Layshia Clarendon: Cisgender women need to lead the fight for trans inclusion in sports

Layshia Clarendon discusses identifying as trans, having top surgery, and how cis-women need to lead the fight for trans inclusion in sports.
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Author’s note: In late January, WNBA player Layshia Clarendon of the New York Liberty announced they had top surgery. As part of their announcement, Clarendon wrote, “I want Trans people to know and see that we’ve always existed & no one can erase us!” Clarendon’s news was immediately supported by statements from the WNBA, the players’ union, and New York Liberty. Last week, I sat down with Clarendon to talk about the support they’ve received, what it means to identify as trans, and why it’s important for cisgender women to lead the fight for trans inclusion in sports. 

This Q&A has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity. 

On Her Turf: What has the last week been like for you? Both in terms of the support that you’ve received, but also because it’s the internet, I’m sure there have been some not-so-nice comments.

Layshia Clarendon: Overwhelming is a really good word that comes to mind. I’ve been overjoyed with the responses, love, and support that I’ve gotten. [It] can actually be overwhelming in the best ways… just to receive an outpouring of love. And it’s really left me speechless in some ways because I did not expect it.

And then in terms of trolls, my wife has done a good job of stopping folx from continuing to comment. I’ve seen other people in the comments who are like, ‘I’m here to block all day!’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, squad! Let’s go!’

So I appreciate all of the people that have showed up for me.

On Her Turf: When I first read your post about having top surgery, and then saw the statements from the WNBA, the players’ union, and the Liberty, I found myself wondering, ‘What exactly is the news here?’ Prior to your post, I had known that you identified as non-binary. But I’m curious if last week’s announcement represented a change in terms of how you identify?

Layshia Clarendon: So the only thing that really changed is that I cut my boobs off. Top surgery was really important to me for my gender dysphoria, and [so I can] feel really good in my body. And obviously I posted my boobs all over the internet, which garnered some attention too.

But I think so often for the trans community, it’s almost [treated] like you’re not really trans unless you have a surgery or alter your body. There is so much hyperfocus on what trans folx do with their bodies, what hormones they have, what chromosomes they have, what surgeries they have. But [those things] don’t make you any more or less trans. You can be trans like I was before I had surgery because this is just who I am.

I think it was really important what the W[NBA], players’ union, and New York [Liberty] did [in putting out statements]. I’d had conversations with all of them before sharing the news and they were obviously prepared with their statements, [which] were so beautifully written.

I knew that [making an announcement about] living outside the binary in sports, particularly with a body-altering surgery, was going to shake up the sports world. Sports exist [with] men on this side, women on this side. So what does that mean for [me], Layshia, as a non-binary person? Some people don’t even know what those terms [mean].

So I wanted to make sure that there was going to be a stake in the ground…  [because] of course people are gonna have questions… And I wanted there to be somewhere for people to look to get those questions answered. And [it was important] for me to feel safe and secure, [have the] ability to show up and do my work, and [know] that livelihood wasn’t going to be questioned. So [for it to be] really easy for people to see the news about my surgery, and then [see that] the New York Liberty supports people based on gender identity, [that] the union supports Layshia, [that] the league supports trans and non-binary players – I think that was really important.

[People] can have all the questions [they] want. But this isn’t a public debate about whether Layshia belongs in this league or not. And that was really important for me to have that security before I shared my news.

On Her Turf: Along those lines… I think a lot of people probably have a general understanding of what it means to be a transgender man or transgender woman. But I’m wondering if you can explain what the word ‘trans’ means to you in terms of your identity?

Layshia Clarendon: Yeah, so it means I’m not cisgender… So then to explain what ‘cis’ means: being cisgender means your gender identity aligns with the sex you were assigned at birth. So my wife is cisgender; she was born a woman, she feels and is a woman.

A lot of narratives are like, ‘Okay, you’re a trans man. You were born a woman, [now] you’re a guy. Cool, I can get behind that.’ Or vise-versa. But for people to exist in the middle, or in this fluid way, in a very non-binary way… it’s really hard for people to wrap their mind around because our world is very binary. We want to put them in a box so we know how to treat them…

It’s funny for me to look back and connect my own dots. [Back in 2016], I wrote an Esquire article and I talked about how we’re not speaking up enough for the trans community. And I talked about how I wasn’t trans. Like I said, ‘I’m not trans, but I know what it’s like to be misgendered.’ So it’s funny to look back and read that… I didn’t think I was trans or know that I could be… At the time, I was saying I wasn’t cisgender because I knew I wasn’t, but I didn’t know what I was. I didn’t see space for myself in the trans community.

