Chris Mosier talks Mack Beggs and trans youth participation policies in sports
When Mack Beggs won the Texas girls' wrestling championship as a transgender boy, the conversation by those watching devolved into talk about birth certificates and hormones. While there are questions about the process by which Beggs became the state champion, his story shines a light on the struggle transgender youth face in participating in sports.
EspnW talked with triathlete Chris Mosier, the first openly trans athlete to qualify for a United States national team in accordance with their gender identity and founder of transathlete.com, about access to sport for transgender athletes, and the importance of Beggs' story.
espnW: How does Mack Beggs' story highlight overall access problems that we see for trans athletes?
Chris Mosier: Mack's story forces people to think beyond the stereotypes used to create trans-exclusive policies at the high school level. A lot of these policies are created with one particular type of transgender athlete in mind. These bad policies -- meaning states that require a student to participate in accordance with their birth certificate, hormone wait time, or surgery -- are created, in my opinion, to keep transgender girls from competing with girls. Mack's story blows that apart.
espnW: Why do you think there is such a focus on transgender girls and their participation in sports?
CM: It comes from a general misunderstanding or lack of understanding of what it means to be a transgender person. What I think it comes down to is this fear of men and boys dominating in women's and girls' spaces. This is where the lack of understanding comes in. Transgender girls are girls. There is a fear of competitive advantage and people do not understand the facts: that there is no competitive advantage. Athletes come in all shapes and sizes, already, and it's unfair for us to police bodies and make determinations of who should be able to compete in sports.
espnW: What are some of the challenges meeting the standards set forth by the policies you think are harmful?
CM: In Texas, the [high school sports] association goes by birth certificate, so in theory they could change their birth certificate and would be set to go. The reality in Texas is that it is a challenging process because it requires a court order, and a lenient or understanding judge to make a determination. It's not standard across the board. Also, it costs a lot of money and time, so you need to have those resources, along with parental support to be able to do that.
In a state like Indiana, which has an even worse policy, it goes to the original birth certificate. In that case, it wouldn't matter if a student went through the process to change it; by their policy, it only matters what you were designated at birth. The reason that is problematic, is that may be so incredibly far from how that student identifies and what aligns with where they should be. This is the case of Mack. He identifies as a boy, wants to compete with boys, and his transition indicates that he should compete against boys. Texas has really locked him into an unfair position.
espnW: When you see policies like this, what do you think is the effect on trans kids who are trying to play sports?
CM: There are two things that happen. There are trans kids who see the situation and the negative attention in the comments, and think, "Maybe sports is not a place for me. I don't belong." We've seen statistics of young LGBT people move out of sports because they feel unsafe. When there is such a public example and they see negative feedback, I think that is enough to drive them away.
On the flip side of that, what I've seen personally is that young trans athletes reach out and say, "Why am I not allowed to compete? The policy in my state is bad, what can I do to change it?" So it's both motivating and inspiring, as well as having the effect of driving people in the other direction.
espnW: When students are reaching out to you, what advice do you give them?
CM: I basically just talk them through the process. The first thing I do is find out what they've done, what they've been told, and what they want to do. It's equal parts mentoring and advocating. Having somebody to talk to is really important for these young people who are not seeing a reflection of themselves in athletics, which is why the visibility of Mack Beggs competing makes a big difference for trans youth who want to compete in sports. At the same time, I'm in a position where I can reach out to organizations. I've written to the [Indiana High School Athletic Association] to request a formal review of their policy.
espnW: Recognizing that what makes a good policy could vary at different levels of competition, what do you think should be the policy at the high school and youth sports level?
CM: All young people should be able to participate in sports in accordance with their gender identity. Period.
I have a model policy, and what people sometimes think about is complications of locker rooms and private spaces, so we have recommendations of how to integrate trans students into those spaces as well.