Alongside its exciting, high speed course through frat row, this week’s Dartmouth L’Enfer du Nord will feature an important ECCC event on women’s cycling, and the next step in an ongoing project on gender identity policies in collegiate sports.
At the start of Saturday’s criterium, right after the first Men’s D race begins, all of the conference’s women cyclists are invited to meet by Turn 2 of the course, at Main St and Clement Rd/Maynard St:
ECCC Women’s Meeting
Saturday, April 12, 2014
10am (start of the criterium, after the ITT)
Dartmouth L’Enfer du Nord Campus Criterium
Turn 2: Main St & Clement Rd/Maynard St
There is two hour block in the schedule at that point without women’s races, yielding plenty of time to meet. The hope is to have a free ranging discussion among all of the conference’s women, collecting input and generating ideas on multiple fronts, including:
General feedback, e.g., on the new Women’s D category;
Ideas for riders, teams, and the conference to recruit and retain more women cyclists;
Empowering women to better push back on negative culture, and approaches to combatting latent sexism and actual harassment.
As a concrete example of the latter, the conference is currently planning for 2015 to require all teams to have a designated contact go through the US Olympic Committee’s SafeSport program, much as USA Cycling officials do currently. However, all observations on existing issues and ideas for future progress in women’s cycling are welcome, needed, and fair game to discuss in this meeting. The intent is to gather wide-ranging input and proposals in order to determine priorities and develop new plans.
Announcements will be made about alternative plans for the meeting in case of inclement weather.
Transgender Policy Study
In addition, this Saturday the ECCC is going to be visited by Kristine Newhall from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, a prominent researcher on gender and inequality in sport. Dr Newhall is well known as a contributor to the Title IX Blog as well as TED Talks on that subject. She is currently beginning a study of gender identity and inclusion policies in collegiate sports outside the NCAA, and is looking at the ECCC as one example.
To that end, Dr Newhall wishes to interview current ECCC riders, coaches, and officials. She has already talked with a number of people at the MIT X-Pot criterium, and will be at the Dartmouth crit as well as possibly the RISD/Brown/PC Eastern Conference Championships to do the same. In addition, she is interested in potentially traveling to nearby teams to meet and conduct interviews outside of race weekends. The official recruitment letter for this study is as follows:
Dear ECCC riders and officials,
I am a lecturer in the McCormack Department of Sport Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Currently, I am engaged in research about the creation and implementation of gender identity policies in non-NCAA collegiate sports using the ECCC as a case study. I am looking for potential interviewees who would be willing to discuss their opinions on the new gender identity policy implemented by the ECCC this year. In order to participate you must be currently participating in ECCC events as either an athlete or administrator and of legal age to consent (18).
Interviews would likely last one hour or less and will be arranged at a mutually convenient time and location. Interviews will be recorded but only I will have access to them. You will not be identified by name in any publications or presentations which result from this research.
If you agree to participate, I will contact you to arrange a meeting place at which time you will receive a detailed consent form that further outlines this research. In the meantime, I am happy to answer any questions you may have.
Thank you for taking the time to consider participation in this research.
Kristine Newhall, PhD
McCormack Department of Sport Management
Isenberg School of Management
University of Massachusetts Amherst
By participating in this study, the conference hopes to both learn more about itself as well as push its open, inclusive worldview to other sports and cultures. Anyone specifically interested in talking with Dr Newhall about the ECCC’s new gender identity and inclusion policies should feel free to email her in advance, or find Joe Kopena or Ian Sullivan this Saturday to be pointed in her direction.
This is collegiate cycling, and we’re all pretty smart. The day before the season kick-off, many of you read the announcement and blog post about transgender cyclists. Yes, I am such a cyclist, and for now the most public and visible. It took a week or two for most ECCC’ers to start asking questions or making comments and then they started trickling, and then rushing, in. I can’t and won’t answer each individually but I do want to clear up a few details, and to help the community learn how to best interact with and include transgender riders.
