Tag Archives: transgender

Policies Are For Progress

Very recently, months after it was published to no doubt much impact, some friends finally noticed Ellen Samuels‘ column article Cycles of Gender Testing, published by the NYU Press blog. It attempts to critique the new-ish transgender athlete policies in the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference (ECCC). The crux of Samuels’ argument is that the policy represents a throwback to medieval policies of yore, developed with a biocentric focus and no understanding of gender or sexuality.

Hilariously were it not so frustrating, the post is actually a great exemplar of exactly the type of mindset at which it hopes to throw much snark and scorn: One crippled by assumptions and an inability to have a serious discussion on gender and sports. Further, it’s just poor scholarship and writing: No attempt to contact anyone involved for clarification or discussion was made beforehand, no chance for response given afterward—regrettably, the comments are closed—and it’s very clear that no independent effort was made to understand how that policy might have emerged, or its very nuanced components.

It’s just a short blog post that doesn’t particularly matter, but the piece is worth some commentary from the conference leadership. This is a good point from which to discuss and archive some of the design intent and background of this ECCC policy. More generally the post is also worth looking at as an example of how even people very informed and aware on this kind of topic can hinder their understanding and the debate through their own flawed assumptions.

Policy

The ECCC’s transgender athlete policy is incredibly permissive:

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.

Particularly for college sports that’s an extremely open position. A very good read here is the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network‘s report On The Team: Including Transgender Students. Though we only found it afterward, the ECCC transgender policy tracks very closely with the report’s recommendations for high school sports, notably much more so than its collegiate suggestions. Similar goes for other reports and existing policies. Compared to typical approaches for college and beyond, the ECCC formally embraces much more of an attitude of “Do whatever makes you happy, everything else be damned.”

That shift in attitude comes in large part precisely from not being biocentric, completely counter to Samuels’ utterly flawed understanding. She writes:

Such [documentation] requirements show how assumptions about the necessity for biocertification can both underpin and undermine even the most well-meaning of policies directed toward people who do not fit neatly into gender binaries. It is likely that, just as in international female athletics, the cyclists most likely to be asked to provide documentation are those who appear suspiciously “masculine,” yet identify as female.

The last sentence is unfortunately probably true, but not in the sense it was written. Samuels fails to envision all of the many likely circumstances that might prompt such a request. More critically, she completely misses the fundamental fact that the “requirement” is there for the exact opposite reason: To protect transgender athletes, and to enable their self-determination and choices.

Clowns

One of our primary motivations for that provision is some regrettable cretin trying to make either an actual socio-political point or merely negative comedy by competing in the “wrong” category. Particularly in some regions of the country, given a completely wide open policy all of us could easily envision, based on previous actual incidents, some cis-male jackass ostentatiously opting to race in and disrupt the women’s fields, either to underline how supposedly ridiculous is the concept of transgender athletes, or simply to be the class clown.

Without the documentation request or some other requirement, there’s little the conference could do about that. If athletes could truly simply elect which gender category to compete in with no restrictive formal policy, then there’s no basis upon which to stop that clown. That would be highly unfortunate, as such a show would be deeply hurtful to actual transgender athletes and broadly supressive of their participation and open welcome, as well as being very disruptive to the competition and disrespectful to all of the athletes. So, in one direction, the requirement is there to protect trans athletes by creating a tool to help shut down very conceivable, very negative demonstrative actions against them.

Legitimacy

On the opposite end of the spectrum, it is unfortunately just as conceivable that at some point opposition will be raised to a “legitimate” transgender athlete. Any open or suspected transgender athlete is going to face a wide variety of challenges in competing, irrespective of how accepting their community may be. They don’t need to also continually face questions about why they’re racing in their chosen gender category, quiet doubts and whispers about the validity of that selection, and so on. The documentation proviso gives conference leadership a tool with which to also shut down all of that negative atmosphere: Community members start raising concerns or complaints about someone, conference leadership privately asks that person for some documentation to show they’re not just some clown or a cheater, they show it, conference leadership affirms to the community that everything is on the up & up and ends those questions and whispers. So, in another direction, the “requirement” is there precisely to provide a formal basis for validating and supporting a transgender athlete’s selection of gender category for competition.

Documents

In doing so, one of the obvious key points Samuels misses is just how slim and broad is that documentation requirement. To repeat:

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.

There’s a lot of nuance packed in there alongside practical understanding of the challenges facing transgender people in our college and high school demographic, enabling a great deal of personal freedom and privacy.

On the one hand, presumably no clown and nearly all cheaters at our level would be unwilling to or have a hard time actually producing any such documentation. On the other hand, nearly all transgender people could meet that criteria, and with minimal intrusion on their privacy. By explicit design it is essentially as close as you can get to a formal version of “Please just give us anything, anything, which we can use to justify your category selection.”

For example, in an amazing and amusing display of massive, pompous self-absorption, Samuels misreads the policy point about “academic authorities” as a reference to the scholarly work of herself and other academic gender theorists. Skipped in that interpretation are important adjectives like “personal” and, most especially, “relevant.” Any less egotistical reader with experience competing in scholastic sports or enforcing gender regulations should immediately understand what that’s actually saying: Any kind of note from school is fine.

