This is a guest post by Laurie and Debbie. Debbie Notkin is a body image activist, a feminist science fiction advocate, and a publishing professional. She is chair of the motherboard of the Tiptree Award and will be one of the two guests of honor at the next WisCon in May 2012. Laurie is a photographer whose photos make up the books Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes (edited and text by Debbie Notkin) and Familiar Men: A Book of Nudes (edited by Debbie Notkin, text by Debbie Notkin and Richard F. Dutcher). Her photographs have been exhibited in many cities, including New York, Tokyo, Kyoto, Toronto, Boston, London, Shanghai and San Francisco. Her solo exhibition “Meditations on the Body” at the National Museum of Art in Osaka featured 100 photographs. Her most recent project is Women of Japan, clothed portraits of women from many cultures and backgrounds. Laurie and Debbie blog together at Body Impolitic, talking about body image, photography, art and related issues. This post originally appeared on Body Impolitic.
Laurie and Debbie say:
We were deeply struck by this interview with Keelin Godsey, Olympic contender (who didn’t quite make it) for the hammer throw event. It’s worth listening to the whole thing.
Godsey identifies and lives as a man, and competes as a woman, for reasons that he explains clearly in this amazingly open conversation with Ann Schatz. The International Olympic Committee has had clear rules (the “Stockholm Consensus”) since the 2004 Summer Games. These rules are pretty stiff–to compete in the gender you were not biologically born into, you have to have had both top and bottom surgery and been on gender hormones for two years (if transitioning to male) and one year (if transitioning to female). The rules are also very gender essentialist, and don’t help in cases of indeterminate sexuality (such as Castor Semenya). At the same time, the very existence of clear rules for trans athletes was a major step towards legitimacy.
This year, Godsey was the first out American transperson ever to be a serious Olympic contender. As such, he was featured in a superb and sympathetic article in Sports Illustrated by Pablo S. Torre and David Epstein:
At 5’9″ and 186 pounds, Godsey is tautly muscular. He wears glasses and is dressed in black from his sneakers to his knit cap, which sheathes his blond, spiky hair. Over and over, from in front of a chain-link backstop, he grips the hammer’s handle and whirls in accelerating circles until it’s no longer clear whether he is spinning the ball or the ball is spinning him. His target distance, 226’4½”, is out on a gravel path beyond the frost-covered craters.
Godsey only learned the word transgender when he took a freshman seminar taught by Erica Rand, a women and gender studies professor at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. Soon after, in another class, Godsey was shown a survey that had been administered by psychiatrists to judge gender identity. “In my head I was circling the answers,” he recalls. “I was like, Oh, crap.”
In the spring of 2005, shortly after shattering the Division III women’s championship hammer record (by throwing 195’4″), Godsey tackled his biggest challenge to date. After confiding in Rand, the then junior e-mailed Bates’s dean of students and athletic director to notify them of an impending change: Beginning with the fall semester, Kelly would permanently become Keelin and wished to be referred to as he.
Godsey still can’t remember what he said when he stepped in front of the bleachers that fall and informed his women’s track teammates of their captain’s new identity. … “It was a nerve-racking experience. I kind of blacked out.” All he knows is that the 30 or so girls around him were “pretty awesome” when they heard the news.
The article also includes a detailed survey of the history of trans athletes, from Renee Richards, who transitioned in the late 1970s, to a young soccer player, identified only as “Jazz,” who at eleven is living as female and fighting for her right to play competitive soccer in her chosen identity.
Looking at (and listening to) Godsey, we are struck by how difficult it is for him to choose between his deeply-felt identity as a championship track and field athlete–an identity which got him through years of bullying and harassment in high school and later–and his deeply felt identity as a man, which he believes is in some ways at odds with his athlete identification. He has consistently said that he would start medical transition after this year’s Olympic trials, whether he made the games or not. But now that he’s come so close, he’s not so sure. Transitioning will undoubtedly change his abilities. He’s in the uncomfortable (but familiar to many, and not only in sports) position of having to choose one “primary” identity over another. And he talks about it with remarkable candor.
In the article, we see something else. Sports Illustrated, the most mainstream of all sports journalism venues, has published a thoughtful, informed article about talented and likable trans athletes. This article says on every page, “These people deserve to be who they are.” That Torres and Epstein wrote the article is laudable, that SI published it marks an ongoing sea change in the world of sports.
Seeing this article called out on the cover of Sports Illustrated is both surprising and vindicating. The article surveys close to a dozen sports figures, in different sports, in different roles in the sports world, from different generations. All of these people have made or are making their life in the world of sports, being public about their birth genders and their current genders. This kind of social change can only happen when advocates are working tirelessly behind the scenes for change; at the same time, it only happens when the world is ripe for the advocacy.