23 August 2017

Defining A Human Right

Many, many years ago, I raced, albeit briefly.  My "career", such as it was, barely registered a pawl-click in the history of bicycle racing:  I once placed third and now I'm going to admit, for the first time, I probably finished that far up because someone better than I had a mishap.

I was young, full of myself (Who isn't at that age?) and full of...testosterone.  (You were expecting something else?)  Yes, in those days, I raced as a male because, well, I lived as one, by my given name and the gender marked on my birth certificate when I came into this world.  (It has since been amended.)  I could probably say the same for my erstwhile competitors.

The difference between them and me is that, as far as I know, they're all still living as males.  One or two might still be racing; I would guess that at least some of the others continue to ride, whether for fun, fitness or other motives.  I can't tell you whether any of them ever entertained any notions of living as anything other than the males they always knew themselves to be: My guess is that none of them have, though it wouldn't surprise me too much if one or two did.

If any of them were to undergo the same transition I have undertaken and wanted to continue racing, how would that rider be classified?

I'm not talking about "veterans" or "Category 3" or the classifications normally associated with racing.  Rather, I'm speculating on whether they would compete as males or females. 

You see, a couple of months ago, USA Cycling released its policy on transgender athlete participation to "bring clarity" to its "efforts at diversity and inclusion."  In all fairness, USA Cycling's new policy is clearly more progressive than that of other governing bodies in cycling or other sports--when, indeed, those governing bodies have written policies at all.

USA Cycling has divided its athletes into two groups:  Non-elite, which includes Category 3-5 racers, and elite, which includes Categories 1 and 2 as well as professionals.  

Non-elite cyclists may self-select their gender category, and if any questions arise about an athlete's eligibility, they may be resolved with medical documentation, how that athlete identifies in "everyday life" as well as other criteria.  None of that, really, sounds terribly different from what I used, before I had my surgery, to establish myself as female under the law as well as for employment, insurance and other purposes.

"Elite" cyclists, on the other hand, are subject to the more stringent rules of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which focus on hormone levels and medical monitoring.  

The reason USA Cycling has these two sets of standards is that "Elite" riders can qualify for international competitions, while non-elite riders generally race only within the US.  

Rachel McKinnon, a philosophy professor who teaches a class on sports ethics and inclusion, says she has mixed feelings about this new ruling.  Her thoughts are especially interesting since she is a Cat. 1 racer who transitioned from male to female before she started cycling.  

She believes the fact that the rules even exist at all is good because they say that transgenders can indeed compete in races.  Some of us don't race--and many other would-be athletes don't participate in other sports--simply because we don't know that we're allowed to do so.  Others don't compete because we fear, or have experienced, harassment from other athletes who either believe trans people shouldn't be competing against them or simply don't want us around.   

Moreover, even if we are aware, some of us don't participate because we don't feel safe "outing" ourselves to organizations, especially if we are not "out" at work or in our communities.  Trans people, McKinnon says, " were voluntarily excluding themselves because they didn't want to take the risk."  Having a set of guidelines tells athletes that it's OK to compete, she says, and tells them "Here's how you do it."

Her praise for USA Cycling's new guidelines, however, is tempered by her criticism that they don't go far enough in another area:  Not all Cat 1 and Cat 2 riders race internationally.  (I would guess that the majority don't.)  She believes that those who don't should not be subject to a testosterone limit or any of the other medical criteria imposed by international governing bodies.  "I think that aspect of the policy fails to meet ethical standards of justification," says the philosophy professor.

In response, Chuck Hodge, USA Cycling's Technical director, says the new policy was crafted "not to create a witch-hunt" but to build "firewalls" primarily so that non-transgenders won't try to race as another gender "to prove a point".  I guess such a thing, were it to happen, would be more likely in non-elite domestic competitions rather than international matches.  Still, I'm not sure how many guys it will keep from competing as women, or vice-versa.  For that matter, I'm not sure that very many have ever tried to compete as their "opposite" gender.  

Still, I think USA Cycling should be commended for its new policy.  While it adheres to more stringent IOC (and UCI) rules about gender identity, it does affirm Point #4 of the Fundamental Principles of Olympism, spelled out  in the Olympic Charter (p.13):  Participation in sport is a human right.


  1. "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness..."

    "We hold these truths to be self evident..."

    Two and a half centuries later and Americans are still trying to figure out what those words mean. Does not "right to life" imply the inalienable right to the best health care available? Does not the "pursuit of happiness" Imply freedom of sexual orientation? Does not "liberty' imply a life without fear?

    The rest of the world is still waiting for America to live up to those words. Some other countries have gone much further in realizing this agenda, the agenda of he 18th century enlightenment.


  2. Leo--Almost any northern or western European country does better than the US when it comes to the inalienable right to the best health care available. I can think of a few countries where there is more freedom of sexual orientation--and of gender identity and expression--than there is in the US. And, yes, there are places where you can live in less fear.

    I guess we shouldn't be surprised that the US is founded on principles that still haven't been realized: After all, they were articulated by slave-owners!