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One of the biggest stories in the world’s media in recent weeks has been the release of the Vanity Fair cover featuring Caitlyn Jenner (the former-Olympian previously known as Bruce Jenner). Caitlyn is an example of someone with gender dysphoria – where a person’s biological sex doesn’t match with their gender identity.
Understandably, this mismatch between physical appearance and emotional identification can be incredibly confusing and upsetting. Embarking on the journey to transform you body to match your gender identity is a huge step.
Gender dysphoria is a relatively rare occurrence. Due to the small numbers, the study of how and why gender dysphoria happens is relatively limited and inconclusive. The simplest explanation that researchers can offer is that there is somehow a mismatch in the brain’s wiring between the appearance of the body and the gender of the person. It’s not a mental illness, it is a medical condition.
While we only have a limited understanding of how or why gender dysphoria happens, thankfully there is a growing understanding and acceptance (in most western countries) of the people that we describe as Trans.
Movies such as Transamerica; television programs such as Transparent, and Orange Is The New Black; and public figures such as Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, and Carmen Carrera are all helping to raise the profile and visibility of Trans people.
In that context, it’s a pretty big deal that it has now been revealed that Bruce Jenner had been grappling with gender dysphoria and has now made the move to live life as Caitlyn Jenner. On the whole, public reaction and media coverage has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive.
So what has this got to do with football?
While the beautiful game has been working hard to eliminate racism, and to make the game more inclusive regardless of your sexuality, the needs of Trans people raises a whole new level of complexity.
If Caitlyn Jenner had been an elite footballer, at what point would the sport’s governing bodies accept that she should be playing on a women’s team?
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) became the first athletic body to adopt a policy of inclusion regarding Trans athletes.
The IOC clearly outlines the criteria that a Trans woman must meet before she can compete in events that are consistent with her gender identity. She would need to have:
The Football Association (FA) in the UK has declared a general policy that a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity shouldn’t be a barrier to participating in and enjoying football. In relation to children who have completed gender reassignment before puberty, the FA makes it clear that they can play as their acquired gender.
However for adults, the FA has tried to find a solution that minimises any gender-related advantage that a Trans person may have in matches. On that basis, they have adopted the IOC’s three stage criteria that must be met before a Trans woman can play football in women’s teams.
While the regulations adopted by organisations such as the IOC and the Football Association certainly set a fairly high bar before a Trans woman can participate in sport at an elite level, it is encouraging that the question has been considered thoughtfully and clear guidelines have been put in place.
While Caitlyn Jenner’s football days may be behind her, she is helping to create a world that has a better understanding of gender dysphoria and all of the complexities that some people face when trying to be themselves.
Written by Gareth Johnson
Follow Gareth on Twitter @GTV_Champion
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