I am a transgender disc golfer, now what?

I am a transgender disc golfer, now what?

Update, February 14th 2022: The information in this blog may become incorrect in the future, as the PDGA created a Medical Subcommittee to review the current PDGA policy on eligibility for gender-based divisions. I will leave the blog as is. A new blog may follow.

Update, January 9th 2023: As per the updated PDGA policy on eligibility for gender-based divisions valid as of January 1st 2023, this blog refers to a now no longer current policy. I will leave the blog as is. A new blog may follow.

Update, January 1st 2024: As per the updated PDGA policy on eligibility for gender-based divisions valid as of January 1st 2024, this blog refers to a now no longer current policy. I will leave the blog as is. A new blog may follow.

Okay, so here we go, are you ready?
This will be a boring ride, but I will try to spice it up with some of my out-of-thebox analogies and metaphors, to at least put a smile on your face every now and then.

So there you are, done shopping for groceries, and you pull open that tin can of carrots, to go with your delicious steak that’s sizzling on the grill.
“Damn, wait what, WTF!?!? There’s green peas in this can! Not carrots!?!?”

And that, is what being transgender is. Someone labelled you, a can, as containing carrots, but it’s filled with peas instead. No more. No less.

The science behind that observation, while sticking with that analogy.

Most of us are cans of peas or carrots exactly as labelled, and that is called “cisgender male” and “cisgender female” in this context; ie. your perceived and experienced gender matches what is in your underwear.
“cis” and “trans” are Latin & scientific terms for “this side” and “the other side of” respectively, and are as such opposites of each other. In gender identity that means:
* cisgender = body & perception match
* transgender = body & perception do not match
And the third flavour:
* intersex = body and perception may or may not match, but not all (visible) body parts align.

Some cans contain a mix of peas and carrots (non-binary people, or people with DSD – Disorder in Sex Development, aka intersex), and some even just contain cubed tomato instead (a-gender, non-gender), but in this post, I will leave these as is. I was going to say something about “can of worms” but I won’t.

So, I am “choosing” to be transgender now that I found out there’s green peas in my can, not carrots, right?
No, I am trying to make do.
Until I possibly learn to accept someone mis-labelled my can (and possibly take affirmative measures).
FYI: there is no choice involved in all of this; unless you want to label it a choice to have yourself be labelled an outcast, a freak, and turn the other cheek for another round of insults and discrimination, by the mere act of taking affirmative action while the world says you should not exist, or (want to) change what was given to you.

Making do. Either by pretending these peas taste just like carrots. If we can pretend things taste just like chicken, we can do this too.
Or by accepting it’s green peas with steak tonight. And tomorrow. And the day after tomorrow.
And luckily, there are legal, medical and surgical techniques to change some or most of the peas into carrots, and at the very least get a new label on the can.

Back to real life now, because neither carrots or green peas can play disc golf. Or at the very least, I have never seen any play disc golf. Have you?

We remain stuck in this limbo, having realised we are transgender.
And we can either stay resigned (like I did until I was 41 *) with the fact our body does not match who we know we actually are.
Or we can try to follow the necessary procedures (wildly varying in availability, affordability and legality between countries and states) to make outside and inside match.
* = I have proof that I “knew” I was transgender by the time I was 10 – but I have clues that point towards that being as early as age 6. And no, I was not groomed or brainwashed. The early/mid ’80s were different, language was different, and what the mainstream knew or opined about was most definitely different.
I could not deal with the guilt of wanting to ask life – insert deity here – for a new hand of cards, so I did what option I had left; stick my head in the sand, and pretend all was good. I needed to make an apathetic robot of myself, and so I did.

How many of you are old enough to be left-handed, yet still have been forced to learn how to write right-handed, whether by having your left hand tied behind your back or with the cane? Well, that. Times 56,735,698. Plus one.

Being transgender is not being a man in a dress trying to gain access to women’s restrooms to abuse women and girls (reality check: men don’t need to go through the hassle of wearing a dress to do that, let alone, go trough transition), or that same man in a dress trying to cheat women out of sports trophies.

Back in 2003, the IOC, the International Olympic Committee, and as such the de facto international sports organisations’ sports association, issued what is now referred to as the Stockholm Concensus, and as per that document, transgender athletes now had guidelines to adhere to, and also be protected by, when competing in sports in the division that matched their perceived gender. And with these guidelines, transgender athletes could now compete in the Olympics.