On Her Turf: I know you’ve said you use all pronouns. Can you explain both what that means and also how you want people – especially the media – to refer to you in articles and commentary?

Layshia Clarendon: I use all pronouns, which means I use she/her, they/them, he/him. They all feel good to me and they all feel representative. And what feels the best to me is when people use all of them and interchange them. And so not only using ‘she,’ not only using ‘they,’ not only using ‘him.’

But I get, if you’re new to pronouns, it’s probably hard to say, ‘Yeah, I was hanging out with him over there and then she did great in the game,’ and it’s like ‘Who?’

And so there is a level of limitation to language. We haven’t created a word that’s more mainstream.

So for people who are still grasping pronouns, or [for someone writing] an article, I’m ok and comfortable with ‘they/them’ being used as a neutral term. But I also don’t want people to use it as a badge of honor that they only use ‘they’ and ‘them’ because that’s not what I’m asking for. You don’t get a gold star for [only] using ‘they’ and ‘them’ when someone is asking for all pronouns. That’s what a lot of people start to do to trans and non-binary people. But I also know that I’m willing to meet people where they are in this fight. And someone using ‘they’ and ‘them’ is reaching out, and I recognize that and I really appreciate that, too.

On Her Turf: Sports typically aren’t divided by gender when kids are little. But eventually, most sports become sectioned off into a ‘boys’ division and a ‘girls’ division. Going back to your own childhood, do you remember when that separation happened?

Layshia Clarendon: I played in co-ed leagues from a really young age, like a lot of my counterparts. Probably middle school is when we got separated [into boys and girls teams]. It was the same time my parents started pushing me to wear [certain clothes]. It was like, ‘This whole non-binary thing needs to start to get defined.’

On Her Turf: In some ways, the division of ‘men’s’ and ‘women’s’ sports is necessary for women to be able to compete. But given that society doesn’t exist on a binary, this division of sports isn’t representative. Do you have any thoughts on how you’d like the sports community deal with this?

Layshia Clarendon: Yeah, that’s a really good question. I know I want the sports community to stop excluding trans people and non-binary people. [I want us] to start paying attention to the fact that our sports leagues exist in a binary structure from a certain age group, and then look at the fact that there are people who exist outside of that, and then find a practical solution that includes them. Instead, what we’re seeing a lot of is exclusion.

I think there’s a lot of work to be done. There are a lot of questions to ask. This might be the way it exists, but should it exist this way?

It’s not really about trans people having a competitive advantage. There’s not a known trans Olympian, no Juwanna Mann [character]… People love to make this trope that trans people are dominating the sports world. And so I would like us to be a lot more inclusive and start to find practical solutions.

I think what’s really interesting is that the WNBA was designed as a league to support and create opportunities for people marginalized by gender… and women have been marginalized by gender.

So we are a women’s league, but I think of that as an umbrella term that would include trans and non-binary people who are marginalized by gender.

On Her Turf: In terms of having been assigned female at birth, rising up in the ranks of women’s sports, and now identifying as trans, I’m curious about your experience as someone who has already been in women’s sports… and if you see that as a privilege compared to the experience of trans women in women’s sports?

Layshia Clarendon: Yeah, that is actually a really big part of the reason why I wanted to share my news. I want to show that there’s an array of trans folx that exist. And so I definitely have that privilege of already existing in this league and having been assigned female at birth.

I’ve definitely thought about if, when I was younger, my parents had fostered more of an open environment for me… It was really hurtful that they didn’t because they didn’t see me as the trans, non-binary person I was as a little kid. But in the same sense, it’s also like, I don’t know if I would have made this far in women’s sports because of all the oppression we’re seeing right now…

There are so many disgusting myths and arguments being used against trans girls who were assigned male at birth. And I’m not gonna sit back and let trans girls and women [be attacked].

I can speak out and fight against that. We’re seeing in so many states, I think it’s 12 right now, that have these anti-trans bills that are hyperfocusing on trans girls and women, and trying to police the bodies of girls and women, which we know happens all too often in women’s sports.