It’s Not What You Think
First, I want to thank and congratulate you, ECCC, on your generally positive response and support of my racing in the women’s field this year. Together we are proving that we as a community are able to welcome and include everybody, including transgender athletes. As a whole, you have bowled me over with your efforts to demonstrate acceptance. The last few weeks a fair number of you have approached me and voiced your outright support for my racing, the new ECCC policy on transgender racers, and USAC policy revisions underway. Thank you. Your support means a lot to me personally and it gives me great hope that cycling as a sport that can be accepting of all identities and bodies.
Second, I want you to know that I do not identify as a woman. I am not transitioning from male to female, which is a logical conclusion that many of you have assumed. I still truly and sincerely appreciate the effort from those of you who have made attempts to clearly and loudly demonstrate the application of “she,” “woman,” “girl,” “lady,” and other feminine identifiers to me when you thought that was what I wanted. Thank you for making the effort to validate what you thought was my identity.
I was born female. I transitioned to living as a guy because I find it to be the most comfortable and best fit on a day to day basis. I present as a guy in my academic and professional life as well as socially. For personal reasons, years ago I opted not to follow the traditional, linear, route of physical transition, and have no intent on engaging in any physical transition in the future. After extensive medical expert review and testimony that I have no competitive advantage, and a change in its previous policies on this issue, USA Cycling granted me a license to race in collegiate women’s A and category 3 non-collegiate races. I requested recategorization in search of a level playing field: Despite extensive training, and racing for several years now as a guy, my physiology would otherwise consign me to forever struggling to hang on in lower category men’s races, rather than enjoying a safe, well-matched, experienced pack where I can continue to develop my abilities as a racer – just like everyone else.
Identities are complicated. There are a wide range of gender presentations beyond the binary. I’m a guy, although not a particularly masculine guy. I prefer masculine pronouns and other gendered words: He, his, him, guy, man, boy, dude, and so on. Even though I’m racing in the women’s field, because that makes the most sense for me in athletics, that does not change my identity. I’m not asking for everyone to get it right all the time; good intentions count for more than perfection. Nor am I asking the women’s field to change for me—I’m the one who asked to be here, and I can’t express how honored I am to race alongside a group of truly talented, fast, elite women. I’m also not asking for the positive cheering from the road side to change. But I am a guy, and efforts to remember that when you interact with me are appreciated. I realize it’s complicated and trans identities are a new concept for many people, but words & behaviors do matter.
Boundaries, Respect, Privacy
Being such a new concept to much of our community, and perhaps the first time you’ve met a trans person, many of you want to ask questions. Many also simply want to express your support. In doing so, please remember that I’m a person too, and my reasons for being at races are the same as yours: I’m here to race bikes, talk about bikes, cheer for people racing bikes, eat too many cookies after doing bikey-things, and other antics involving bikes and people who race them. I like making new friends, especially smart ECCC people who can talk medicine/chemistry/art/linguistics/physics and freely relate those topics to bicycles. I find all of those topics far more fun and compelling than gender issues.
Moving forward, it’s worth making a few points about interacting with transgender people, including me and any other such members of the community in the future:
We cannot be your gender studies class. We cannot be your source of information about trans people, and it’s not fair to ask us to be. There are many great books and Internet resources available. Increasing your awareness and being a better ally is an awesome goal. But you shouldn’t place that burden on the individuals you hope to support.
Being transgender is not an open invitation for anyone to discuss or scrutinize your body, or for strangers and acquaintances to ask intensely personal questions. All of the same personal boundaries and limits on what’s polite and appropriate to ask or discuss apply to transgender people as they do to everyone else. We all deserve the same respect and privacy; as much as spandex will allow.
Despite what TV and pop culture imply, transgender people are not all hypersexual creatures placed on earth to satisfy your curiosities. It is not ok to tokenize and sexualize us just as it is not ok to do the same to women, minorities, or any other group at a bike race or elsewhere. Again, everyone deserves to be treated respectfully, regardless of gender, identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or any other trait. All of the same rules apply as with approaching any other person that you think is attractive: Check your motivations, remember that attraction may not be reciprocal, NEVER touch without consent, and “no” means no.