Obviously, fears rose that from then on, all gender-protected sports would be dominated by transgender women. To date, no transgender athlete has even competed at the Olympics, let alone performed well or even won. So, while that fear persists (out of ignorance and fear of the unknown?); it is very far from being justified by facts.

Update, June 21st 2021: Laurel Hubbard of New Zealand has just been confirmed as the first ever openly female transgender athlete to compete at the Olympic Games.

Update, August 6th 2021: Quinn of Canada has just become the first – and to date only – transgender athlete to win an Olympic medal; a gold one. Quinn was assigned female at birth, identifies as non-binary, and uses gender-neutral pronouns.

In 2015, the IOC updated their guidelines in order to allow for less intrusive, and easier to verify requirements. Requirements that actually had no bearing on the transgender athlete’s performance potential were removed.
Full Gender-Affirming Surgery (with bilaterial orchiectomy) would no longer be required. Whether or not a transgender woman has a penis is of no consequence to their athletic performance potential; while the presence or absence of their gonads (as main testosterone-producing body part) is.

The PDGA, as per their Transgender Policy have adopted the IOC’s 2015 guidelines in early 2019. They had earlier, in 2010, adopted the Stockholm Concensus.

Years of research led to the notion that, while sport is explicitly the celebration of physical excellence, the chief discriminator between genders and their performance potential is the prolonged presence versus prolonged absence of testosterone in significant amounts.

A cisgender male being deprived long enough (6-9 months is typically the pivoting point, but the IOC set this at 12 months in the guidelines), their performance potential is reduced to such a level that there is no longer a significantly important and disproportionate advantage had when compared with a cisgender female.

Looking at typical ranges for healthy – and in their prime – cisgender men and women, in 2015 the IOC set the threshold under which a transgender woman needs to be; below 10 nmol/L.

Why <10 nmol/L?

The typical/normal levels (including slight variations due to measuring methods) for each – healthy – group are:
Cisgender male: 10-30 nmol/L
Cisgender female: 0.5 – 2.5 nmol/L

That leads to the inference that the IOC set their threshold to align with “minimal normal testosterone levels for a cisgender male, whilst safeguarding cisgender women from being disqualified by the same rule that would qualify transgender women”

So, a transgender woman would need to keep their testosterone levels below 10 nmol/L for at least 12 month prior to event X, and would need to continue to do so in the future, uninterrupted. Failure to do so, makes them ineligible to compete in gender-protected divisions, effective immediately, and a next 12 month period period before eligibility be completed.

Since early 2018, the IAAF (International Amateur Athletic Federation) set its testosterone threshold to <5 nmol/L which can be explained as “the maximum normal range for a healthy cisgender female + an error margin”.
The latest version of their gender eligibilty guidelines went in effect October 2019.

The IOC were expected to update their guidelines as soon as the 2020 Olympics were over.
Had we not had covid-19 messing things up, that threshold would be in effect already. It is now said to happen after the event takes place later in 2021.
Why only after and not during or before? Because you don’t change the rules and requirements during the Olympic Qualification period.

I personally strongly agree with the < 5 nmol/L (or even < 2.5 nmol/L ) instead of < 10 nmol/L threshold.
It forces the transgender woman to have their testosterone levels be “within normal cisgender female range” instead of “below normal cisgender male range”. But the down-side of it, is that under “if you test one woman you need to test all women”, cisgender women (who may be undiagnosed intersex, or suffer PCOS or hypothyroidism) would also end up above 2.5 nmol/L, and consequently would need to be excluded from competing in gender-based divisions, lest the transgender woman be removed from competition for being transgender; at which point anti-discrimination legislation would probably kick in, depending on the country this takes place in.

Testosterone, what does it do?

