Transgender Rights and Representation in Sports
While transgender people have always existed throughout the entire timeline of humanity, the
societal acceptance of deviating from assigned genders continues to be a contested debate.
Particularly in modern western cultures, gender and sex are largely synonymous. While cultures
throughout history have recognized transgender people, explaining the identity as a third gender
or a soul trapped in the wrong body, modern cultures fail to separate biological sex and societal
gender. There is interconnectivity among the two, as gender is a socially constructed application
of expectations given to different sexes, but a lack of acceptance and knowledge has led to
discrimination and suffering for transgender people.
The discussion of trans rights is again reaching the forefront of societal discussion. As western
cultures begin to grant basic human rights to people within the queer community, trans people
have begun to push for visibility and rights, as well. The fight for transgender rights is an uphill
fight, as trans people in recent years have been denied access to public restrooms matching
identities, banned from military service, and denied posthumous respect. For example, Leelah
Alcorn, a transwoman from Ohio, sparked national discussion after committing suicide due to
forced conversion therapy. After her death, some news organizations referred to her as a boy,
using her birth name (commonly referred to as a “dead name” for transgender people who
undergo name changes) in media coverage. Her family continued the unjust treatment of the
deceased by burying her as a boy, using her dead name on the tombstone (Mohney).
Transgender rights made headlines again as Caitlyn Jenner debuted her post-transition identity,
which led to Jenner winning the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs, fueling debate on
the definition of courage. Jenner’s victory also forced the transgender debate into the world of
sports, where it had been maintaining a fairly low profile, only making headlines at lower levels
wherein high school athletes were denied participation due to their gender identities. This
sudden intersection of sports and transgender rights inspired a debate very few were ready or
willing to have.
As previously stated, transgender identities are not new, but academic research on queer
identities are, in general, lacking. Because of the recent renewal of queer acceptance in
western societies, research on specific identities has increased tremendously. Homosexuality is
no longer a taboo research topic, but other identities are still working to gain the interest of
researchers. Transgender research exists almost exclusively in medical and psychological
The basis of transgender research lies in the sociological idea of gender as performance.
Harold Garfinkel led this research, studying Agnes, a transwoman, to theorize gender as
“doing” and as a “choreography...