Gender-queer athletes express discomfort

Senior+Rory+Redgrave+runs+during+crew+practice.+Redgrave+and+other+gender-queer+athletes+say+that+there+is+an+uncomfortable+culture+for+gender-queer+athletes+at+the+high+school.+Petra+Huang+for+the+Sagamore
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Gender-queer athletes express discomfort

Senior Rory Redgrave runs during crew practice. Redgrave and other gender-queer athletes say that there is an uncomfortable culture for gender-queer athletes at the high school. Petra Huang for the Sagamore

Senior Rory Redgrave runs during crew practice. Redgrave and other gender-queer athletes say that there is an uncomfortable culture for gender-queer athletes at the high school. Petra Huang for the Sagamore

Senior Rory Redgrave runs during crew practice. Redgrave and other gender-queer athletes say that there is an uncomfortable culture for gender-queer athletes at the high school. Petra Huang for the Sagamore

Senior Rory Redgrave runs during crew practice. Redgrave and other gender-queer athletes say that there is an uncomfortable culture for gender-queer athletes at the high school. Petra Huang for the Sagamore

Susanna Kemp, Staff Writer

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There are over 10* students at the high school whose identity falls under the umbrella of gender-queer. Yet only four played a sport last year.

Gender-queer athletes often feel uncomfortable participating in sports due to the culture of our society, which causes some to feel hesitant to play a sport or choose not to play one all together.

Junior Grey Fahrner, who is agender, ran girls track and cross country their** freshman and sophomore years at the high school. They chose not to play an interscholastic sport this year and are now participating in Dreamfar, the high school club that prepares to run a marathon. Even though they enjoyed running on the teams, they didn’t like being on the girls’ team.

“It just feels really uncomfortable because I’m not a girl,” Fahrner said. “I don’t have a problem with being surrounded by other girls, it’s just that I don’t like to be thought of as a girl because I’m not.”

Throughout their four years at the high school, agender senior Rory Redgrave has been on the girls crew team. They said they understood the division of boys and girls for sports but that the division has evolved to include more than just the divide between physical bodies.

“It makes sense to divide sports into two categories just because of physical capability,” Redgrave said. “But everything about it is so gendered as well with the girls and boys team, and the culture around girls playing sports, and you get treated the same way.”

Fahrner, whose ideal would be teams that are all coed, said making gender-queer athletes feel comfortable would be difficult to do within the high school without affecting other schools.

“I feel like it’s more a societal issue,” they said. “It would be good to start with one school, but I think in order to make one change to one school, it will automatically impact a lot of other schools.”

Yet coed teams don’t come much closer to fixing the problem. Junior Eli Levin, who identifies as gender fluid, played coed ultimate frisbee last year. Hu** expects to play again this year. Levin said that hu was made uncomfortable by the fact that the team unconsciously split up by gender to practice.

“People were generally nice to each other and whatnot, but there was this very dominant factor of the boys passing to each other and talking to each other and only talking to boys,” Levin said. “And the girls would sort of stick by themselves. It’s like, if I chose to talk to the boys, I would be identifying myself as a boy. But, having been assigned female at birth, having to be with girls, would sort of identify me as a girl.”

Administration and other staff have begun working with the Gay Trans Straight Alliance. The GTSA attended a faculty meeting recently to talk to teachers. Gender-queer athletes said that that they still feel that much more awareness could be raised to help them.

The girls crew team made a change when Redgrave first came out to them: they changed the name of their team to Brookline Female-Bodied Crew. The team is currently exploring whether even the changed name is inclusive enough.

Levin said that although hu understood advocating for oneself, gender-queer students have to ask and press for things that other people should be helping them receive, such as gender-neutral facilities.

“We often have to carve out those spaces for ourselves. And it would be nice to have somewhere that you don’t need to make, that you can just go to,” Levin said.

According to Assistant Athletic Director Kyle Williams, there is no written policy concerning gender-queer athletes and sports. He said he attended one of the GTSA meetings and is planning to work with the group to help gender-queer athletes feel that they can safely play a sport.

“I’m excited to keep working with the GTSA community to try to come up with what are the things they’re interested in, and what are the needs they have?” Williams said. “Or barriers that we’re creating, maybe subconsciously, to how many people participate in our sports. And then, what are the steps to fixing those?”

Redgrave said that awareness of sex versus gender is important to change the attitude about clear-cut genders in sports. Williams said that his main short term goals for making gender-queer athletes feel more comfortable are creating space for them, looking at policies around the league and the state and broaching the subject with administration.

Fahrner said that their teammates were very supportive but that they still felt uncomfortable.

“Most of this discomfort I’ve felt is not by my teammates themselves,” Fahrner said, “but by the whole institution of which it’s built around.”

 

*The high school administration recognized 10 gender-queer students, but there are likely many more who have not come out to the public or are not open about it.

