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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2022 Rivalry Series: USA extends lead to 3-0 over Canada in women’s hockey showcase

Hilary Knight #21 of Team United States reacts after scoring a shorthanded goal in the second period during the Women's Ice Hockey Gold Medal match.
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Hilary Knight had two goals and one assist to lead the U.S. women’s hockey team to a 4-2 win over Canada on Sunday, extending Team USA’s series lead to 3-0 in the seven-game 2022-23 Rivalry Series.

Savannah Harmon and Abby Roque also scored for the U.S., which has notched three consecutive wins against Canada for the first time since 2019. Goalie Nicole Hensley made 22 saves in front of a record-setting crown at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, where fan attendance totaled 14,551.

Marie-Philip Poulin and Sarah Nurse scored for Canada, which captured gold \at both the IIHF Women’s World Championship in September and the Beijing Olympics in February.

Knight has enjoyed a standout 2022-23 Rivalry Series to date, registering six points (three goals, three assists) in the first three games including the game-winning goal in a shootout victory in Game 1 of the series on Tuesday and the game-winning assist in Game 2 on Thursday. Prior to the puck drop in Seattle on Sunday, Knight was presented with a golden stick to commemorate her record-breaking 87th career point in world championship play. Knight became the all-time points leader at the IIHF Women’s World Championship in September, when the eight-time world champion recorded one goal and one assist in Team USA’s 12-1 quarterfinal win over Hungary.

Sunday’s matchup between the U.S. and Canada marked the third game of the 2022-23 Rivalry Series and was the third matchup between the two teams in five days. The U.S. came in with a 2-0 series lead following a 2-1 victory on Thursday in Kamloops, B.C., and a 4-3 shootout victory — the first shootout in Rivalry Series history — in Kelowna, B.C., on Tuesday. It also was the first game for the U.S. national team on home soil since Dec. 17, 2021, when the team hosted Canada in St. Louis (Canada won 3-2 in overtime).

The 2022-23 Rivalry Series continues next month with two games in the U.S., set to be played in Las Vegas on Dec. 17 and Los Angeles on Dec. 19.

2022-23 Rivalry Series schedule, results

Tuesday, Nov. 15 USA 4, CAN 3 (SO) Kelowna, British Columbia NHL Network
Thursday, Nov. 17 USA 2, CAN 1 Kamloops, British Columbia NHL Network
Sunday, Nov. 20 USA 4, CAN 2 Seattle, Washington NHL Network
Thursday, Dec. 15 10 p.m. ET Henderson, Nevada NHL Network
Monday, Dec. 19 10 p.m. ET Los Angeles, California NHL Network

What is the Rivalry Series?

The Rivalry Series was introduced by USA Hockey and Hockey Canada during the 2018-19 season and designed as an annual showcase of the highest level of women’s hockey at various locations in the United States and Canada. The first series comprised three games between the two national teams, with Canada winning 2-1. Team USA took 2019-20 title, winning the expanded five-game series 4-1 and wrapping with an overtime win in the finale in front of a then-record-breaking total of 13,320 fans in Anaheim, California.

Following a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic and preparation for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, the Rivalry Series resumed this season with seven games over three months: three in November, two in December and two in February.

The U.S. and Canada have battled in the gold-medal game of six of seven Winter Olympics and 20 of 21 IIHF Women’s World Championship, with the two exceptions being the 2019 World Championship and 2006 Olympics. The Canadian women are the reigning Olympic and world champions.

2022-23 Rivalry Series rewind: USA takes Games 1-2

Game 1 recap: USA 4, CAN 3, SO (Nov. 15): The series kicked off Tuesday with Team USA grabbing a 2-0 lead off goals from Hannah Brandt and Hilary Knight. But Canada battled back with three unanswered goals and held a 3-2 lead with 13 minutes to go in the third. With just 1:29 remaining in regulation, Alex Carpenter tied it for the Americans, sending the game to overtime. The U.S. ultimately won in a shootout, with Knight and Carpenter scoring while U.S. goalie Nicole Hensley made two key saves.