On Her Turf: Not that the WNBA isn’t already doing a lot of social justice work, but do you think that the fight for trans inclusion is a fight that women, in particular, need to take on themselves?

Layshia Clarendon: Absolutely, I think particularly cis-women [need to take it on]. When – in cis-women’s names – trans girls and women are being excluded from sport… absolutely, I think that’s a fight to take on.

I love connecting it to an intersectional perspective. As a [majority] Black league, it’s like us asking white people to like take on this fight. [For Black players], racism isn’t our problem to hold, and to fight, and to overcome the history of this country. It’s on you to do the work to be anti-racist. In the same way, it’s on straight people to do the work to not be homophobic and to undo homophobia. In the same way, it’s the job of cis-women to help undo and fight transphobia.

And so I think it’s absolutely on the WNBA to push this work. Because it’s being said in our name. That’s the most gross thing that’s happening with these anti-trans bills is that [they’re being pushed forward] in the name of protecting women’s sports.

[RELATED: Megan Rapinoe, Candace Parker, Meghan Duggan sign brief opposing Idaho’s anti-transgender law]

On Her Turf: Looking ahead to the future… You and your wife just welcomed a new baby to the world a few weeks ago. What are your hopes for yourself and your family in the coming months?

Layshia Clarendon: I’m really grateful that I had access to this surgery, at the time when I did, with the support of my wife…. It’s really a misconception that we’re supposed to sacrifice our whole selves for our child, instead of being the whole, best, most healthy versions of ourselves.

My child will never know me as not this whole version of myself. And that my wife supported me when she had our child a month before my surgery. The timing was tough with our season coming, which is why I had surgery so quickly after [my wife] gave birth.

So I’m looking forward to family time, and hopefully a WNBA season… whatever this season is going to look like. I’m looking forward to a safe WNBA season where you guys can find me topless at the pool.

[ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: In these sports, “Equal Pay Day” is years away]

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2023 March Madness: Utah Utes engineer dramatic turnaround for third-ever Sweet Sixteen appearance

Members of the Utah Utes celebrate their win over the Princeton Tigers in the second round of the NCAA Womens Basketball Tournament.
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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The No. 2-seeded Utah (27-4) women’s basketball team held off a pesky 10th-seeded Princeton squad on Sunday, winning 63-56 to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championships for the first time since 2005-06 and just the third time in the program’s history.

“I’m proud of our team,” said eighth-year head coach Lynne Roberts after the second-round win at Utah’s Hunstman Center. “We set out to do this a year ago. We lost in this game at University of Texas and the goal was to be able to host (this year) so that we could have that home-court advantage and it made a difference.”

Utah’s fourth-year junior Alissa Pili backed up her recent second-team All-American honor with another 20-plus-point performance, scoring 28 on 8-for 13 shooting with 10 rebounds and going 11-for 13 on free throws. Sophomore forward Jenna Johnson added 15 points and six rebounds.

There’s been a lot of talk this weekend about how the Utes’ previous few seasons have ended – beginning with a rough 14-17 season that was cut short in 2020 due to the pandemic, followed by an abysmal 5-16 record in 2020-21. But the tide turned last year, as Utah rebounded with a 21-12 season that ended with a 78-56 loss to Texas in Austin in the second round of the NCAA tournament one year ago.

So, what changed?

“Last year, everyone was new to the NCAA tournament, so I think everyone was just experiencing it for the first time,” mused Johnson. “Losing in the second round last year, we’re definitely a lot hungrier this year, and then obviously hosting in Salt Lake, it’s fun just being in your own environment, to be around your own fans. I think it gives us an elevated level of confidence, both knowing what it’s like it play in this tournament and also getting to be at home.”

“Yeah, freshman year was kind of rough,” added third-year sophomore Kennady McQueen, who chipped in nine points Sunday. “We did experience losing a lot. … Coach Roberts, she said we are not going to have another season like that. We all stood behind her — the people that stayed — and brought in great people like starting last year with Jenna and Gi (Gianna Kneepkens) and people like that who have had a huge impact in helping us to where we are today. …

“When you get together a group of people that have the same goal in mind and will do make anything to make it happen, I think that’s where we have seen our success rate going up. This past offseason, we just kept getting better, and of course, the addition of the Alissa Pili really helped. When you bring a group of girls that have the same dream and same goal at the end of the year and doesn’t care about personal stats more than winning, I think we get the season that we have today, and it prepares us for deep run in March.”