**The Sagamore is using the athletes’ preferred pronouns.

 

Below are selected portions of interviews with gender-queer athletes:

Grey Fahrner, junior (pronouns: they/them/theirs)

Why did you choose not to continue with cross country or track this year?

I really don’t like being on the girls team. It just feels really uncomfortable because I’m not a girl. I don’t have a problem with being surrounded by other girls, it’s just that I don’t like to be thought of as a girl because I’m not.

Would you mind elaborating on how you felt uncomfortable?

As much as I love the sport, I just don’t want to be associated with being feminine because for so long, I’ve been forced to be a girl. People have been telling me that I’m a girl, and I’m not. I just don’t want to be associated as that anymore.

What do you hope the school will do in the future to ease discomfort?

Ideally, coed sports. That would be ideal for me. Just because that way, everybody would run together. There wouldn’t be the separation of gender that there is now. I just think it would be better for everyone.

Do you think this problem could be fixed just within BHS, or would there have to be other coed sports in other schools to fix the problem?

I feel like it’s more a societal issue. It would be good to start with one school, but I think in order to make one change to one school, it will automatically impact a lot of other schools.

How do you feel not being on the team anymore?

It’s rough because part of me really wants to join the team just because everyone on the team is so great, but it feels weird at the same time.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about your experience?

It’s been pretty positive, I have to say. I think most of this discomfort I’ve felt is not by my teammates themselves, but by the whole institution of which it’s built around. My teammates have been very supportive.

 

Eli Levin, junior (pronouns: hu, hume, hus)

Did you have a good relationship with your teammates?

There was a thing which sort of felt like it invalidated my gender, and I was being put with the girls. Whenever we grouped up, it was always the girls that gravitated towards me. Not only did people feel excluded because the boys mainly held onto the disc and talked to each other, there was also a subset of girls. There were only a few girls on the team, but not even fitting into that minority is very strange, so I was very much on my own. People were generally nice to each other and whatnot, but there was this very dominant factor of the boys passing to each other and talking to each other and only talking to boys. The girls would sort of stick by themselves. It’s like, if I chose to talk to the boys, I would be identifying myself as a boy, and I didn’t feel comfortable around them because the boys, I’m not trying to stereotype all boys, but they all grouped up together and had this very boys club attitude. But then with the girls, they were very welcoming. But having been assigned female at birth, having to be with girls would sort of identify me as a girl.

Do you think there was anything that could have been done?

I think that we should have made it a point to just be aware of it. I think often people aren’t aware that they do that, or really think about why they break up by gender. It was a large team, but I think if they emphasized that. I think you could very much see it. I think someone in leadership — it would have been nice if they would have.

So you think it would be better to just have more awareness in general?

Yeah, I think more awareness, and also just people, even if it doesn’t directly affect them, taking more responsibility for making other people feel comfortable. Because while you may not actively be trying to exclude people, your actions can, and even though you’re not actively trying to exclude people, you should be actively trying to include people.

Do you think the school could do anything to make sports less uncomfortable for gender queer students?

I think it’s really hard. We just had a meeting the other day; we went to a faculty meeting, and in GTSA we said people can come, teachers can come who have more questions. And one thing is, there are a lot of regulations for being in the leagues that we’re in about having to split up by gender. You can do coed intramurals, but having to do competitive sports, there aren’t that many other coed teams in the district.

 

Rory Redgrave, senior (pronouns: they/them/theirs)

What has your general experience being agender but playing on a girls team been like?

I think being gender-queer on the crew team is sort of different than any other sport just because it’s an exceptionally accepting team. Like when I came out, they changed the name to “the female-bodied team,” so that’s actually what’s on our shirts and all this stuff. It’s really awesome. I definitely wouldn’t be at the place where I am, with being comfortable in my own gender identity, without the support of the crew team. I definitely feel uncomfortable by it technically being the girls team but I also present female, so that definitely has something to do with it.

Do you think there are any gender-queer athletes who would feel uncomfortable playing a sport?

It’s such an intense binary, so I’m definitely sure. And it’s uncomfortable; I definitely feel uncomfortable in it a lot, but I can push it aside. It makes sense to divide sports into two categories just because of physical capability, but everything about it is so gendered as well, just with the girls and boys team and the culture around girls playing sports, and you get treated the same way. But it’s like, I’m not a girl.

Can you tell me about a specific time you felt uncomfortable?

Yeah, I do a lot of things just very subtly. If my coach is like, “girls, come over here,” I’ll just stay where I am until he figures it out and stuff. I think the hardest is probably when we’re racing and they’re announcing everything. I know my coxswain is really good about it, so over the microphone she’ll be correcting them, just for our boat to hear.

Is there anything else the school could do to make gender queer athletes feel more comfortable?
I think just show that there are gender-queer athletes and talk about how everything is open to change to make everyone comfortable.

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