Chris Mosier is not just a world-class athlete — he’s also a coach, educator, consultant, activist and the Executive Director of GO! Athletes, an support network for LGBTQ collegiate and high school athletes. Mosier founded the website TransAthlete.com, a resource for including transgender people in sports.
He’s got quite the bonafides, too — he’s a three-time Ironman triathlete, and he’s the first openly trans man to join a U.S. National team (in his case, the Team USA sprint duathlon men’s team.) He’s also responsible for getting the International Olympic Committee to change their policies to include transgender athletes.
In short, he’s pretty amazing. We caught up with him to talk about his recent South By Southwest panel about the future of sports and the trans community.
Unicorn Booty: The world’s most famous trans athlete, Caitlyn Jenner has faced a lot of criticism both from within and outside the trans community for her work as a “role model”. As the first openly transgender man to be inducted into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame, do you feel pressure to be an exemplary role model? If so, in what ways? Who have you looked to as role models in your sports career?
Chris Mosier: I don’t feel pressure to be a role model, but it is something I think about frequently. I try to always conduct myself in accordance with my values, which means being kind and helpful to others and doing the right thing even if it’s not the easiest thing. I often tell others, “You are who you are when no one is looking,” and I believe that — so I’m going to try my best to make good decisions at all times.
When I was younger, I looked up to athletes who had that same sort of approach to life: Roberto Clemente, Tommy Smith and John Carlos, and Grant Hill to name a few.
Is it unfair or unrealistic for the public to expect sports models to be role models — particularly when an athlete says something anti-LGBT or commits domestic violence? Isn’t all that really matters at the end of the day their ability to play the game? Why or why not?
For professional or elite sports, I think it is completely realistic — and should be expected — that athletes are considered role models and need to hold themselves to higher standards, particularly when they are representing a team, whether it’s the Chicago Blackhawks or Team USA.
Athletes have a a lot of social capital, starting as early as high school, and certainly once they are in the professional ranks. When an athlete is given the privileges of being in this position, they should absolutely expect to be role models; it’s part of the deal. With that, acts of anti-LGBT bias, domestic violence, and so on should be taken seriously and discussed publicly.
According to the map on TransAthelete.com, 14 states have an inclusive policy regarding trans high school students in sports; and the International Olympic Committee recently updated its policies on transgender athletes. What do you think about the current state of trans rights in athletics? If we can master trans issues, will that mean that we’ve finally overcome gender disparity in sports?
Transgender inclusion in athletics is making progress, most recently with the change in the International Olympic Committee policy. I truly believe that will help change policies in organizations because people look to the IOC policy as the gold standard. With increased visibility, I think we are making progress. Sports is a wonderful vehicle for social change.
The fears people have about including trans athletes is deeply rooted in sexism and people’s perceptions of who is a good athlete. I don’t think we will overcome gender disparity in sports until we start to see more attention to and inclusion of cisgender female athletes as well, and advocate for equal pay and media attention. Trans inclusion would be a good step towards more inclusive sports, but it won’t solve the gender disparities in athletics.
What will it take to disabuse people of the idea that HRT is the same as “performance enhancing drugs”?
I think a better understanding of what is happening will help people understand the difference. This is really only true for trans men, because the hormones taken by trans women are actually performance decreasing drugs. But trans men competing at a high level must receive a therapeutic use exemption, which requires careful monitoring of levels by a medical professional.
As a trans man who has been successful in sports, I still don’t get this very often; people do not accuse me of doping because I am taking testosterone, which is, in fact, a performance enhancing drug. Quite simply, people didn’t think I would do well competing against cisgender men because I was assigned female at birth.
How can the LGBT community help support athletes coming out? What can sports fans do to help trans athletes be more visible?
First off, it is worth noting that not everyone wants to be out, and for many people it is not safe to be out, so the end result should not be focused solely on getting athletes to come out.
That being said, visibility is a powerful tool against oppression, and that is the reason I feel so passionately about being an out and visible trans athlete competing at a high level. Elevate the stories of trans athletes. People in the athletic community should look at their policies to see if they are inclusive of trans athletes. If they are not, advocate for change. It is helpful to have allies assisting in policy change.
As a consultant helping trans athletes, what’s the success you’re most proud of?
I am proud of the policy change from the IOC because I think that will trickle down to other sports organizations, creating more opportunities for trans athletes, and more opportunities for elite athletes.
I am also proud of competing in the World Championships as the first trans man on a men’s US National Team. Competing on Team USA was a dream come true for me in my own athletic career, but I think it also opens doors for other trans athletes to compete at a high level. They don’t have to wonder if it is possible – it is. I am proud to have accomplished my goals while creating pathways for future athletes.
(Photos courtesy of Chris Mosier)