In particular, McQueen believe it was Utah’s improvement in their defense that was crucial to the turnaround. “Everyone knows how good we are on offense, but if we can’t get stops, it doesn’t matter how good you are on offense,” she said. “So that’s just been a key the whole past off-season and all of this season — just getting better on defense.”

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: Alissa Pili revives her love of basketball with record season at Utah

Roberts credits their defensive improvement with a “philosophical mindset change,” explaining, “We worked on [defense] a lot differently, a lot more intentionally. Strategically we made some changes of how we are going to defend, and I won’t bore you with that. But there was a lot, just different things because you have to play to your strengths. You can’t be a run-and-jump pressing team if you don’t have the depth and athletes to do it. You can’t be a zone team if you are not super big. You have to figure out what fits your personnel, and so that’s what we did.”

There’s also the undeniable impact of Pili, a transfer from USC who has found her stride as a Ute, where she recently was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year.

“She kind of is the straw that stirs the drink for us right now,” said Roberts of the 21-year-old Alaska native. “She’s a nightmare to defend because she can shoot the three, and she’s also really athletic and mobile, so it doesn’t matter who we are playing. I think you have to gameplan for her. But then with her three-point shooting, you know, you have to pick your poison.”

But Roberts also gave plenty of kudos to Johnson, whom she describes as “phenomenal.”

“She’s 19 going on 40,” Roberts said of Johnson. “She’s the most mature, even-keeled consistent player we have. What I love about her is she is who she is. She’s confident in who she is. She knows who she is. She also is incredibly busy off the court.

“We were talking as we were getting ready to watch film, just shooting the breeze a bunch of us, we were talking about movies. And she was like, Oh, I don’t watch movies. Why not? I don’t have time. I get bored. What do you mean you don’t have time? Do you watch shows? No, I don’t ever watch TV. It is because she is doing all of these other extracurricular activities.”

As for guiding to the Utes to becoming a championship program, Roberts still sees it as an uphill battle – but one that she and her players are ready for.

“I always use the analogy of pushing the boulder up the hill,” she said. “And doing things for the first time, you have to have that mindset. You have to keep pushing. It’s been incredibly fun to see the support, and I think the swell is a perfect word for it. Most importantly, our players feel it.

“This is why you play, right? And it means so much. I know I say it over and over, but this is not going to be a flash-in-the-pan [season]. This isn’t going to be a ‘Oh, remember that year they had such an incredible year?’ We are going to keep doing it.”

RELATED: 2023 March Madness 2023 — Updated bracket, scores and schedule for NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship

2023 March Madness: Updated bracket, scores and schedule for NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship


Editor’s note: We’ll keep this page updated, so be sure to check back here for winners, scores and next-round details as the tournament progresses.

The bracket for 2023 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship is officially set and defending champion South Carolina earned the No. 1 overall seed for the second straight season. A total of 68 teams will see tournament action, beginning with the “First Four” games on Wednesday and Thursday, followed by Round 1 play kicking off on Friday.

On Her Turf has compiled the matchups, sites and schedule for the tournament, which culminates Sunday, April 2 with the title game from American Airlines Center in Dallas.

2023 tournament No. 1 seeds:

  • South Carolina Gamecocks
  • Indiana Hoosiers
  • Virginia Tech Hokies
  • Stanford Cardinal

Last four teams in the tournament:

  • Illinois
  • Mississippi State
  • Purdue
  • St. John’s

First four teams out of the tournament:

  • Columbia
  • Kansas
  • UMass
  • Oregon

RELATED: South Carolina nabs No. 1 overall seed in NCAA women’s basketball tournament

‘First Four’ game schedule

Wednesday, March 15

  • 7 p.m. ET: 11. Illinois vs. 11. Mississippi State (South Bend, Indiana)
    • Winner: Mississippi State, 70-56
  • 9 p.m. ET: 16 Southern U vs. 16 Sacred Heart (Stanford, California)
    • Winner: Sacred Heart, 57-47

Thursday, March 16

  • 7 p.m. ET: 11 Purdue vs. 11 St. John’s (Columbus, Ohio)
    • Winner: St. John’s, 66-64
  • 9 p.m. ET: 16 Tennessee Tech vs. 16 Monmouth (Greenville, S.C.)
    • Winner: Tennessee Tech, 79-69

Bracket, schedule* by region 

*Includes scores, game time and TV network, if available


Columbia, S.C.