For transgender women, having suffered the masculinising effects of testosterone; it’s a the single most evil thing in their bodies. At a certain point, gonads develop in the body, and they start secreting dominant and non-dominant hormones (in men the dominant hormone is testosterone and the non-dominant one is estrogen; in women this is reversed). Puberty happens as these hormones and their masculinising or feminising effects become apparent, and their body changes. For transgender women, that is the start of their nightmare. And for transgender men, it creates the same nightmare, in opposite direction.
Transgender people, upon being cleared to do so (some countries use informed consent, others – mine – use psychological evaluation, and in some countries, it is outright illegal), start Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), to start aligning their bodies more to what they were supposed to be from the start. For a transgender woman, removing testosterone, stops the continuation and persistence of those masculinising effects; and adding estrogen will trigger the feminisation of their body.
In early puberty, my country being one of the ‘earlies worldwide’ to start providing this gender-affirming healthcare at about age 13, puberty blockers could be provided to give the child the chance to not be facing these masculinising or feminising effects while they undergo psycholgical treatment.

Testosterone, where and how is it created?

Obviously, in a man’s testes… Duh.
But also in their adrenal glands.
And in a cisgender’s woman ovaries, and her adrenal glands.

How does a transgender woman lower their testosterone levels?
There are two ways:
* having their testes surgically removed, ie. By bilateral orchiectomy, and/or orchiectomy as part of Gender-affirming Surgery (GAS) or the now-depreciated term Gender Reassignment Surgery (GRS).
* having their testosterone production chemically blocked by medication (as part of HRT).

Side note: Only after at least of 12 months of being on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), while also living socially as their preferred gender, is the secret door, or the bonus level, opened for the orchiectomy or Gender Affirmation Surgery (GAS), provided that it is legally, financially, medically or emotionally possible, or even desirable, for that person.

Side note 2: That latter part, is where non-binary comes into play to some degree.
Not all (I would actually dare to say “almost no-one”) people are strictly binary gendered.
Have you ever, whilst simply day dreaming, fantasising, ever thought of how it would be to have ‘the other gender’s characteristics’? Whether you felt excited, guilty, or disturbed by that, by definition, that is already “you not being 100% strictly binary gendered”.
For transgender people that “itch” is permanent. And for non-binary people that itch is permanent, but they don’t necessarily feel the need to switch to ‘the other team’ for the full 100%. Gender is a spectrum, and it is subject to social & cultural environment, historical placement, and geographical location . All people are somewhere on (or even outside of) that spectrum.
And always remember, gender, and the accompanying gender roles, are strictly a social construct. Very strictly speaking, as per that construct, a woman in pants would possibly already be seen as non-binary or a gender-traitor. Or a man doing the dishes. The very audacity!
And the stigma that comes with not fully conforming to gender roles stereotypes…
A man with an earring? > “I didn’t raise you to be no girl!”
A woman with short hair, wearing pants? > “that’s not very becoming of you!”

So, where does a transgender woman’s testosterone level typically sit if they follow either path, you think?

Above that of a cisgender female’s normal range? Below? Within? Well above? Maybe even on the cusp of either the <5 or <10 nmol/L threshold?

Keep guessing. Typically, their levels will be in or below that of a healthy cisgender female’s range. (Healthy in this case being pre-menopausal, and with a fully fucntioning reproductive system). Why?
A transgender woman after surgical procedure will only produce an insignificant amount of testosterone in her adrenal glands (similar to that of a cisgender female’s adrenal glandular production level).
If suppression of testosterone is done medically, then any testosterone, regardless of where it is produced, in testes or adrenal glands, will be suppressed, destroyed, or prevented from being produced in the first place (depending on the exact used drug’s characteristics).

A healthy pre-menopausal cisgender female (ie. with a fully functioning reproductive system, while in the age range where she could conceive) will also create some testosterone in her ovaries. Just like a cisgender male will also produce some estrogen in his testes.

That leads to a cisgender female’s testosterone levels being the sum of the production from adrenal glands + ovaries.
For the transgender woman, that will either be the negligible remainder that didn’t get suppressed medically, or whatever the adrenal glands produce.

What about a transgender woman upping her testosterone levels a little bit to get back some competitive edge? Well, then it is doping through performance enhancing drugs as per WADA regulations. With all disciplinary consequences. And, on a psychological/social level, why on earth would they actively negate their transition’s results by keeping/moving them further away from the very reason why they transitioned in the first place?!?!

Side note: For those familiar with the notorious Russian and East European women who competed in Olympic sports in the ’60s through the ’90s, many getting a lower voice, a blockier appearance, while destroying the competition; almost all of that on testosterone and steroids doping.
And this is the best proof of how testosterone is an incredibly important discriminating factor in whether or not you have “typically male performance potential” or “typically female performance potential”.

