and nonbinary people for recreational, health and wellness, and social inclusion outcomes.
Q: Transitioning is a different experience for everyone. How do you think the variance of transitioning impacts how the public views trans people in sports?
Susan: Individual sports have been more welcoming in recreational settings, whereas team sports require a stronger adherence to inclusion, albeit challenges such as transitioning, change rooms, gender-based behaviours and practices. Social change in attitudes enhance this shift.
Q: Some sporting bodies have reconciled trans participation in sports by focusing on hormone levels. Why is this not the only component that governing bodies should focus on?
Susan: Hormone levels are only one of several characteristics which manufacture outcomes of sex and gender. It’s important to remember that binary divisions in sporting bodies are based upon sexual characteristics derived from patriarchy and sexism, homophobia and transphobia. Understanding the progression of women into sporting from an original prohibition helps to grasp the importance of trans and nonbinary social inclusion.
Q: Identity politics awareness has increased recently. What does this mean for sports at both the recreational and professional level?
Susan: Social inclusion has increased for trans and nonbinary athletes and this is a positive outcome. Identity politics will be attacked by opponents of inclusion most frequently based upon myth-making, story-telling, and fear-mongering. These setbacks can be expected occasionally and it’s a noticeable component in the evolution of human rights. Mostly opponents are external to the sporting world and I suggest that unless they are athletes or sporting officials they have no authority to dictate how runners or organizations operate, set criteria, or establish rules.
Q: How can the community better understand how binary categories affect people who don’t identify within this structure?
Susan: The trans question has largely been answered in the public in that the transition from one sex and gender to another is located within the binary of male or female, man or woman. One outcome of codifying trans human rights with gender identity and gender expression protects and provides remedy for trans people disadvantaged and indicates a ‘Duty to Accommodate’ for organizations and sporting bodies. This shifts the onus from the individual to comply with the sporting body to an onus upon the organization to accommodate the trans person up to the point of undue hardship.
One phenomenal outcome has been the space, agency, and advocacy emerging from the grounds of ‘gender expression’. Gender fluidity, sometimes expressed as nonbinary is a complication for binary selection in sports. The conversation will be difficult and challenging, yet I find comfort in my own struggle, and extend support in solidarity and the knowledge that my own exclusion was harmful, hurtful, and a motivation to change society for the next generation.
Q: How can being misgendered by the sports community affect athletes and participants?
Susan: If misgendering is malicious both the intent and its impact has negative effects both upon the individual and structurally across sporting communities. The fixed binary foisted upon membership can be transferred towards change upon mechanisms for more inclusion, while understanding they have the ability to both respond to this inequity and to become leaders in carving a new path forward for social inclusion into sporting and recreational activities.
To hear Susan at the Gladstone Hotel on March 11 at 7pm, along with Christine Hsu, Diversity & Inclusion Learning Consultant & Facilitator, Alyx Duffy, genderqueer equity educator and Barb Basharat, Anti-Poverty and Homeless Programs Coordinator at the 519 and former Senior Specialist, Sport & Recreation for PrideHouse Toronto, click here: https://tinyurl.com/yyo99e53
Top photo courtesy of the Toronto Star.