Game 2 recap: USA 2, CAN 1 (Nov. 17): Canada was first to get on the board Thursday when Marie-Philip Poulin capitalized off a penalty shot opportunity in the second period, but USA’s Kendall Coyne Schofield knotted the score just 1:12 later. Alex Carpenter scored the go-ahead tally with 6:36 remaining in the third to give the U.S. a 2-1 win and a 2-0 series lead. U.S. goalie Maddie Rooney recorded 19 saves in net.

Who’s playing in the 2022-23 Rivalry Series?

Team USA’s roster — led by coach John Wroblewski — for the November Rivalry Series games features 23 players, 16 of whom were part of the silver medal-winning team at the 2022 IIHF Women’s World Championship in August:

  • Hannah Brandt (Vadnais Heights, Minn.)
  • Alex Carpenter (North Reading, Mass.)
  • Kendall Coyne Schofield (Palos Heights, Ill.)
  • Jincy Dunne (O’Fallon, Mo.)
  • Aerin Frankel(Chappaqua, N.Y.)
  • Rory Guilday (Minnetonka, Minn.)
  • Savannah Harmon (Downers Grove, Ill.)
  • Nicole Hensley (Lakewood, Colo.)
  • Megan Keller (Farmington Hills, Mich.)
  • Amanda Kessel (Madison, Wis.)
  • Hilary Knight (Sun Valley, Idaho)
  • Kelly Pannek (Plymouth, Minn.)
  • Abby Roque (Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.)
  • Hayley Scamurra (Getzville, N.Y.)
  • Maddie Rooney (Andover, Minn.)
  • Lee Stecklein (Roseville, Minn.).

Team Canada’s 23-player roster, selected by coach Troy Ryan and director of hockey operations Gina Kingsbury, features 16 players who were on the gold medal-winning team at the 2022 IIHF Women’s World Championship and the 2022 Beijing Olympics (Canada beat , including:

  • Erin Ambrose
  • Kristen Campbell
  • Emily Clark
  • Ann-Renée Desbiens
  • Renata Fast
  • Brianne Jenner
  • Jocelyne Larocque
  • Emma Maltais
  • Emerance Maschmeyer
  • Sarah Nurse
  • Marie-Philip Poulin
  • Jamie Lee Rattray
  • Ella Shelton
  • Laura Stacey
  • Blayre Turnbull
  • Micah Zandee-Hart

Rivalry Series history

Following Sunday’s victory, the U.S. holds a 6-2-1-2 (W-OTW-OTL-L) record over Canada all time in the Rivalry Series. Canada won the 2018-19 Rivalry Series with a 2-0-0-1 record, while the U.S. won the 2019-20 Rivalry Series with a 3-1-1-0 record.

2019-20 Rivalry Series results

Dec. 14, 2019 USA 4, CAN 1 Hartford, Connecticut Alex Cavallini
Dec. 17, 2019 USA 2, CAN 1 Moncton, N.B. Alex Carpenter
Feb. 3, 2020 CAN 3, USA 2 (OT) Victoria, B.C. Hilary Knight
Feb. 5, 2020 USA 3, CAN 1 Vancouver, B.C. Katie Burt
Feb. 8, 2020 USA 4, CAN 3 (OT) Anaheim, California Megan Bozek

2018-19 Rivalry Series results

Feb. 12 USA 1, CAN 0 London, Ontario
Feb. 14 CAN 4, USA 3 Toronto, Ontario
Feb. 17 CAN 2, USA 0 Detroit Michigan

Atthaya Thitikul takes LPGA rookie-of-year honors in stride ahead of Tour Championship

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand smiles after the birdie on the 6th green during the second round of the TOTO Japan Classic.
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To say that Atthaya Thitikul has enjoyed a breakout rookie LPGA season is a bit of an understatement, but keeping things low-key is exactly how 19-year-old “Jeeno” likes it.

As the 2022 season concludes this week at the CME Group Tour Championship, Thitikul has already captured two LPGA titles, held the No. 1 spot in the world rankings and collected the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year honors. But the current world No. 2 displays a wise-beyond-her-years ethos when she says what she’s most proud of this season is her mindset.

“[I’m]19 years old — I think I’m still young to handle all the things that I have now,” Thitikul told On Her Turf ahead of this week’s season finale in Naples, Fla. “I didn’t say that I handled it well, but I’ve just said that I think I can handle it. I can do it. And yeah, it’s turned out to be pretty good this year.”

