Team USA's First Trans Athlete on the Future of Equality in Sports
"It's one thing for me to address the issue at a national level, but in many cases for the local level, it takes a student to challenge it, and that takes a lot of courage."
When Chris Mosier earned a spot on Team USA's sprint duathalon men's team in 2015, the feeling of accomplishment was mixed with tension. While his American home team recognized his right to compete, the World Championships in 2016 were in Spain—and international rules on transgender athletes are governed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), whose guidelines stated that athletes needed genital reassignment surgery and two years of hormone therapy in order to qualify. Chris didn't fit the surgery requirements, so he joined the fight to transform the policy and became a face for change and the right to compete. In January 2016, The IOC changed its policy, omitting the surgery requirement and reducing the hormone therapy requirement from two years to one. VICE spoke with Chris about the ripple effects of the landmark change, and what he wishes more people understood about being trans.
VICE: What does the IOC policy change mean for trans athletes beyond the Olympics?
Chris Mosier: There is a trickle-down effect from the IOC, because people look to the Olympics as the gold standard of sports. When there were fewer transgender policies in athletics, people looked to the Olympic committee for guidance in creating their own. There are also other organizations that are governed by the same standards. The hope is that we will see these policy changes reflected on local levels. We're looking at high school-level organizations so that trans students can play at the same level as their cisgender peers.
[Change] happens from the bottom up just as much from the top down. And it's much harder from the bottom up. It's one thing for me to address the issue at a national level, but in many cases for the local level, it takes a student to challenge it, and that takes a lot of courage. In some cases, there is no policy that allows students to play according to their gender identity. That means putting someone who is affected by the lack of policies on the ground level on the line to create that change. And it involves people talking about their genitals, because that's what some of these high school policies boil down to. That's super invasive for young people. But that is how we've seen change happen.
My hope is that other advocates and I can go in at the high school level and do that process for them—talk directly to athletic directors and policymakers in high schools and help them come along with the idea. In a lot of cases, they've never had a transgender student in that position, so they might not know how their policies—to make people play in accordance with what their birth certificates say—is negatively impacting people.
Watch an interview with Mosier on Daily VICE
Some experts say that trans people are not accurately represented in the medical field and are often pushed out to the margins of research. Can you speak to that?
Something people forget when we talk about transgender people is that there's not just one way to be transgender. I think some people think it's always a full medical and surgical transition to another gender. People assume the gender binary. I was in the [ESPN] Body Issue, and I said that for 29 years of my life, I didn't want people to take photos of me because what I saw reflected back at me wasn't the way I saw myself. I didn't say it was like I was trapped in the wrong body. So when people say that, I push back and say I strongly disagree with that. It wasn't that I felt trapped in the wrong body at all. There were just parts of my body I didn't like.
Some people say they don't understand how some people wouldn't want to fully transition, and it's challenging to put that into words, because we all have different experiences. The first thing we need to break apart is the idea that there are just two ways to be. There are different levels of masculine and feminine behavior.Do you think trans women have it harder than trans men?
Trans women have a much harder time trying to get folks to understand their identity, and having conversations about competitive activity. Trans women are already stereotyped in ways that are really unfair. The changes trans women go through with estrogen is a performance decreaser, in fact: Cisgender women typically have more testosterone than trans women.
What's your hope for the future?
In athletics, we are are going to see pushback now that the IOC policy has changed, and it will come to the forefront faster than we thought it would. What we are going to see are some serious conversations about competitive equity. I hope that we can come to a place where trans people can be included in sports at all levels in a way that's fair. I want policy change at the high school level and that's where I am putting my efforts now, so that we can have those future Olympians.
I am now working with a group called the All 50 project. We're trying to get all 50 states to have transgender policies. Right now we're working on that moveable middle, meaning states that already have some sort of policy that we're tweaking a little. When we can get those states on board, we will have a majority that will have trans-inclusive policies, and will be able to move those that have been a little more resistant to it. We're also talking with states that don't have policies, helping them with a model policy to make sure that when they do create something, it doesn't come down to a kid having to ask to play on the team that's right for them.