That should be the end of it, right?

No. Popular science, opinion, (whether based on felt truth, Joe Rogan meme-ified into “facts don’t care about your feelings”. summarily performed research, reading it on a blog, upbringing, their social community, their social media bubble/echo chamber, et cetera), and intentional misinformation gets in the way now.

“A man is simply stronger, faster, more athletic, more this, more that, just more, than a woman. It’s a fact!”
“Male advantage!”

You just demoted half of the world’s population to indefinitely being “the weaker half”

What if Paul McBeth would transition? He’d destroy FPO!”
Did Paul transition? Do you think Paul will? Irrelevant.
And even if Paul did. I should hope you’d ask for their pronouns first before continuing calling them “Paul” and “he”. Referring to that athlete with male names and pronouns shows the explicit (not just implicit) bias, transphobia, and “in bad faith” reasoning by the person giving this “whataboutism”). The athlete in transition would be prone to losing strength, explosiveness, stamina, endurance.
In disc golf, that would mean losing distance *. It would probably not mean losing their putting game or their mental game.
* = the more thrown distance is based on technique rather than muscle/power, the lower the effect on distance thrown by losing testosterone dependent performance potential.
Technique is not hereditary, and it certainly is not gendered. It’s thousands of hours of practice, and perhaps a bit of talent and predisposition (a 6’3″ woman might have an inherent advantage in basketball while she’ll be at an equal but opposite disadvantage in gymnastics.) And both compete in either sport. There is no “you are too tall, you are too wingspan-ey.”
The only sports I know of that any physical aspect is taken into account is with fighting and martial arts (think boxing, judo, wrestling, karate); where weight (I read that as inertia, and a rather crude way of assuming a person’s lean muscle mass) is a factor that sees people divided into different classes.

On distance, as Hailey King, Paige Pierce, and Henna Blomroos just to name a few, display on a daily basis, none of these women are tall, bulky, or are even seen as muscular by any definition. Then why do they throw 450ft+? Because of their impeccable technique. Honed by the aforementioned thousands of hours of practice.

So, can we please leave out the muscle mass as a deciding factor on what is and isn’t fair?

But what about bone density, tendons’ tensile strength, bone length, wingspan, monkey factor, angles of hips and pelvic bone, foot size, hand size, 5th metatarsal bone’s load-bearing capacity?

Differences, schmifferences. Are you seriously going to try and argue that with a certain body you are going to be better? Or do you think you can possibly accept that talent, application, dedication, and perseverance might be of at least as much of an influence?

By your argument, Jeremy Koling, Ricky Wysocki. Simon, Lizotte, Albert Tamm. James Conrad and the likes would be default need to be the better players. Because they are bigger, better, taller, yadda-yadda-er.
Paul McBeth just called in. He disagrees. Just a tiny little bit.
How many world titles did he win again? How many for the other four combined? Or is having a diminutive stature actually better all of a sudden?

But still, you want to make a selection based on what are acceptable physical qualities for being admitted to a gender protected division?
Then be prepared to never have Val Jenkins and Paige Pierce be able to play in the same division anymore. Nor would Hailey King and Paige Shue, Sarah Hokom and Catrina Allen, or Henna Blomroos and Eveliina Salonen.
And Paul McBeth and Ricky Wysocki would also need to compete in different divisions from now on as well.

Btw, do you have any measuring tools to establish who plays where from now on? And which threshold values are you using for each variable?!?!

Using physical traits – called anthropometrics – to establish eligibility for gender-based divisions is such a slippery slope, that will be extremely hard to ever crawl back up from.
And then we haven’t even addressed the inherent body shaming aspect of that method.
Just no!

So, finally on to the policy, and the procedure.

And this is where I move to personal information and details pertaining to me alone, but they won’t vary wildly from that of a typical transgender woman’s story and details.
I will provide you my timeline and which documents I submitted. Not because I need to, but because I want to explain to you how the procedure (both transition itself, its social impact, and of the gender-reassignment procedure) are unfolding.
And I will share with you some of the societal and psychological pressure and stress that accompanies it.

