While the rest of the world was focused on the splashy Vanity Fair profile in which Bruce Jenner declared he had transitioned to Caitlyn Jenner, the founder of TransAthlete Chris Mosier, became the first publicly transgender man to make a U.S. national team of the gender with which they identified.
Earlier this month at the Duathlon National Championship in Saint Paul, Minn., Mosier, 34, competed in the sprint duathlon—an event that combines cycling and additional running rather than the swimming portion of a triathlon—and finished seventh in the 35 to 39 category, which qualified him to compete for the United States at the 2016 World Championship in Spain.
While transgender athletes still are struggling to gain acceptance at every level of sports, Mosier's achievement marks a new level of success at the elite level of competition. Still, he says much more progress needs to be made.
"Change takes time," Mosier said. "Some organizations have a policy, some don't have a policy at all. Even for recreational leagues, it's a mix and match."
A lifelong athlete, Mosier began competing in triathlons in 2009 as a female, but soon after began to identify as a man. Around two years ago, Mosier started TransAthlete.com while researching how he would go about his transition from female to male while still competing, although he had been investigating the topic since 2008. His first race as a male was in 2010.
"I wanted to know what kind of barriers I would face," said Mosier, also the executive director of GO! Athletes. "A lot of what I was looking into was based on access to recreational facilities. I wasn't sure what someone who was gender nonconforming might face in a locker room or restroom situation. And for me as a triathlete in the pool, swimming is one of the most gendered sports. What team would I play on if I decided to transition and what were the implications?"
Photo by Zhen Heinemann
On his website, Mosier tracks the often complicated patchwork of regulations that he and other trans athletes must navigate. The International Quidditch Association, for example, allows people to self-identify. The Ladies Professional Golf Association eliminated its requirement that players be "female at birth." USA Swimming's Code of Conduct says that "discrimination against any member or participant on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, and gender expression is prohibited."
Transgender athletes still navigate a complex landscape elsewhere. Children may be subject to a variety of state laws, and while the N.C.A.A. policy does not require gender-conforming surgery, it does set some timetables for those taking hormones as part of their transition. (Testosterone, the primary male sex hormone and a steroid commonly used for performance-enhancing purposes, is a banned substance.)
Ironically, Mosier said, some of the most elite governing bodies in sports have the least inclusive policies. The International Olympic Committee and the I.A.A.F.—track and field's world governing body—came under fire for how they handled the case of Caster Semenya, an Olympic silver medalist in the 800 meters, who was subjected to a series of humiliating tests concerning her gender identity. The I.O.C.'s policy says only those who have undergone sex reassignment surgery, had hormone treatments for at least two years and have received legal recognition of their transitioned sex can participate in that gender identity.
Last month, FIFA mandated that all participants in the Women's World Cup had to undergo gender testing, even though the organization doesn't require the same of participants in male competitions.
Because the I.O.C. requires genital surgery in order to participate, Caitlyn Jenner—who told Vanity Fair that she has not yet had such surgery—technically would still be considered a man by the I.O.C.'s policy. For years, transgender advocates have argued that gender identity goes far beyond genitalia and that the majority of transgender people do not have genital surgery, the latter proposition supported by a 2011 survey from the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
"The Olympics still has a discriminatory policy on trans inclusion," Mosier said.
In spite of the I.O.C.'s policy, Mosier said he was "pleased overall" with how Jenner was covered.
"In addition to being a national hero, she's a reality TV star," Mosier said. "So I think our obsession with pop culture plays into this a bit. I thought it was well covered for the masses. I did have some issues with a few of the interview questions and the approach, but every conversation I overheard in places like coffee shops was people being happy for her. It was part of the water cooler conversation in a very nonchalant way.
"I didn't really see any of that 'that's so weird' mentality that people often have when they hear about these stories. There wasn't that pushback. It was positive to have a big, pop culture case where folks could get more information about trans identities."
Photo by Zhen Heinemann
Mosier said he began to hear from transgender athletes around the country soon after he started his organization. But he fears about the people he doesn't hear from. Perhaps that may change after Jenner's announcement.
"I think a lot of time we don't hear from these athletes because they just stop playing," Mosier said. "trans and gender nonconforming students experience discrimination and participation is not high on their priority list."
One common argument often deployed against trans athletes is that changing genders may give someone a physical advantage over a competitor: for example, a theoretical tall man who could join a girl's team and overpower female opponents.
That argument, Mosier said, is moot.
"There are women out there beating men in races," he said. "There are tall and short men and we don't discriminate against tall or short athletes. Michael Phelps had long arms, but he didn't get disqualified for having a competitive advantage. That's just how he was built. There's so much variation within genders anyway, a lot of the transphobia is built around that."