Compete Network Feature Stories

O Brave New World

“Oh, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here!

How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, that has such people in’t!”

Shakespeare, The Tempest

In Hinduism, Ardhanarishvara is the synthesis of the masculine and feminine energies of Shiva, a literal demonstration of the inseparability of male and female principles in the universe. Carl Jung believed that in the collective unconscious reside anima and animus, archetypes that embody the unconscious feminine qualities every man possesses and the masculine ones each woman has. And Hedwig reminds us that “When the earth was still flat…the children of the moon looked like a fork shoved on a spoon. They were part sun, part earth, part daughter, part son … the origin of love.”

This concept of gender being a “both/and” proposition rather than an “either/or” one has been around for thousands of years. So why should the idea of someone being “transgender”– more one gender than the other despite what external appearances suggest — evoke puzzlement? Apparently, while I can acknowledge that I have a bit of the “other” in me, I still also want to maintain that “[external] anatomy is [or should be] destiny”.

Really? Is this what I want to believe?


So. I entered this world equipped with male anatomy, which makes me…uh, you know…a guy. And being a guy doesn’t really need any definition, because we all know what that means, like thinking like a guy, and talking like a guy, and liking guy-type things.

Like sports.

And beer.

And girls.


Part of coming out – to family, to friends, to myself – means acknowledging and accepting who I know, in my innermost self, that I really am, even if the resulting conglomeration of parts doesn’t fit together into a neat picture that resembles any of society’s commonly accepted versions. Self-acceptance requires being OK with the person I see in my personal mirror, without being overly bothered by the fact that I may look more like a Picasso rather than a Gainsborough.

Christopher Bollas coined the term “the unthought known” to refer to things we have an intuitive or felt sense of at some level, though we may lack words to explain either how we know these things or even what we’re talking about. I knew I was gay long before I could tell you precisely how I knew that I was gay or what exactly that meant and entailed.

I would argue that gender identity is also an “unthought known”. And if I can live my life certain beyond any doubt of the fact that I am a gay man, I don’t see any way to deny another person’s gender self-identity and sexual orientation – anatomy and expectations be damned.

Freud once wrote, “Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of”. Being transgender in the world of sports can also engender its share of complications and disadvantages. Tennis player Renee Richards transitioned at age 40 and the U.S. Tennis Association promptly banned her from play, arguing that a female player with one Y chromosome had an unfair advantage over someone with two X chromosomes. Kye Allums was forced to delay transitioning and to continue as a member of the George Washington University’s women’s basketball team even after he acknowledged his FtM transgender identity. While his teammates were supportive of him, the University and the N.C.A.A. were less so.

The relative contributions of physiology and training in sports is uncertain territory, and it may take years to grasp fully the additional complexity of being a transgender athlete. That shouldn’t keep us from examining our own hearts and assumptions. The title of the magazine you’re reading says it well: “Compete. Sports. Diversity.”


By Dr. John Sutherland


Photo Caption:

L-R: Jason Collins, Kye Allums, Fallon Fox, Terrence Clemens and Michiel Thomas
Photo courtesy of Michiel Thomas

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