Not all spaces are equally safe. Do not assume that because a trans person is publicly so in one environment that it is acceptable to transfer that visibility to other parts of their life, or to draw attention to them in other contexts, particularly less-than-safe places. There may come a time when the ECCC becomes the very first place where a new trans person feels comfortable in presenting as their gender identity, but you shouldn’t then export that knowledge outside the community, such as by announcing it at that truck stop diner on the way to/from a race. Not all environments are equally accepting and safe.
If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.
All of those boil down to one basic point: Transgender people are people, and all people should be treated with respect, courtesy, and kindness.
Bigger Than Us
Most importantly, I asked for this recategorization because it was time for a new precedent to be set. I want all people to be able to experience competitive cycling, collegiate or non-collegiate, regardless of their gender identity or how it matches their body.
I confess to not being very brave. It took me 6 years, including an undergrad degree and most of a masters degree, to finally show up at a cycling club meeting. So much ECCC time lost! It makes me incredibly sad, frustrated, and angry to remember the feeling of looking in from the outside, scouring the internet for a policy that didn’t exist, or ANY sign that thinking I’d be welcome at a race wasn’t laughable. Thankfully, the world has come a long way in six years. Cycling is now ready.
This is important. It’s not about me, and it’s not about the ECCC. It’s about making cycling accessible to all people. Remember the first club or team ride you went on, or your first race? Remember the butterflies in your stomach? The feeling of insecurity and fear of being too slow/out of shape/new/whatever insecurity you have? Maybe how self-conscious you were the first time you wore cycling spandex? These and all of the other social issues that come with sports are even more daunting for gender minorities.
You and I both know how cycling has changed our lives, our bodies, and maybe even our souls. Everyone should have an equal opportunity to experience joy, speed, and suffering on a bike. Simply by continuing to make the ECCC the awesome, inclusive community that it is becoming, with respect and welcome for all genders, colors, religions, and orientations of people, you can help make that happen.
It is the goal of the ECCC to conduct and maintain a collegiate cycling community that is free of harassment and discrimination in an effort to promote an environment of respect that will be extended into the broader cycling community as well.
The ECCC recognizes and affirms the equal humanity and identities of all people, without regard to their various characteristics including, but not limited to: Race, ethnicity, gender, sex, sexual orientation, perceived gender identity, religion, or other immutable characteristics. All people are welcome and are to be equally included in all ECCC events. All conference participants, including but not limited to racers, coaches, spectators, officials, and conference personnel, are expected and required to abide by this policy.
Any actions contrary to those beliefs should be reported immediately to conference personnel and will be treated as a serious offense to the community. Potential redress includes but is not limited to points penalties, suspension of riders and teams, and notifying school administrations and/or police.
The ECCC particularly recognizes the challenges facing transgender athletes. Such members of the community should compete in the gender category most appropriate to their unique personal situation. They are invited and encouraged to discuss this with the Conference Director(s) and other ECCC leadership.
Competitors may be asked by the Conference Director(s) and/or their designee(s) to furnish two pieces of documentation from relevant legal, medical, or academic authorities documenting personal sex, gender, or gender dysphoria supporting their selected competition gender category.
This policy is unique and innovative in providing maximal leeway and privacy for transgender athletes, while also having a formal, objective basis upon which to make category determinations. It is specifically designed to account for ECCC demographics and objectives and incorporates modern research.
Eastern Conference director Joe Kopena specifically emphasizes that these policies are not reactions to incidents in the ECCC: “The original motivation was actually watching riders and couples racing and at our Kingdom Trails summer camp. It doesn’t occur to anybody in our community that, say, other people might find it awkward traveling with a gay couple. That’s really great, and that positive, live-and-let-live attitude is an ideal I want enshrined in stone as the conference goes on and the leadership changes.”
Meanwhile, Western Conference assistant director and collegiate cycling socialite Virginia Solomon says “Tolerance and equality are still issues in many regions, for collegiate cycling and otherwise, and making statements like these and explicitly advocating for them is still important.” Eastern Conference assistant director Ian Sullivan adds “It was only in the 2004 road season that the ECCC equalized women’s and men’s points, which eventually became the national standard. There are people still around who raced before that, this isn’t some ancient principle. There are parts of the country where it’s apparently still very controversial that women racers score the same points as their male peers.”