August 2016, I learnt to accept myself as a transgender woman. To the best of my knowledge, since 1985 (but very likely as early as 1980-1981), I knew I wasn’t a boy, but was stuck in a body that came with a male external genitalia nevertheless. I felt guilty for not wanting to be a boy. This was the hand I was dealt, right? You simply don’t ask for new cards in the game (of life).
If I dated that first realisation at age 10 (but I recently learnt that a TV show I watched from 1980 had a female character with the same name I had as a boy (ie. my “deadname”), and that puzzled me. Why is she a girl with that name, and I am not?), 31 years of all of the self-deprecation, self-destruction, and self-deprivation out of spite and guilt followed. Those of you who know me from the time before, have you ever seen me laughing out loud, or even smiling insincerely?!?!

“Imagine there is a line up and you need to pick the live one; a robot, a corpse, a zombie, and me. You’d not have been able to confidently pick me.”

My psychological evaluation therapy and my Real Life Experience (the living socially in the desired gender) started Valentine’s Day 2017.
May 13th 2017 I first appeared on the fairway as Laura, and asked the other players to call me by that name, and use she/her as pronouns. I continued playing in mixed divisions. I was not yet allowed to compete in gender-based divisions.
One player reached out to me “Eeuh, hey, I am trying to understand, but I think it’s cool & courageous that you do this.”, the others stayed silent, but accepted it, as it wan’t their problem what name I went by, or whether or not I wore silicon breasts in a bra under my shirt.
FYI, I continued competing where I had until then, in mixed divisions (in my country, we had the choice between MPO and MA1. Early on in my career, I chose the former, as I didn’t compete for titles, I competed for growth), because I knew I was not eligible to play in gender-protected divisions for a long time to come.

In early October 2017, I received the green light to proceed with possible legal and medical transition if I so wished. And I so wished. I was allowed to change my legal name and gender (Did that on Halloween 2017).

Hormone Replacement Therapy started December 14th 2017 (not a Holiday as far as I know), and my body started to change.

And all the while, I continued playing in MPO. And as the effects of HRT leading to testosterone deprivation, my power level dropped, and with it, my rating.

On December 24th 2018 (yes, another holiday, Christmas Eve) I received my Gender-Affirming Surgery, at which point I no longer needed to medically suppress my testosterone levels, due to gonads having gone for a long coffee break; in the medical waste bin.
I won’t tell you what kind of a holiday New Years Eve was for me.
And on to recovery, and the road to getting back on the fairway.

The best analogy I can come up with to describe what testosterone deprivation does to your body, is an automotive one.

Disclaimer! These are not my own thoughts on how things work. This is a radical oversimplification, but it brings home the point I am trying to make on how and why opponents use the “male advantage because of a male body” trope. Exclusively limited to this upcoming radical intermezzo, assume that a man simply has “a better” body, than a woman would, or could.

So, let’s say that a man’s body is a Lamborghini Aventador, a Ferrari F8, a Ford Mustang, or a Dodge Viper, pick one; I don’t care, I don’t know cars, I don’t drive, I literally Googled for a few super cars’ names. And it doesn’t matter, because a woman’s body is only a Honda Civic, a Honda CR-V, a Nissan Leaf, whatever, same Google, but this time for commuter cars.
You’ll intuitively know which car is the better, faster, et cetera one, right?
Now remove the engine, gears, fuel & fuel system, and driveshaft from the sports car, and replace it with those belonging to the Civic, CR-V, or Leaf. Again, your pick.
Will the “male” car you picked run as well now while it’s powered with the engine, gears, and driveshaft not built for that car? No. It will very likely run similar to (possibly even worse than) the purpose built and assembled “female” car’s well-tuned car & engine, gears, fuel & fuel system, and driveshaft, all appropriately matched.
Point made? It still looks like a super road car on the outside, but it no longer is. Not even close, and even a cursory glance under the hood makes that apparent.
And now were back home from that radical “man’s body is better than woman’s body” intermezzo.

That is what a transgender woman’s body is. No longer a man’s body, you might say.
Emotionally it never was, physically it probably never was (there’s more and more proof of certain parts of the brain being gendered; which is where that gender dysphoria or gender incongruence would take shape; and athletically it explicitly no longer is).
That last part is crucial in understanding what testosterone deprivation does to your athletic performance potential.
The only thing that pointed towards “male” was that my body came with external male genitalia; that says absolutely nothing about what happened or happens inside my body. “Born a boy, you are always a boy”, “Penis is male” it literally does not compute. Just like “XX is female, XY is male” does not compute.