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 1. South Carolina 72, 16. Norfolk State 40
    • 8. South Florida 67, 9. Marquette 65
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 1. South Carolina 76, 8. South Florida, 45

Los Angeles, California

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 5. Oklahoma 85, 12. Portland 63
    • 4. UCLA 67, 13. Sacramento State 45
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 4. UCLA vs. 5. Oklahoma, 10 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

South Bend, Indiana

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 6. Creighton 66, 11. Mississippi State 81 (First Four winner)
    • 3. Notre Dame 82, 14. Southern Utah 56
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 3. Notre Dame 53, 11. Mississippi State 48

College Park, Maryland

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 7. Arizona 75, 10. West Virginia 62
    • 2. Maryland 93, 15. Holy Cross 61
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 2. Maryland 77, 7. Arizona 64


Bloomington, Indiana

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 1. Indiana 77, 16. Tennessee Tech 47 (First Four winner)
    • 8. Oklahoma State 61, 9. Miami 62 (FL)
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 1. Indiana vs. 9. Miami, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Villanova, Pennsylvania

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 5. Washington State 63, 12. FGCU 74
    • 4. Villanova 76, 13. Cleveland State 59
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 12. FGCU vs. 4. Villanova, 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 6. Michigan 71, 11. UNLV 59
    • 3. LSU 73, 14. Hawaii 50
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 6. Michigan vs. 3. LSU, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Salt Lake City, Utah

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 7. N.C. State 63, 10. Princeton 64
    • 2. Utah 103, 15. Gardner-Webb 77
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 2. Utah vs. 10. Princeton, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)


 Blacksburg, Virginia

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 1. Virginia Tech 58, 16. Chattanooga 33
    • 8. Southern California 57, 9. South Dakota State 62
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 1. Virginia Tech 72, South Dakota State, 60

Knoxville, Tennessee

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 5. Iowa State 73, 12. Toledo 80
    • 4. Tennessee 95, 13. Saint Louis 50
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 12. Toledo vs. 4. Tennessee, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)

Columbus, Ohio

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 6. North Carolina 61, 11. St. John’s  59 (First Four winner)
    • 3. Ohio State 80, 14. James Madison 66
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 3. Ohio State vs. 6. North Carolina, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Storrs, Connecticut

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 7. Baylor 78, 10. Alabama 74
    • 2. UConn 95, 15. Vermont 52
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 2. UConn vs. 7. Baylor, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)


Stanford, California

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 1. Stanford 92, 16. Sacred Heart 49 (First Four winner)
    • 8. Ole Miss 71, 9. Gonzaga 48
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 1. Stanford vs. 8. Ole Miss, 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Austin, Texas 

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 5. Louisville 83, 12. Drake 81
    • 4. Texas 79, 13. East Carolina 40
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 4. Texas vs. 5. Louisville, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Durham, N.C. 

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 6. Colorado 82, 11. Middle Tennessee State 60
    • 3. Duke 89, 14. Iona 49
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 3. Duke vs. Colorado, 9 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

Iowa City, Iowa 

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 7. Florida State 54, 10. Georgia 66
    • 2. Iowa 95, 15. Southeastern Louisiana 43
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 2. Iowa 74, 10. Georgia 66

Regionals/Final Four schedule, how to watch

Sweet 16: Friday and Saturday, March 24-25; Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Greenville, S.C., host: Southern Conference and Furman; and Climate Pledge Arena, Seattle, hosts: Seattle and Seattle Sports Commission

Elite 8: Sunday and Monday, March 26-27; Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Greenville, S.C., host: Southern Conference and Furman; and Climate Pledge Arena, Seattle, hosts: Seattle and Seattle Sports Commission

Final 4: Friday, March 31, 7 p.m. ET and 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN); American Airlines Center, Dallas; hosts: Big 12 Conference and Dallas Sports Commission

Championship Game: Sunday, April 2, 3 p.m. ET (ABC); American Airlines Center, Dallas; hosts: Big 12 Conference and Dallas Sports Commission

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: 2023 March Madness — All about the 32 automatic qualifiers