To keep herself in check, the Thailand native keeps her philosophy posted on her Instagram profile, which reads, “Be you, be happy and everything will be fine.” Thitikul, who on Oct. 31 joined 18-time LPGA winner Lydia Ko as the only players in tour history to reach No. 1 before their 20th birthday, said she took stock of poor performances on the golf course and found they all had one thing in common: She wasn’t being herself.

“I didn’t have fun,” she says of those unsatisfactory rounds. “I was expecting a lot of results on the golf course, not really talking, not really enjoying it. So I think being myself, have fun, keep smiling, keep laughing and talking with other players or talking with my caddie, joking around — I think it’s the best that I can do.”

Golf has always been fun for Thitikul, who grew up in northeast Thailand and was introduced to the sport at age 6 through her father and grandfather, both of whom were not golfers themselves but recognized the opportunity that golf might provide. Thitikul teases that her grandfather was enamored with Tiger Woods, but after her first golf experience with a professional in Bangkok, she was hooked, too.

“They asked me when I finished practicing, do I like it? And I say, ‘Yeah, I do.’ Because [there were] a lot of friends and when I practice, it seemed fun and it seemed not like other sports that I have been watching on TV,” she recalls.

Thitikul’s ascent to the top of her sport was swift: In February 2017, just three days after her 14th birthday, she made her first LPGA tournament appearance at the Honda LPGA Thailand and finished 37th out of 66 players. Just five months later, Thitikul made headlines when she became the youngest person ever to win a professional golf tour event at age 14 years, 4 months and 19 days old, winning the Ladies European Thailand Championship on the Ladies European Tour (LET).

RELATED: 2022 CME Group Tour Championship — How to watch, who’s playing in LPGA’s season finale

For three more years, Thitikul resisted turning professional, racking up multiple international amateur victories and plenty of tour experience, notching her first LPGA top-10 finish in March 2018 at the HSBC Women’s World Championship (T-8) and earning low amateur honors that same year at two majors, the ANA Inspiration (T-30) and Women’s British Open (T-64). The following year, she won the Ladies European Thailand Championship for the second time in three years, earned low amateur honors at the British Open (finishing T-29) for the second straight year and was No. 1 on the women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking.

In her first year as a pro, during the pandemic-impacted 2020 season, Thitikul broke through for her first professional win in July at the Thai LPGA Championship. She finished the season with five Thai LPGA wins and topped the money list.

Thitikul moved to the LET in 2021, winning the Czech Ladies Open in June, and just a month later she moved into the top 100 on the world rankings for the first time at No. 89. She finished 2021 with two wins, three runner-ups and nine additional top-10 finishes, securing the LET Order of Merit and Rookie of the Year titles and becoming just the fourth player to win both awards in the same season.

After finishing third at LPGA Qualifying School to earn her card for 2022, Thitikul didn’t miss a beat in her meteoric rise this season. She posted two top-10s in her first four starts before striking a staff deal with Callaway, which she followed up by winning her first LPGA title in March at the JTBC Classic. She carded an 8-under 64 in the final round to force a playoff and Nanna Koerstz Madsen on the second extra hole. She earned her second LPGA title in September at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, tying the tournament record of 61 in the second round and beating Danielle Kang in a playoff.

As for the pressure of being a teen phenom, Thitikul admits she can’t ignore it but has figured out how to turn it around to her advantage: “It’s still so hard because I think as players want to be on top and we put the pressure on ourselves, and there’s a lot of eyes on us. … But at the same time, it’s kind of like you couldn’t win every week, you couldn’t have a good day every day. It’s golf. I like to think of pressure as a challenge. I put a lot of pressure on myself, but I think of it as challenging.”

Away from the golf course, Thitikul enjoys spending time with friends, watching Korean television dramas and indulging in Asian food (Chinese and Korean are favorites). Although she doesn’t have a pet, she says she’s a dog person, and prefers the mountains to the beach, as she loves to hike.

But don’t expect too much lounging, hiking or other non-golf activities on Thitikul’s itinerary after this season wraps on Sunday.

“This offseason, we have a lot of work to do,” she says.” There are a lot of things I still have to learn – not just for next year but for [beyond.] … But hopefully next year, it’s going to be nice and good for me as well. I really want to have a major win in my career. I don’t know if it’s going to happen next year, but hopefully.”