As soon as I had received all of the paperwork from my surgeon that attested that I had undergone Gender-affirming Surgery (including bilateral orchiectomy), I submitted all of the paperwork I had that could possibly be of use for my gender-reassignment request to the PDGA.

At that point, the PDGA transgender policy (they had adopted it in 2010, based on the IOC 2003 Stockholm Consensus) still required GRS (including bilaterial orchiectomy) to have been performed before. With me having already volunteered my being transgender, and the PDGA looking into updating their 2010 policy, we agreed that I would supply as much documentation as possible, to help them look at what is and isn’t required, what to look for, and how to validate reclassification requests.

So, what did I supply?
* A copy of my gender dysphoria diagnosis (not required under the current policy)
* A copy of my amended birth certificate (not required under the current policy)
* ID copy
* Endocrinologist’s attest that I had been taking HRT including testosterone suppressing medication for 12+ months up to the moment I had my GAS (not required under the current policy)
* 12 months worth of blood test results (baseline measurement prior to HRT start, and four 3-monthly measure moments) (required for both method C1 and C2 under the current policy at least three blood test results within those 12 months are required)
* Surgeon’s attest that I had undergone GAS (including orchiectomy) (only required for method C2 under the current policy)

Side note: FYI, my testosterone levels were 22.3 (baseline measurement), 0.5, 0.6, 0.4, 0.5 (while on testosterone blockers, placing me at the bottom edge of a healthy cisgender female’s normal range (0.5-2.5/3.5).
Side note 2: since my GAS, my levels have been holding steady at 0.78 nmol/L average.

Update, July 27th 2022: that has since dropped to 0.651 nmol/L on average.

Together with the PDGA announcing their new and updated transgender policy, they also notified me that my gender-reassigment request had been approved, and that I’d now be compliant with requirements A, and D, and both (only either of are required) of the methods described in C1 and C2 of their policy documents. (link to said policy several scrolls back up).

I was allowed to compete in gender-protected divisions from now on!

Now I’d be able to compete against my sister in what was considered “her” division in our home country, for so many years.
But I did not simply want to show up and win. Playing disc golf was never about winning for me. It was about beating myself (my rating), and try to beat the course (as few bogeys as possible).
My rating being about 100 points above hers, I should be expected to beat her by 10 strokes on a normal round of 18 holes.
So we – the Dutch women – made a deal, I’d not compete in FPO if other women had signed up, unless there were foreign visitors above 800 present as well, until at least two gender-based divisions would be offered. At that point, our tours only offered FPO or FA1 (either one, not both), let alone other gender-protected divisions to possibly have us split up.
Luckily, our national association has since decided (in large part to address this skill level difference among the handful of Dutch players) to open up FPO as well as FA1 from now on. I’d compete and win (and lose) my division of 1 in FPO, and the other women would compete for the win in FA1.

Am I that much better than the cisgender women in my country because “I had been, or possibly still was physically speaking, a man?” No.
There was simply too large a skill level difference.
I, a player who’s career average rating is 870, with a few months of 900+ ratings (905 max), am simply not a match for a player, my sister, whose rating maxed out at 808 in 2014.
The first international tournament with a competitive players field in FPO I played, it immediately became glaringly obvious that I am simply that, an 871-rated player. No more, no less. I entered that event rated 6th,, and that’s where I finished, 6th.
I even performed within 1 single stroke of where our respective ratings would have us place if we all played to our rating. What “male advantage”?!?!?
If there had even been a hint of residual male advantage in my body, I’d at least jump up a few spots, right? Possibly even win. No. None of that. I did play above my rating, though.
And this is on a course (leftie-friendly) that should even play to my strength. 2nd, 3rd, and 6th place finishers were taken by lefties, 1st, 4th, and 5th were regular righties. I should at the very least have overtaken 4th and 5th, if there was any hint of male advantage.

My next tournament was AmWorlds 2019, and with that, you now know the full story of this transgender disc golfer’s journey.

Selected further reading: Transathlete.com by Chris Mosier, Pink Mantaray, Twitter thread by Cassandra of Troy, Twitter thread by Open Ocean Exploration