Concern that transgenders excluded at Eurogames

3:21 min

The LGBT sports tournament, the Eurogames, which wound up here in Stockholm over the weekend, offered participants an opportunity to compete in gender-neutral events like boule, golf, and ballroom dancing. But the gender classes at some of the other events have come in for criticism that transgenders can be excluded.

The Eurogames are the world’s largest sports event for the LGBT community. But some of the events are divided into traditional male and female classes, which is not unproblematic. Kian Sigge, a personal trainer, who also gave a lecture during the Eurogames, says this approach excludes many transgender people:               

“For example, I couldn’t take part in swimming if I wanted to,” he says, “because I can’t compete in the women’s class because my testosterone count is too high. But I can’t take part in the men’s class either, because you’re not allowed to have full-covering bathing suits, and aren’t allowed to expose so-called women’s breasts. So under these circumstances, some trans people can’t take part at all.”

Kian Sigge has previously competed in girls’ and women’s classes, even though he doesn’t feel at home there, and many times he has felt excluded from sports, the popular movement that claims to be open for everyone.

Another speaker during the Eurogames was Helen Carroll of the National Center for Lesbian Rights in the United States. She has investigated access to sports in the US for transgenders, and has tried to find the obstacles that can exclude trans people. The greatest fear, she says, rests on the preconception that a man will always out-perform a woman, which means people think that a trans woman will always beat all the women she competes against, which isn’t the case:

"What we've found is that is just not true," she says. "The transgender woman takes estrogen, she has zero testosterone, which means the transgender woman has to work out even more to be as strong as women themselves."

It’s something called the gender binary, Helen Carroll says, that makes it so hard for transgender people to take part in sports:

"It's very set. You have men's teams, you have women's teams," she says. "so you don't have any cross between the two, that's the way we've been raised. So when you have a transgender athlete part of the struggle is to have people understand that a transgender woman, who was born a male, is a woman, so we're not crossing the binaries there because the person is a woman, even though she was born a male."

Kian Sigge believes radical changes are needed to make sports more inclusive. One presumption, he says, is to ignore gender completely, and instead divide up competitors by height and weight. He hopes that within a few years the Eurogames will go all the way and let everyone compete against everyone, but he thinks it will be a while before this happens in the greater world of sports:

“We can begin with situations like the Eurogames to make this change,” Kian Sigge says. “Everyone competes against everyone. But then we need to deal with the basic ideas of sports about fair competition and male and female ideals. I can only see this approach as an alternative movement for a long time to come.”