Jul 31, 2021 - Sports

Trans athletes see the Tokyo Games as a watershed moment

Photo illustration of U.S. Olympic athlete Chelsea Wolfe

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Ina Fried

TOKYO — The presence of multiple trans and nonbinary competitors at this year's Olympics represents a hard-fought milestone that can inspire future generations to compete in sports as their authentic selves, several prominent trans athletes told Axios this week.

Why it matters: The participation of at least four openly trans and nonbinary athletes in this year's Olympics represents a historic first and an important counterbalance to a flurry of state-level laws in the United States aimed at excluding trans youth from participating in sports, those athletes said.

Driving the news: Trans and nonbinary athletes at the Tokyo games include:

  • Laurel Hubbard, a transgender weightlifter for New Zealand, who will be the first openly transgender woman to take part in Olympic competition.
  • Quinn, a nonbinary player for the Canadian women's soccer team.
  • Chelsea Wolfe, a trans woman and alternate for Team USA in BMX freestyle,
  • Alana Smith, a nonbinary skateboarder for Team USA.

In separate interviews, Wolfe and other pioneering transgender athletes told Axios how important it is that there will be not just one trans or nonbinary athlete breaking barriers at the Olympics, but four in the same year.

  • "I have been wondering which one of us is going to break through that wall and forge that path," Wolfe said in an interview at the Olympic Village this week. "And the fact it’s not just one person and that it’s a whole bunch of us ... that really just reflects the diversity within the community that exists."

The big picture: Much of the attention around trans athletes has focused on the participation of transgender women, as well as rules governing what medical procedures an athlete needs to undergo, as well as permissible hormone levels.

  • At these games it is Hubbard, who has served as a lighting rod for controversy, while the presence of the other three athletes has attracted far less notice.

Yes, but: It's worth noting that the first transgender member of Team USA was Chris Mosier, a trans male distance runner and a six-time member of the U.S. national team who competed against non-transgender men at the world championships of duathlon, a non-Olympic event.

  • Mosier tells Axios his story is often ignored, largely "because of the sexist notions of who is capable of being a good athlete."
  • "I think there has been a reluctance to share my story widely or the stories of (boxer) Pat Manuel and other trans men in sports because it doesn’t fit the narrative people want to have about transgender athletes."
  • Still, he said, "I am as proud of this moment of several trans and nonbinary Olympians participating in Tokyo 2020 as I am of any of my own athletic achievements."

Quinn and Smith, meanwhile, represent nonbinary athletes who have continued to compete in women's sports while publicly affirming a gender identity outside that of traditional female.

What they're saying: To a person, the athletes who spoke to Axios pointed to the powerful message that the trans and nonbinary presence at this year's Olympics send to the next generation of trans and nonbinary athletes.

  • Wolfe: "I hope they know they deserve the same opportunities everyone else does — to have incredible dreams and to work hard until they accomplish them. I hope their lives are not going to limited by who they are."
  • WNBA player Layshia Clarendon: "It can be lifesaving for people to see that representation. It can give you a sense of hope and a reason to keep going."

Go deeper:

Olympics grapple with trans athletes

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