What can sport do to become more inclusive for the trans community?

By Vixx

“Sport for All” was a slogan used for many years by the Sports Council and during the first “International Year for Disabled People”, the “Sport for All” campaign urged those involved in sport to promote opportunities for people with disabilities and encouraged local authorities and others to assist their participation at local level and in community sports centres.” (Taken from the UK Sports Association website – uksportsassociation.org).

I would like to respectfully ask all organisations to help expand this now, after over 40 years, to include EVERYONE, of all ages, within the LGBTQ+ community – but particularly Transgender and non-binary people.

I won’t go into the matter of elite level Trans athletes here, as it is a large topic and currently a very contentious issue. At this point, I wish to look at how we can make Trans and non-binary people more active and more welcome within sport.

Sport has for years been touted as a great way for people to get healthier, lose weight, maybe meet new people and make new friends – as well as being able to get outside, enjoy nature and stretch ourselves physically and mentally through new challenges.

However, sport for Trans and non-binary people has challenges before we even get to the activity part. Things that you may not even think about, we have to consider and carefully navigate, just to remain safe – and as a result, many Trans and non-binary people do not take part in any sport or activity because of these things, and quite often because they do not have the emotional energy to find these solutions before getting down to actual sporting activity. These are some of the issues (and it’s not an exhaustive list) that we face.

I would say our bodies form the first part of that barrier – but that is the same for many people who aren’t Trans or non-binary. It can affect us differently though, as many people suffer gender dysphoria and body dysmorphia without even adding on the usual things that people might dislike about their bodies.

The next obvious one for us is changing rooms and toileting facilities. Many, many people react with surprise when I highlight this to them, as they have never really even considered it as being an issue. For Trans and non-binary people, it can be a big part of why they don’t take part in activities. Whilst many women’s changing rooms have cubicles, most men’s changing rooms do not. This can cause anxiety and stress for many non-binary and Trans-masculine people who might not wish their surgical scars to be seen. For those who identify as Trans or non- binary who have not yet had surgery, it can be extremely dysphoric to have to use the changing facilities of their assigned gender at birth.

These concerns alone can cause people to stay away from activities. It is often the changing room situation that causes many Trans and non-binary people from getting involved in team sports or group activities – we’re nervous of all the possibilities that can come with it (and none of these are the positive ones), such as:

  • Being outed
  • Negative attitudes from potential team mates
  • Negative attitudes from opposition players/teams
  • Hostility from spectators
  • 1001 questions from people
  • Potentially needing to “out” ourselves if there are no clear guidelines for Trans and non- binary people within the sport we are choosing

So, let us take changing rooms out of the equation. Without this, many people are nervous about where to start when it comes to fitness. What should they be doing? How can they get involved?

Might it be expensive (many Trans and non-binary people are saving up for surgeries and hormones that they either have to wait years for on the NHS, or in the case of some surgeries cannot actually have on the NHS, so cost can impact here also)? Will they need specific equipment? Do they need to pay a weekly or monthly attendance fee?

Although it isn’t openly discussed (unless you are part of the Trans community), many Trans people need to be a certain BMI (Body Mass Index) to be able to meet the surgery standards set by the NHS. Hormone therapy tends to cause weight gain, so many people feel forced to exercise to be able to have the surgery they desperately need to be able to be the person that they know they truly are. This can cause many Trans people immense stress, which can impact on mental health – the very things that exercise can actually help to relieve, if you can get to do it safely. Many Trans people do not feel safe exercising. This needs to change, as people’s lives can literally depend on it.

I set up my online directory, Trans-Fitness.co.uk to be able to list as many Trans-friendly and Trans- exclusive sports and activity groups as I can, so that people know where to find them. It’s not an easy task but slowly people are beginning to find these teams and go and join them. The directory has expanded over time so that there are many other Trans things on there where they will be safe and welcomed – and that includes personal trainers and coaches that can help people to get started.

I am also trying to find groups and facilities where disabled Trans and non-binary people will be safe and welcomed also. I created a Community Interest Company in 2019 to be able to start to physically help people get physically fitter (if they wish to), mentally stronger and emotionally freer. I want to help people to be able to find the activities they enjoy and hopefully to find people to be able to do them with. I have started with online workouts, and hopefully when Covid-19 restrictions lift, I can do more face-to-face work with groups.

Periodically, I try and get donations of tri-suits from my triathlete friends. I’ll take their old ones as they get new ones. These I then donate to trans and non-binary people for the cost of postage. For many people this can allow them to go swimming without too many questions, and this can be quite liberating for many. There are also Trans groups who have set up exclusive swimming sessions for Trans/non-binary people too, and hopefully more can happen with time.

I also run online fitness classes exclusively for Trans and non-binary people to have a safe space to learn to become more active, and there are other groups and Personal Trainers doing the same thing. As more people find safer activity spaces, then hopefully more groups will be set up in other areas of the country to encourage more of the same!

So, how can we make sport and exercise more welcoming for Trans and non-binary people?

  1. Create more accessible changing spaces – both for disabled people, and by adding in cubicles for added privacy for people.
  2. Help to either create more Trans and non-binary sports groups, or have a basic qualification on Trans/non-binary issues for coaches to do to be able to welcome and encourage potential teammates.
  3. Have a qualification for personal trainers and fitness coaches (which I am working on already) so that they can be aware of the varying needs of Trans/non-binary people and how that might translate when it comes to activity and exercise.
  4. More information on how to get involved in various activities as beginners.
  5. More support in local areas to get teams and activities advertised and up and running successfully.
  6. More acceptance of trans people being active and taking part in sporting activities.
  7. Have GP support to access fitness or fitness areas that can support trans people and keep costs down in order to allow people to get fitter and healthier ready for a more successful surgical outcome. We often lead much more fulfilling lives and are more rounded members of the community once we become who we truly know we are.

At the moment, sport is seen by many Trans and non-binary people as a privilege that they cannot afford to undergo, mainly because of the reasoning outlined above, plus many other individual things that can stop a Trans or non-binary person from living a full life whilst they wait to undergo a social and/or medical transition. With the right support and guidance, hopefully this can change and allow Trans and non-binary people to have much more positive experiences of activity and sport.

Thankfully, also due to work being done by Pride Sports and Mermaids, as well as the growing list of LGBTQ+ football supporters clubs, more people are starting to be encouraged into either watching or playing a sport with a safe environment to support them. It’s a start.

However, if sport is for all, then sport should truly be for ALL. Please work with me to help me achieve this.