Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Monica Helms

Changing rooms and changing attitudes

Credit: Kirsten Colligan

Amy Shimmin

Amy Shimmin talks to GULGBTQ+ Trans/Intersex officer Finn Carruthers about the problems trans/intersex face in sport

When we consider LGBTQ+ – most specifically trans – issues, we imagine the plethora of obvious issues. These can include anything from coming out, to “passing” as a binary gender, to general prejudice. Arguably, trans people are more visible than ever in society, yet has sport caught up? The Glasgow Guardian spoke to Finn Carruthers, the Trans and Intersex Officer from Glasgow University’s LGBTQ+ Society – or GULGBTQ+ – with regards to the hurdles that trans sportspeople, and trans people accessing sport generally, face.

Perhaps the most obvious issue regards gendered access. Joining many teams – as an aspiring athlete or keen amateur – often includes gender segregation, mainly for reasons of competition. “Most teams are gendered, Finn states, yet questions its necessity on an amateur level. “It”s good to have sports that include everyone, as that means you don’t have to join the wrong team, or out yourself.” There is also the question advantage in competition; Finn reminds us that this is often from a sexist angle as a criticism of trans-feminine people in competitive sport. “This is an issue that black trans women can face twofold”, he adds, referring to the often-racist accusations regarding testosterone levels in female athletes. “These issues can vary from person to person.”

Finn also notes a case of gendered competition earlier this year in the USA. High school wrestler, Mack Beggs, a trans boy from Texas, won the State Championship in the women’s category. He had been prevented from competing in the male league and his win divided opinion. “He just wants to box!” cried Finn. “You have to jump so many hoops. It”s ridiculous.”

There are obstacles blocking the most basic needs of health and hygiene, too. “There are very few changing facilities that are gender neutral that aren’t disabled [facilities],” Finn affirms. This is an issue raised repeatedly throughout the campus redevelopment project, however he feels that there is “a lot of talking and not enough doing.” He comments positively that the Queen Margaret Union, where we meet to chat, does have a shower facility in its gender-neutral bathroom. “I understand the need for gendered facilities, but if even a third of facilities were gender neutral and the rest gendered, that would be ideal at this point,” he concludes.

Trans-masculine people who bind their chests “have to choose between their physical health and their mental health” as it is discouraged to exercise while wearing a binder. However, not binding can cause dysphoria: this creates an awful irony in which exercise and sport – often lauded as beneficial to mental health – can exclude trans people, in the name of their mental health. Finn also suggests the need for greater education as a means to improve inclusion without upsetting others. “Your body is so relevant in sport: more understanding and education around trans issues would make people feel more safe and comfortable taking part.”

There have been some success stories across Glasgow and Scotland. Glasgow University Sports Association (GUSA) held a “LGBT in Sport” event during the previous LGBT History Month on campus and its officers regularly contact GULGBTQ+. LEAP (Leadership, Equality and Active Participation) Sports, a charity born out of the legacy of the Commonwealth Games, seeks to incentivize LGBTQ+ sport, with an online calendar advertising teams and practice sessions open to LGBTQ+ people, including clubs for trans people. “These are positive stories of people coming together to make a movement,” Finn says. “But overall these clubs are a minority; still a news story, which they shouldn’t be”. It also appears that most of these teams are located in the central belt, potentially excluding LGBTQ+ people in the north, further south, and islands.

So, with positive, if tentative, steps already being made, it seems fitting to reflect. “I would say [inclusion] is improving overall,” Finn remarks confidently. “There”s current discussion around the Gender Recognition Act (2004) which are big moves bringing these issues to light.” The current debate on the Act proposes to allow self-definition of gender, and potentially legal recognition of non-binary identities. “If you can legally identify as non-binary, it would be good to have spaces to be non-binary!” Overall, the need for education and facilities are equally as important. “In five years, I don’t think things will be sorted. But I do think things will keep improving.”

It’s clear that progress is being made, but there is still a lot further to go. Let”s work together – and listen to those currently excluded – to make sport a better, inclusive space for all.

Trans and Intersex Coffee takes place regularly (every second Tuesday) around Glasgow, with up to date events listed on the GULGBTQ+ Facebook page. For more information, contact Finn on [email protected].


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