By placing these formal statements at the forefront of the in-progress updated, comprehensive ECCC policy manual, the conference leadership hopes to ensure that tradition of progressivism and commitment to providing a high quality experience for everyone remains at the heart of the ECCC, and continues to be adopted as the guiding mantra of other conferences and cycling organizations.
In developing that general diversity policy, it quickly became clear that transgender riders warranted particular attention. As society becomes ever more tolerant and inclusive, the conference must ensure it is supporting all its constituents and addressing particular issues to keep pace, and further to help drive that progress. Assistant director Caitlin Thompson observed “In the high school where I teach, as society opens up and these concepts are out there more prominently, we are definitely seeing more kids feeling free and safe to take on non-traditional gender identities, and to rightfully expect that to not have a negative impact on their daily lives. The conference should support them as they enter college and start racing bikes, just as it does everybody else.” That observation was born out after the conference leadership announced it was working in this area and wanted to explicitly welcome transgender riders, as several such members came forward to note that they are already present in the community.
Beyond being an unsettled, evolving topic across sports in general, there are a number of issues unique to collegiate sports regarding transgender athletes. Notably, collegiate cycling and other sports are directly based on a young demographic, one explicitly engaged in exploring the world and self-identity as its members make the transition into adulthood and becoming independent members of society. Many transgender collegiate athletes will have just begun adopting those determinations of their own gender and identity. These athletes will not be at the point yet of proceeding with alterations to their physiology, even if they have the resources with which to do so. Those that are embarking on a physical change will often be in early stages, without the biological record or time passed to comply with the standards of many sporting organizations. Even matters such as updating government identification can be challenging for students juggling and transitioning between living at home and residence at school, often quite removed and in different states.
Regarding the biological standards of many organizations, the ECCC leadership advocate a sense of perspective. Amateur, grassroots, development focused racing such as that in the conference need not, and most likely should not, hold its participants to standards that might make sense in other contexts, such as professional, Olympic, or other elite competition. Former ECCC superstar and USA Cycling Collegiate trustee Emma Bast says “Society being what it is, life is already probably going to be challenging for transgender athletes. While it might make sense at some levels of competition to have rigorous physiological standards, at others the default should be to enable them to just race bikes in whatever way is best for them, and to make sure they have the same good experience as everyone else. Hopefully other organizations look at these ECCC policies as exemplars of that attitude.”
Notably, the conference has received a generally positive attitude to change in this area from USA Cycling. Previous national policy was for riders to compete in the gender category given on their state ID. There are reasonable cases in which a member might not be able to meet that standard, and indeed the ECCC has a rider in such a situation and willing to press the issue. In response, USA Cycling has apparently moved to a more flexible case-by-case basis. Kopena reports “Several people on our team working on this were ready for a huge battle to make progress, but talking with USAC’s legal and other personnel they were very receptive and are making changes. We hope to still help push them to a more objective, transparent policy, but also acknowledge that they have many more issues to address given that they do encompass all levels of racing. It’ll necessarily take time to educate the community, determine consensus, and evolve better policy.”
The ECCC leadership hopes that the community then in turn not hold too strongly to assumed knowledge and knee jerk reactions. Solomon notes “There’s a lot of ‘conventional wisdom’ out there about trans-females having a prolonged advantage from having developed as a male, trans-males getting an unfair boost from testosterone treatments, and so on, that isn’t being born out by current medical research. Physiology is complex, and ideas on gender and identity are often new and difficult for many people to understand at first, so I encourage everyone step back a bit before deciding on some response to the topic, and to come at it with the attitude of letting people live their lives as they wish.”
Ready for Action
With these policies the Eastern conference continues to advance its mission of high quality bicycle racing and personal development for all high school and college students. It has always been doctrine of the ECCC that everybody deserves the best possible racing experience. In the past that meant ensuring equally good events for men and women, then beginners and elites, and these statements continue that thread. Everybody deserves a high quality racing experience, and the ECCC is making that happen.