In particular, as discussed in previous blog posts, in our demographic of young adults and even juniors starting out on life outside their parents’ homes and shadows, many people are just beginning to think about and potentially recognize an affinity within themselves for non-traditional, non-biological ideas on gender and identity. Many of our transgender athletes won’t have government ID or medical records verifying or tracking their newly formed self images. They could quite likely though come up with something between all three options, especially given the wide latitude granted as to what kind of document is required. School and medical authorities in particular are generally likely to be flexible and swift, with few lifelong effects.

Regarding government, even setting aside universal bureaucratic hurdles and significant consequences of changing identification, many students will have a tough time or be unable to do so simply by advent of living at school, far from home. ECCC policy says that’s fine, get some documentation from the much easier and less consequential avenues of your school or doctor. This is a particularly relevant point because previous national policy in competitive cycling until we forced a change was to compete in the gender given by government ID. We in fact know that to be too rigid, from concrete cases of actual people.

Unusually for the current conference leadership’s typical inclinations to extremely formal and highly delineated rules, this policy is also very specific about not being specific as to what kinds of documentation might suffice. This is an intentional bit of vagueness to enable maximal privacy and options, particularly regarding medical authorities. For example, unlike policies frequently applied at higher levels of sport, the ECCC does not want to see a transgender athlete’s recorded testosterone level history. It also does not care if a rider is undergoing or has undergone a biological transition. Any documentation from a medical authority saying that the athlete’s chosen gender category is appropriate will suffice.

Choices

Of course, the question there of what category is “appropriate” is also intentionally unspecified. For example: Suppose an athlete was born and remains biologically female, but presents formally and socially as a man. What gender category should they compete in? If they race as a man they’ll be socially most comfortable but competitively most disadvantaged. Racing as a woman they’ll compete on level ground but be personally uncomfortable as well as potentially facing any number of doubts and misunderstandings about the fairness of them doing so based on the community’s inevitable assumptions.

On this question the ECCC takes the decidedly not biocentric approach of not taking any stance at all. Either direction they take that athlete is facing a hard decision, and we hope they talk to us about it, but we purposefully ultimately leave that selection where it should be: With the athlete.

Notable here is the explicit reference in the policy to sex, gender, or gender dysphoria. Any but the laziest reader should immediately be disinclined to believe that this policy is backed by simplistic notions equating sex with gender. We specifically recognize the differences between but don’t care about, in a positive sense, anybody’s sex or gender, or how the two may or may not match traditional assumptions and norms. The inclusion of gender dysphoria is a particularly subtle point. We are unaware of any other policy making such an allowance, rather than being based solely on sex and/or gender. Again, the intent is to afford maximal options and privacy. Can’t or don’t want to show documentation of a history supporting a particular gender or sex for competition category? Then any selection could be supported by any medical authority, including a physician, psychologist, or even a counselor, based on dysphoria.

Assumptions

Again amusingly but disappointingly, Samuels’ piece explicitly attacks the ECCC for its assumptions and entrenching bad ones, even while it is she who is actually trucking a great many of them into the discussion, fatally wounding her understanding.

On the surface, no one who actually read and thought about the ECCC policy rather than applying rote assumptions about the treatment of transgender athletes in sports could have possibly viewed it as advocating draconion or even mild biocertification regimes. Further, as discussed above, even setting aside its incredibly unrestricted and wide open criteria, the documentation “requirement” is actually there to protect and enable transgender athletes, providing a basis for them to do whatever makes them happiest.

People

More fundamentally, Samuels’ post is founded on the insulting and grossly prejudiced assumption that the people writing such a policy and involved in the governance of our sport could not be familiar with and understanding of gender theory and associated topics, let alone sympathetic to transgender athletes, nor could they themselves be following non-heteronormative lives.

On the one hand, as conference director and the lead face of policy creation and enforcement, it’s pretty much true that I personally am a cis-male whitebread honkie, and by actual profession an engineer to boot. I absolutely reject though that this necessarily means I don’t have some familiarity with or understanding of gender theory, nor that I can neither emphathize with nor understand and actively support our transgender athletes. In general it patently cannot and should not be the case that only transgender people and gender theorists may participate in this discussion. As Samuels’ post ably demonstrates, formal training in gender theory is clearly neither necessary nor sufficient to make actual contributions to this topic.

On the other hand, Samuels unfortunately and quite incorrectly implicitly assumes that this policy has been neither informed nor crafted by gender theory, let alone actual transgender athlete experience. That is again insulting on several levels, in assuming both that such people are not actively engaged in the sport as well as that their advice and input would not be sought out. It’s also impressively wrong. My understanding is that more than half our committee involved in drafting this policy have non-heteronormative sexualities. More than a quarter are either working on or already have PhDs in gender or queer theory and related topics. Several live everyday, in one way or another, with all the consequences and challenges associated with being transgender, in sport and otherwise.

Despite Samuels’ assumptions that people in sport could not be familiar with gender theory and that transgender athletes could not be engaged in developing the policies affecting them, in the ECCC at least nothing could be further from the truth.

