There are at least three openly trans athletes competing at the Tokyo Olympics: Canadian soccer player Quinn, American skateboarder Alana Smith, and New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard. (American Chelsea Wolfe also traveled to Tokyo as the alternate in the women’s freestyle BMX event, but isn’t expected to compete.)
While these athletes are pioneers for trans and non-binary visibility, the playing field remains far from inclusive. In fact, in recent months, there has been an onslaught of legislation in the United States that would prohibit or limit transgender children from playing sports.
“We focus… on how cisgender people feel about trans women competing rather than how trans women feel about being excluded,” journalist Britni de la Cretaz explained on Friday’s episode of “On Her Turf at the Olympics,” co-hosted by Lindsay Czarniak and MJ Acosta-Ruiz. (Video of the 20-minute conversation is embedded above.)
“In the case of transgender women, who are really the most marginalized women… we kind of dehumanize them by focusing on their biology and hormones,” de la Cretaz said. “We reduce them to that, instead of their personhood. That’s something that I think is really harmful.”
Given the current binary divide of most sports – men on one side, women on the other – non-binary athletes often struggle to feel safe, accepted, and accurately represented.
Professional triathlete Rach McBride detailed some of the challenges they’ve faced as a non-binary athlete. “I was in a race once where I was basically misgendered 100 times,” they said. “To have those little pin pricks, it’s another thing to have to deal with when I’m out there trying to compete at my best.”
Earlier this week, de la Cretaz reported on how some Olympic commentators misgendered Smith and Quinn, who both use they/them pronouns. But de la Cretaz believes it is also important that narratives about non-binary athletes also include space for celebration, too.
“The pure trans joy emanating from [Smith] as they competed on the biggest stage in sports, with their pronouns on the grip tape of their skateboard… What they did for representation of [the] non-binary community – not just in sports, but in general – cannot be understated.”
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During the Olympics, you can also catch up on all of the major storylines in women’s sports by watching “On Her Turf @ The Olympics,” a 30-minute show that streams for free on Peacock. Hosted by Lindsay Czarniak, MJ Acosta-Ruiz, and Lolo Jones, the show streams Monday-Saturday at 7pm ET and Sundays at 6pm ET.