Engagement

In recent years, driven by various mass calamities, there has been occasional general debate about the limited impact the liberal arts have on daily life. History, political science, economics, etc., all have important things to say about critical issues of government and society that are routinely ignored. This is a major driver of movements toward open access scholarship and increasing respect within academia for blogging and other popular writing. Quite obviously, gender theorists, queer theorists, and others might have useful things to say to the general population on topics like transgender athletes. In line with the better points of traditional academics’ suspicions of pop-academia movements though, drive-by hits with lazy blog posts not only don’t accomplish that, they actively retard progress. Nothing will be accomplished if the gender theorists are the ones coming in with crippling assumptions and a failure to recognize and put the effort into addressing their own limited understanding. If Samuels’ post is indicative of what the NYU Press means by “curated content” and “original scholarship” then that particular academia outreach blog effort actually does not have much to contribute and is little different from any number of scrawling-screed sites out there.

Complexity and Progress

Returning to the actual substantive point at hand, this whole topic of transgender athletes in sport is incredibly complex, both broad and deep. Most discussed are of course the top level concepts of biology, policies, and fairness—in multiple competing directions, and with much still developing and even more poorly recognized science.

For the people actually going through these experiences though, and the sports authorities trying to enable and support them, it’s mind-bogglingly pervasive. An eye-opening realization from our experiences this past spring was that a nuts-and-bolts but nonetheless consequential task the conference needs to do to help transgender athletes is to start identifying in race flyers whether restrooms at races will be gender neutral portajohns or gendered built facilities, and if the latter whether they’ll be on private, local, state, or federal ground because of the varying laws associated with each. That’s a whole new level of detail and area of concern we’ve never considered before, and the sort of detail never addressed in high level debate.

Even with very progressive leadership and an overwhelmingly supportive community, these participants face a whole constellation of obstacles. A significant part of overcoming those is policy. As Samuels focuses on and briefly recaps, transgender policy in sports has a long and largely iniquitous history, rife with dubious biocertification programs and unacceptable tests. It doesn’t have to be that way though. Policy can also be a tool to enable these athletes, as we hope it is in the ECCC.

None of this is to say that current ECCC policy is perfect or optimal, though it’s unlikely any policy could be either. There is much room for clarification, formalization, and multiple strong tradeoffs have been made that warrant ongoing debate. For an example on the process side, a tradeoff has been made between the freedom afforded by ambiguity versus potentially unfortunate future decisions under other leadership stemming from such subjective policies. On the more substantive side, the policy implicitly prioritizes the pursuit of happiness for transgender riders over the biological fairness concerns of other competitors. This is a strong stance on the particularly potentially explosive issues surrounding female-to-male biologically transitioned and male-to-female non-transitioned transgender athletes. Our group has also been very clear that we don’t feel this policy should necessarily be applied at all levels. For example, even to us it is not clear that professional, Olympic, and similar elite sport should be as completely biology agnostic as this policy strives to be.

However, all told, the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference’s current policies represent a decidedly progressive stance on sports participation by transgender athletes, and one that we hope other organizations adopt. We hope that everyone looking at them will do so without being burdened by their baggage of assumptions, in addition to recognizing all the many possible live circumstances and the need to have formal policies directing the actual conduct of those sports.

Women’s Meeting, Gender Identity Policy Study

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.

Women’s Meeting

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
Hanover, NH

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.

Betsey Pettit (UNH) in the 2013 Women's A/B Rutgers circuit race.  Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.
Betsey Pettit (UNH) in the 2013 Women’s A/B Rutgers circuit race. Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.

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.

Sincerely,
Kristine Newhall, PhD
knewhall@isenberg.umass.edu
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.

Headline photo by Jan Valerie Polk.

Not A Lady

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.

Turn 2 in the 2014 Temple Crit.  Photo by Matthew Hall Photography.
Turn 2 in the 2014 Temple Crit. Photo by Matthew Hall Photography.

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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

The 2013 squad for Yale Cycling, a traditional ECCC women's cycling powerhouse and diversity advocate. Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.
The 2013 squad for Yale Cycling, a traditional ECCC women’s cycling powerhouse and diversity advocate. Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.

Headline photo by Matthew Hall Photography.

Everybody Races: Diversity in the ECCC

Heading into the 2014 road season, the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference is excited to announce formal diversity and transgender rider policies. These statements render in words the positive, all-inclusive culture of the ECCC, and cement that progressive attitude as a foundation of the conference.

Policy

The diversity statement firmly establishes in writing that all riders are welcome in the ECCC:

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 has now also established policy for transgender riders and competition categories:

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.

Motivation

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.

The 2013 squad for Yale Cycling, a traditional ECCC women's cycling powerhouse and diversity advocate. Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.
The 2013 squad for Yale Cycling, a traditional ECCC women’s cycling powerhouse and diversity advocate. Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.

Transgender Riders

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.

It takes all kinds. The UVM team struttin', Dartmouth Frat Row Crit 2013.
It takes all kinds. The UVM team struttin’, Dartmouth Frat Row Crit 2013.

Headline photo above by Jan Valerie Polk.